6 times it’s OK to use the word ‘Scotch’, and why you don’t want to get it wrong

When judging got under way at the World Scotch Pie Championships, the experts were more concerned about fillings and pie casings than linguistics.

But the word “Scotch” is one that needs to be treated with care lest you risk offending anyone within earshot.

To put it simply, it needs to be reserved for talking about foods and items, and never to mean the people of Scotland.

World Scotch pie championship
Judging under way at the Scotch Pie championships (Andrew Milligan/PA)

“‘Scotch’ is old-fashioned and it’s now disliked by many Scottish people,” said Clifford Sofield, a senior assistant editor at Oxford English Dictionary.

“Because it’s disliked, the word ‘Scotch’ survives only in fixed expressions – compounds like Scotch pine, Scotch pie, Scotch broth.”

With that lesson in mind, here’s the times when it is OK.

1. Scotch Egg

Scotch Egg Challenge 2012
A Scotch egg (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

A delicious hard boiled egg wrapped in sausage meat and coated in breadcrumbs which is then deep fried and eaten cold. What’s not to like?

Its origins are disputed but high-end retailer Fortnum and Mason claims to have made the original Scotched egg in 1738 as a “meal on the move”. It still sells the eggs, explaining: “Often imitated, but ours still sits proudly as the original portable pick-me-up.”

Neil Chambers from the Handmade Scotch Egg Company told the Daily Telegraph in 2011 that the snacks were a Scottish equivalent of the Cornish pasty – a “poor man’s lunch produced from leftovers that was easy to transport” – no involvement of Fortnum and Mason needed.

2. Scotch Broth

This is a hearty treat on a cold night. A thick soup made from mutton and vegetables and thickened with barley.

Dictionary Merriam-Webster records its first use in 1735.

“The term ‘Scotch’ has fallen in and out of favour over time,” said Jane Solomon, lexicographer from Dictionary.com.

“Starting in the late 1700s, more educated people in Scotland began to view the adjective ‘Scotch’ as vulgar, while ‘Scottish’ remained a more neutral term.

“In the 20th century, educated English people began to adapt to the Scottish preferences and the adjective ‘Scotch’ declined in use at that point.”

3. Scotch Bonnet

Scotch bonnet chilli pepper (Wavebreakmedia/Getty Images)
Scotch bonnet chili pepper (Wavebreakmedia/Getty Images)

Sticking with food, a Scotch Bonnet is a variety of chilli pepper from the Caribbean. Its only link to Scotland is a historic one.

Some people said the shape of the pepper looks like a Tam o’Shanter hat, a name which itself comes from a Robert Burns poem. As to whether the pepper looks like a hat is another thing.

The revival of “Scots” and “Scottish” coincided with the revival of Scottish literature, such as that of Burns, said Clifford Sofield of the OED.

“‘Scotch’ is perceived as an English word and people in Scotland really prefer ‘Scots’ and ‘Scottish’ to ‘Scotch’.”

The hottest possible Scotch bonnet is 140 times spicier than a mild jalapeno, Pepperscale.com claims.

“This chili has a slightly sweet taste to it, sort of like a tomato with a slight hint of apples and cherries. It’s very closely related to the habanero… just add in more sweetness.”

4. Scotch Corner

A snowy Scotch Corner in 2005
A snowy Scotch Corner in 2005 (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Head north on the A1 and eventually you arrive at Scotch Corner, the name given to the junction with the A66, and the neighbouring shopping centre, motorway services and hotel.

Its name comes from a decision travellers could make at this point in their journey depending on where they are heading in Scotland.

It’s the same now. Motorists can continue along the A1 (M) for Edinburgh and the east of Scotland, or turn on to the A66 for a quicker route to Glasgow and the west of Scotland via Carlisle.

5. Scotch Whisky

Whisky made in Scotland can also be called Scotch. It’s also spelt w-h-i-s-k-y, whereas in Ireland and the US they tend to use the spelling w-h-i-s-k-e-y – with an “e”.

Its earliest appearance was in 1494, explains the Scotch Whisky Association, according to tax records. There was such a large quantity recorded that it’s probable “distilling was already well established”.

Scotch Whisky must be matured in oak casks for a minimum of three years, although it’s the norm for it to mature for much longer before going on sale.

No-one will be offended by someone asking for a Scotch to mean the drink.

6. Scotch Pie

World Scotch pie championship
A feast for one, or many (Andrew Milligan/PA)

The winner of the World Scotch Pie Championships will be revealed at a gala lunch early next year following the judging in Dunfermline this week.

As well as pies, the 50 experts tasted sausage rolls, vegetarian savouries and even apple pies.

We don’t know if George Orwell ever ate a Scotch pie but he was well up on linguistic trends.

Writing in the Daily Herald in 1947 he counselled against getting the wording wrong when it comes to Scots v Scotch.

“If a Scotsman objects to being called a Scotchman… it is only the most ordinary politeness to do what is asked of one.”


LifeWeb editor