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Braw Beginnings: Famous First Lines in Scots

In celebration of Scotland’s Year of Stories 2022, we’ve teamed up with Scots expert and writer Alistair Heather to translate the first lines of some of the world’s most popular books into Scots.

It’s estimated that the Scots language has 1.5 million speakers – a number which is growing all the time. Not only is Scots the most widely spoken indigenous Scottish language, but it is also the largest minority language in the UK. From Robert Burns to Scottish Twitter, Scots is spoken with verve and passion across the country and beyond.

An iconic book you might already be familiar with is The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson. This sweet, rhyming tale has conquered the literature world and has been translated into over 100 languages, including Scots! See if you can spot James Robertson’s original translation amongst the others.

Check out the first lines below and try and say them out loud – there are recorded pronunciations if you get stuck!

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

Shuggie Bain, Douglas Stuart

Douglas Stuart was born in Glasgow, and his debut novel Shuggie Bain won him the 2020 Booker Prize. In the tale of a teenage boy who dreams of being a hairdresser in 1980s post-industrial Glasgow, Stuart portrays a world we rarely see touched on in literary fiction which has been hailed by critics as a masterpiece.

Stuart’s novel opens with:

“The day was flat. That morning his mind had abandoned him and left his body wandering down below”

Which in Scots, becomes:

“The dey wis dreich. Thon morn, his mind had gaed aff an lea’d his body haikin doon ablow”


Dracula by Bram Stoker

Dracula, Bram Stoker

Published in 1897, Stoker is thought to have drawn inspiration from Slains Castle in Aberdeenshire for Dracula. Since its publication, Dracula has become far more than just a book. Now, Dracula might be who we immediately think of when someone mentions ‘vampires,’ and we’ve all undoubtedly seen depictions of him around Halloween!

Stoker’s novel opens with:

“Left Munich at 8:35 p.m., on 1st May, arriving at Vienna early next morning; should have arrived at 6:46, but train was an hour late”

Which in Scots, becomes:

“Gaed oot fae Munich at 8:35p.m., on 1st May, intae Vienna early the follaein morn; shouldae arrived at 6:46, but train wis an oor late”


The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson

An iconic children’s book many will be familiar with is The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson. This sweet, rhyming tale has conquered the literature world and has been translated into over 100 languages. In 2012, James Robertson translated Donaldson’s awe-inspiring tale into Scots, reintroducing the characters to a wider audience in an entirely new way.

Donaldson’s novel opens with:

“A Mouse took a stroll through a deep dark wood”

Which in Scots, becomes:

“A moose took a dauner through the deep, mirk widd”

The Gruffalo © Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler 1999. The Gruffalo in Scots translated by James Robertson, published by Itchy Coo.


Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

1984, George Orwell

Another literary classic: George Orwell wrote this gritty, dystopian novel while staying on the Scottish island of Jura. Seeking peace and solitude on this west-coast isle while writing the book in 1948 paid off well, making a cultural impact that’s lasted for the better part of a century.

Orwell’s novel opens with:

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen”

Which in Scots, becomes:

“It wis a bricht, cauld dey in April, an the clocks wis chappin thirteen”


Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Outlander, Diana Gabaldon

Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander perfectly combines 18th century Scotland, time travel (yes, you read that right!), romance and adventure. Selling over 25 million copies worldwide and now adapted into the popular TV series of the same name, Outlander is quickly becoming yet another spell-binding classic set in Scotland. The TV series has many filming locations in Scotland, why not pay them a visit?

Gabaldon’s novel opens with:

“It wasn’t a very likely place for disappearances, at least at first glance”

Which in Scots, becomes:

“It wisnae a likely placie fir disappearances, at least, no tae the first glisk”


Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi

Celestial Bodies, Jokha Alharthi

This novel won Jokha Alharthi the Man Booker International Prize in 2019, and its poignant display of love and loss paints an authentic portrait of Omani society. The multigenerational narrative of the book takes readers on a journey with three sisters, highlighting political and cultural drifts along the way. Alharthi pursued her PhD at the University of Edinburgh and has said of the city: “Edinburgh has enriched my experience as a writer, and I am grateful to it.”

Alharthi’s novel opens with:

“Mayya, forever immersed in her Singer sewing machine, seemed lost to the outside world”

Which in Scots, becomes:

“Mayya, for aye in a dwam ower her Singer sewing machine, seemed tint tae the ootside world”


Knots & Crosses by Ian Rankin

Knots & Crosses, Ian Rankin

Ian Rankin was born in the Scottish town of Cardenden and has since gone on to grip the world with his thrilling crime novels. Knots & Crosses introduces Rankin’s famous character, Inspector Rebus. It tells the story of the Edinburgh cop as he tries to put the pieces of the puzzle together to uncover the maniac carrying out a series of murders in the city.

Rankin’s novel opens with:

“The girl screamed once, only the once”

Which in Scots, becomes:

“The lassie let oot ae skirl, just the ane”


Fever of the Bone by Val McDermid

Fever of The Bone, Val McDermid

Born in Kirkcaldy, McDermid is one of the biggest names in crime writing, and her books have sold over 16 million copies worldwide. Fever of the Bone follows the story of two of McDermid’s famous characters as they unravel the murder of a teenage girl, full of twists and turns, this is not one to be missed.

McDermid’s novel opens with:

“The vaulted ceiling acted as a giant amplifier for the conversation bouncing round the room”

Which in Scots, becomes:

“The vaultit ceilin wis a giant amplifier fir the conversation stottin roon the room.”


Peter Pan by JM Barrie 

Peter Pan, J.M BarrieDid you know that JM Barrie was born in the Scottish town of Kirriemuir? Undoubtedly his most famous work, Peter Pan, is no longer just a novel anymore – just like Dracula. As soon as the boy-who-never-grew-up is mentioned, our imaginations immediately transport us to Neverland, where we see the lost boys, Captain Hook and, who could forget, Tinkerbell.

Barrie’s novel opens with:

“All children, except one, grow up”

Which in Scots, becomes:

“Aw bairns, except ane, grow up”


Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling

Harry Potter, J.K Rowling

Quite possibly the most famous franchise to have Scottish roots, JK Rowling’s Harry Potter novels have captivated the hearts and imaginations of children and adults alike since the first book came out in 1997. Rowling infamously wrote the first novel in the series in a café in Edinburgh, which has already been translated into Scots.

Rowling’s novel opens with:

“Not for the first time, an argument had broken out over breakfast at number four, Privet Drive”

Which in Scots, becomes:

“No fir the first time, a rammy had brak oot ower breakfast at nummer fower, Privet Drive”


How did you get on? The Scots language can be tricky if you’re not a native speaker, but hopefully, after reading and listening, you’ve become just as in love with the language as the Scots are.

Despite not being standardised in any way, Scots is slowly becoming a written language once again with the help of social media and book translations. In recent years, celebrating and campaigning for speaking in Scots has garnered more and more attention. The Scottish Government even included a Scots language comprehension section in the Scottish census for the second time in 2022.

There are many more ways you can join in with Scotland’s Year of Stories 2022 as we celebrate stories inspired by, written, or created in our country. This year, you can look forward to events and visitor attractions across Scotland celebrating storytelling: giving you a real chance to experience the diversity of stories that Scotland has inspired for centuries.

Fancy learning more about the Scots language? Take a look at some other Scots words and their meanings to see how many more you can say aloud!