Useful Scots word: mingin

By Betty Kirkpatrick

<em>Picture:  mattwi1s0n</em>
Picture: mattwi1s0n

Many of our Scots words stay right at home, but some escape into the wider world. For example, dreich referring to the weather is occasionally used by people south of the border, often in rather a self-conscious way as though they were enclosing it in air quotes. Minging, or mingin as it is often spelt and usually pronounced, is another escapee, but this Scots word is unusual in having found a place in modern slang. It comes from the Scots verb ming, meaning to give off such a strong and unpleasant smell that it makes you want to hold your nose.

In Scots a piece of meat that has long since passed its use-by-date can be mingin, as can an overflowing dustbin urgently in need of emptying or a fridge full of long-forgotten left-overs. If mingin is used of a person in Scots, the person in question is usually badly in need of some soap and water and a change of clothes.

Mingin in English slang is much wider in meaning and there is often no suggestion of having a bad smell. I first encountered this wider meaning in Scotland in the mid-1980s. It was used of a teacher by the friend of one of my children. Since I had met that particular teacher and had not noticed his lack of a strong anti-perspirant, I inquired of the meaning. The answer was that the teacher was simply no good.

In the slang sense mingin can be used to mean, for example, disgusting, of poor quality, unpleasant or unattractive. So, food can be mingin, a pub can be mingin, the weather can be mingin, a member of the opposite sex can be mingin. In fact, people quite often use the word just to indicate their acute dislike or disapproval of someone or something.

Mingin was adopted with great enthusiasm by the “yoof” culture throughout the UK as rather a nasty term of insult and it has shown remarkable staying power. When I come across such expressions as “mingin chav” or, worse, “mingin minger” I cannot help feeling that mingin would have been better to stay at home.

Incidentally, mingin in Scots can also mean drunk. But that’s another story.

Betty Kirkpatrick is the former editor of several classic reference books, including Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus. She is also the author of several smaller language reference books, including The Usual Suspects and Other Clichés published by Bloomsbury, and a series of Scots titles, including Scottish Words and Phrases, Scottish Quotations, and Great Scots, published by Crombie Jardine.

  • Wee Willie Bee

    I agree with Betty Kirkpatrick that the word carries the meaning of smell. I had no idea it had gone further afield and been corrupted and lost its distinctive meaning. I’ll keep it for the original use as the broader meaning loses its bite.

  • James

    Minger is also a slang word for an Englishman. From the rhyming slang Inger Minger, from Ingerland, which English football supporters chant when watching a football match.

  • Anither Rab

    Wi regaird tae “ming” meanin “stink”, A’ve whiles heard some o the aulder generation mell the twa thegither tae come up wi “whit an awfu mink!”

  • Gavin Greig

    In the sense of being widespread through out the UK, I think it’s Jade Goody’s other legacy. It seemed to catch on after she used it a lot in her first stint on Big Brother in 2002. I’ve no idea where she got it from, but it was curious to hear a Scots word I’d known for years suddenly acquire a broader audience.

    • Bob

      I am certain Darren (it seems to be) from the very first Big Brother used “mingin”. Was the first I had heard of said by an English person, on TV at least. If he picked this up from someone else in the house, or was a Rab C fan, I don’t know.

  • J Brown

    Kim and Aggie (How Clean is your House?) have given it a wider currency. So too with “manky” which an increasing number of English folk are using.

  • Linda

    Both ‘mingin’ and ‘manky’ were in common usage in Manchester some 30 (ouch!) years ago. ‘Mingin’ then still carried the notion of smell and I was most confused when the word reappeared recently without any connection to odour. I think you are right about Jade Goody widening and changing the usage.

  • Manky ans mingin are much older in Scotlandthan 30 years. I remember it in common use as a boy.

  • Words do move around a lot and often change meaning radically. Until about 1500, “yelp” meant a proud boast, something a warrior would say before going into battle. Then all of a sudden, as far as anyone knows, it came to be used for the barking of dogs! Now it is applied to people again, but in a very different way than before.

    “Sombrero” in Spanish is just “hat”, but in the southwestern U.S. it means specifically a traditional Mexican hat. Similarly, “apartheid” in Dutch is a fairly neutral word meaning “separation” (it would be “apart-hood” in English if we had that word), but in Afrikaans and then in English it came to have a very sinister meaning.

    “Nosh” in Yiddish (and in the English of New York City) means a nibble, a little bit of food. You used to see a sign on a dish of pickles in Jewish delis saying (in Yiddish) “nim a nosh a nickel”, meaning “take a nosh for 5 cents”. But in the English of England, “nosh” has come to mean a light meal, often at an unusual hour. Similarly, “shmooze” (which is ultimately from Hebrew) means “converse, chat” here but “suck up, brown-nose” there.

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