outwith and diet (the Scottish factor)

As frequent commenters on this blog can tell you, I am not all that up on the details of English as it is spoken in Scotland, nor in the north of England (or Wales, or Northern Ireland...). I'm in the south, on the south coast. South south south. So most of the Scottish speakers I hear are on television (or, in pleasant but intense weekend bursts, Scrabble tournaments). For a while, I was hearing a fair amount of Scottish-accented speech on The Thick of It, a political satire in which the government's spin doctor is played by (*sigh*) Peter Capaldi (whom I still have a crush on due to Local Hero—undaunted by the many more/less savo(u)ry characters he's played since then). In/on the program(me), the Scots seem to run the government really, and it's generally felt that this was made to reflect real life. Sometimes I think it reflects my real life too, as I work at a university in southern England that has a Scottish Vice Chancellor and a history of Scottish people running various administrative departments.

Linguistically speaking, this means that sometimes the unfamiliar terms that come up in the university's administration-speak are Scottish imports. I'm not sure if we're the only university south of the border in which the year's exam diet is spoken of, but my colleagues who have come from other parts of England to work here find this term as foreign as I do. In Scottish law, a diet is a court session—and in academia it is the series of exams and examination boards (a feat of mind-wrenching bureaucracy necessitated by the classification of degrees) that happens at the end of the academic year—i.e. the examination 'season'.

I was reminded of this today when I was filling out a form concerning a new course. It said:
List all the programmes which will include this course. This should include ALL programmes within and outwith your school.
This was not the first time I'd encountered outwith where I would say outside or possibly (but only if I wanted to sound highfalutin in AmE) without. But this time, I was moved to investigate it, and (whaddya know?) it's marked in my dictionaries as Scottish. (My concise dictionaries say Sc(ottish), while the OED says Now chiefly Sc.) A little further investigation on the (AusE>BrE) uni website reveals that the author of the document is a graduate of the University of Aberdeen.

I wondered whether I should start to develop a paranoid theory about the Scottish conspiracy to run my life and drown me in paperwork (for all of my paranoia is deliberate), but then I thought about the fact that all the Scottish people I know are super-nice and very efficient. Contrary to popular stereotypes, they always seem willing to buy a round of drinks. (So what if my sample size is limited to less than a dozen Scots? They're buying!) If these people do have plans to run my life, well, maybe I should let them. Perhaps it'll turn out that all the drink-buying was a ruse, but it's a lot better than the other paranoid fantasies I have to choose from.


  1. I wonder, though, how much you need to know about UK politics/the parliamentary system to understand it. I think you'd miss a lot if you couldn't associate Capaldi with Campbell, etc.

  2. That's what DVDs are for...but unfortunately most US DVD players can't play most British DVDs.

  3. Old Edinburgh story: an Englishman arrives in the city and sees a notice "Please uplift your messages outwith the store". Well, says he, I understand "please", "your" and "the".

  4. I read a sentence like that the other day, except that it was in general (i.e. not Scots) BrE and it would have been completely impenetrable to AmE speakers. I thought then "I have to remember this one for the blog", but now I can't even remember where I was when I read it. Alas.

  5. A scurrilous assertion about ScotE has done the rounds for some years and, rather than propagating it just to try and get some cheap laughs at Scottish people's expense, I post it here in the hope that it will so shock readers that they will do all they can to ensure its suppression. It is alleged that a customary Scottish greeting to a guest arriving around the time of the evening meal is: "Och, and I expect you'll already have had your tea." or simply: "You'll have had your tea." Disgraceful.

  6. On the other hand, one does not truly understand AmE unless one correctly understands "Johnny went to the bathroom in his pants."

  7. Its only the Scots use the word 'outwith'. To English people it has a funny old fashioned ring to it, with possibly legal overtones. It sounds like someone trying to show off, which very often they are! I've heard it used for almost everything including 'not included' and even 'absent - non-existant'! The meaning of the original word getting lost in plenty of flannel by ignorant folks using it in the wrong context. Funnily enough they dont use 'inwith', not following Chaucers lead on that one.

  8. In reply to Danny, outwith is the opposite of within as opposed to without which wouldn't work as an opposite:
    Danny is outwith the body of the kirk, whereas Tony is within the body of the kirk.
    If you tried:
    Danny is without the body of the kirk, whereas Tony is within the body of the kirk.

  9. I don't suppose anyone could explain dearieme's apocryphal phrase to this confused Sassenach? I can't make head nor tail of it and it's driving me mad.

  10. I believe it means 'Collect your purchases'.

  11. Thank you, David. I can rest easy now :-)

  12. BrE (Scot, 60+). As a child, I used to get a bit confused by the hymn “There is a green hill far away WITHOUT a city wall”.


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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)