View site in Scots

Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

Heelster gowdie



Scots has many expressions for things and situations going upside down or, indeed, tapsalteerie. Heelster gowdie is one of them and is cited in many forms in Dictionaries of the Scots Language (DSL) - heelsower gowdie or heelster gourie being just two. We are told that heelster gowdie means head over heels, topsy-turvy, upside down ... to tumble head over heels. As a noun, it also means a somersault - as in the game of tummle the cat, an expression which is thought to have been originally a child’s word from gowdie, meaning a head of golden hair.

In William Forbes’ A Dominie Deposed (1746), the schoolteacher in question seems to be handing them out a punishment:


“Who did the Dominie ding o’er, just heels o’er gowdy”.



J C Milne, in Orra Loon (1946), describes a mishap:


“And his feet cam’ up against it wi’ sic an afa ding That he tumbled heelster-goudie and broke his apron string”.


(An Orra Loon is an odd-job man, usually on a farm.)

In another accident, The Boggin Beginnin (Thomas Clark’s translation of Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events, 2021) describes a character who trips and


“heelster-gowdie piles on tap o the copy o Nuptial Law for Numpties.”



Finally, from the Press and Journal of September 2021, an example of two Scots words for helter-skelter and upside down:


“But when ditching EU red tape, let us not plunge heelster-gowdie, tapselteerie into Imperial units. Indeed, the very name ‘Imperial’ will incite some to high dudgeon, instant condemnation and proximal rejection”.



This Scots Word of the Week was written by Pauline Cairns Speitel. Visit DSL Online at