Useful Scots word: Pan loaf

Loaves. Picture: Bart Everson
Loaves. Picture: Bart Everson

More and more people across the world are learning English as a foreign or second language. It is one of the few growth industries. Many of these learners become very proficient in the language and so, when they visit Britain, they find it very easy to make themselves understood. They may find it surprising, though, to find out that it is not always so easy to understand what the locals are saying in reply.

Although the UK is geographically quite small in size, linguistically there are many variations from region to region. The learner will probably have learnt RP, or Received Pronunciation, supposedly proper English as spoken by those at the upper end of the English social and educational scales, especially originally those in the area around London. However, the vast majority of native speakers do not talk in that way.

Visitors to Scotland will experience several different forms of pronunciation as they travel through the country. Some of them at least will almost certainly encounter the form of speech known as pan loaf. This is the name given not to an accent that is native to any particular region, but to a very affected way of speaking used by people who wish to seem ultra-refined and to appear to be a few rungs further up the social ladder than they actually are. They affect this style of speech in order to impress others, but, of course, they very often achieve the opposite effect and end up being ridiculed.

Talking pan loaf has its origins in a type of bread. A pan loaf refers to a loaf that is baked individually in a pan or tin and has a thin, smooth crust all round it. This contrasts with a plain loaf which has crust just on the top and bottom, the crust on top being darker and harder, and is baked in batches. Pan loaves were more expensive and were thought to be favoured by more genteel eaters some of whom were likely to speak pan loaf or pan loafy, as it is sometimes known.

Pan in Scots shares some of the meanings of the word in English, especially a cooking vessel of some kind. The word is Old English in origin and has linguistic connections with German pfanne, Dutch pan and Swedish panna.

Staying with the cooking theme, we have pancakes in both Scotland and England, but they are different in form. The pancake cooked in Scotland, like the one cooked in England, is a round flat cake made with batter. However, the Scots one is much smaller and thicker than the English one. In England the Scots pancake is sometimes known as a drop scone or Scotch pancake.

Those with a sweet tooth like to put loads of jam on pancakes. Those with an even sweeter tooth like to sook (suck) another Scottish pan favourite, a pan drop. Also known as a mint imperial, this is a type of hard round white mint sweet traditionally loved by old ladies and used as a breath-sweetener by people who wish to hide the fact that they have been drinking alcohol. Beware. People with too sweet a tooth can be rendered toothless by overindulging in these.

On a more savoury note, there is pan jotral, also found in the plural form. This refers to leftovers or to odds and ends of food of the kind that lie around in your fridge. The term originally referred to a dish made from the offal of slaughtered animals, or to such offal itself. The thought of that makes me feel rather squeamish and so I will move swiftly on.

In Scots pan can also be used to refer to the skull or cranium. If you are of a violent turn of mind, and perhaps seeking vengeance on someone, you might threaten to knock their pan in. You can also knock your own pan in. This does not mean that you are self-harming, but that you are working very hard so that you are completely exhausted. Poor you! Just as well the holidays are coming up.

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  • Jode

    I reckon a Pan Drop is wider and flatter than a Mint Imperial – like a Trebor T-Mint.

    I remember getting a T-Mint stuck in my throat as a youngster – panic stations!
    Nowadays folk talk about buying a ‘loaf’ of bread but I used to get sent to the shops for a ‘half-pan’ which was the same shape and size as the current ‘loaf’.

  • how aboot mealie puddings? 

  • ScotsLass

    ‘Pan Loaf’ can also carry a very different and somewhat embarrassing meaning too. Its used as a bit of toilet humour when a toilet gets clogged by *ahem* a feminine hygiene product. When the, now swollen, towel is removed its said to resemble, you guessed it, a pan loaf.

    For example a plumber unblocking a toilet might exclaim: “Here’s yer problem, hen. Yer lavvie wis clogged wae a pan loaf!”.