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SWALLIE n an alcoholic drink


During this festive season many of us will indulge in a ‘wee swallie’. 


Swallie as a noun was first noted by the editors of for the 2005 Supplement to the Dictionary of the Scots Language ( in Michael Munro’s The Patter (1985): “swally Pronounced to rhyme with rally, this is a local version of swallow: ‘She’s swallied the hail lot!’ A swally can be a drink or a drinking session: ‘Fancy a wee swally?’”. Note that he indicates the original meaning first. 


Later, in the 1990s, Ian Pattison’s Rab C Nesbit informs us that while minding his own business: “I wiz jist havin a wee swallie…”. 


In earlier times in many Scottish households alcohol was not routinely kept at home except at new year. This was noted as late as 29th December 1994 in the Daily Record illustrating how important the selection of the New Year bottle still was: “Like marriage and cinemas, the purchase of the Ne’erday swally is something that cannot be entered into lightly.”


A swallie can mean anything from a ‘wee refreshment’ to a longer drinking session. We have a plural example during another festive period from The List of 3-17 December 1998: “Flush with success and a few celebratory swallies, the bright lights of the casino beckoned us in and sucked us dry.” This would seem to encourage us not to drink and gamble.


Swallie is still in current use in the twenty-first century and still during the festive period with a beer designed to slake the thirst of Santa after his toils as in this example from the Herald of 12th December 2013: “Beer lovers can savour Santa’s Swallie from Perth’s Inveralmond Brewery”.


Scots Word of the Week is written by Pauline Cairns Speitel of Scottish Language Dictionaries 9 Coates Crescent, Edinburgh EH3 7AL (0131) 220 1294,  HYPERLINK "",  HYPERLINK "">"">