Home Heritage Useful Scots words Useful Scots word: Auld

Useful Scots word: Auld

Auld is the Scots form of the English word old and it is often used in much the same contexts. For example, old clothes translates as auld claes, old friends as auld freens, old house as auld hoose and so on.

However, auld has some uses that are all its own. It is often used to describe relationships. A grandfather can be referred to as auld daddy or auld faither and a grandmother as auld mither. One generation back a great-grandfather can be known as auld granfaither and the female equivalent as auld granmither.

An auld uncle is not necessarily an old uncle, but a great uncle, his spouse being an auld auntie. An auld son is not a male who is stricken in years. Nor is it the equivalent of the colloquial, rather patronizing and now dated expression, old son. Instead, it is used to refer to the oldest son of a family. Similarly, auld brither can be used to apply to your oldest brother.

The term auld yin is unisex and can be applied to either of your parents. I have also heard it used it of a female spouse. When capitalized as Auld Yin it can be used to refer to the devil.  This is only one of many auld words for this creature from hell.

We have Auld Clootie, Auld Hornie, Auld Mahoun, Auld Nick, Auld Saunders, Auld Spunkie and several others. Another of the devil’s nicknames is Auld Enemy, but this can also be applied to England in recognition of the hostility and often open warfare that raged between the two countries for hundreds of years. Even nowadays the expression is sometimes mentioned at times of football or rugby matches between Scotland and England..

Scotland had friends as well as enemies. For a long time the closest of these was France and this friendship gave rise to the expression the Auld Alliance. The friendly links between France and Scotland so named began in the thirteenth century when both countries regarded England as a common enemy. Later they were much strengthened by the French connections of Mary Queen of Scots. You sometimes still hear the expression when France is playing England in an international match.

Auld is often associated with time and dates. The last night of the year, now mostly known as Hogmanay or perhaps by the more anglicized version, New Year’s Eve, was once most commonly known as Auld Year’s Nicht.  Auld Year’s Day is, as you would expect, the last day of the year.

More difficult to figure out is Auld Day or Aul Day. This was once frequently used to refer to the day after a major celebration, such as a wedding, a ball, a feast, etc. It was apparently a day devoted to recovery from the excesses of the day before, a day when little work was done, although more than a little alcohol might be consumed– a large hair of the dog perhaps.

Auld is encountered by a great many people outside Scotland because of its appearance in the internationally known song Auld Lang Syne.  Sung at the end of various forms of celebrations, the song was written by Robert Burns to a well-known traditional tune. Lang syne means literally long since and so auld lang syne refers to the days of long ago. A word of warning. When singing this song remember that the initial letter is pronounced like the s in sink not like the z in zinc.

Burns described the town of Ayr as Auld Ayr in his poem Tam o Shanter while Edinburgh was often referred to, and sometimes still is, as Auld Reekie because of all the smoke which once issued from its chimneys. Auld has another connection with chimneys because auld wife can mean a rotating chimney cowl as well as an old woman.

 Auld wife can also be used to describe a fussy, pernickety, gossipy man, as in He’s a right auld wife. The meaning of auld man is more difficult to guess except in its literal meaning. Figuratively it means the same, unchanged, as in I hadn’t seen Jock for years, but he was still the auld man.

Someone who has a great deal of experience of something can be said to be an auld used hand. Someone who is auld in the horn is old and less fit, physically or mentally than formerly. I might just fall into the first category. I certainly fall into the second.