‘Outwith’ outwith the lexicon

I find etymology quite interesting, so I’m looking forward to Balderdash & Piffle on BBC Two tonight.

They have a list of words that the OED want to find more printed evidence of. Although I suppose the whole point of this list is that it is surprising, I still can’t believe how new a lot of these words and phrases are.

I’m surprised, for instance, that ‘bouncy castle’ wasn’t used until 1986 — the OED’s entry contains an extract from a 1997 Daily Telegraph. I can assure you, I jumped on a bouncy castle long before then. ‘Bog standard’ hasn’t been found being used before 1983. Imagine all the people that know that term, and it’s little more than 20 years old! The earliest evidence of ‘porky’ is from 1985 — how can that be?

Handbags’ dates back only to 1987! I thought it must have been a really old term, because I couldn’t imagine how its origin could have been recent. I thought it was a reference to some old film or something. ‘Minted’ has only been traced back to 1995, and Scottish newspapers as well! I had always thought of the word as a slang term from southern England.

I guess that language can evolve extraoridinarily quickly. Look at how widespread ‘chav’ has become in the past couple of years. The term ‘full monty’ certainly took on a life of its own soon after the film’s release.

It is also amazing that, in a world where, thanks to the internet and suchlike, people are supposedly communicating more and more to people in far-flung places, there is still a wide amount of local variation — and you don’t always realise it.

When I heard them originally talk about this programme on the radio a good few months back, they said that ‘neebour’ is only used in Kirkcaldy (it’s not a word that I would use)! And I still can’t get over the fact that English people don’t use the word ‘outwith’. Dictionary.com doesn’t have it either — but it’s definitely a real word. How do people survive without ‘outwith’?


  1. I was talking about this on my LiveJournal at one point — it’s a commonly-used word which is essentially entirely local to Scotland. The interesting thing is that it’s the logical opposite of “within” (whereas “without” is not).

  2. Oh, and in most cases “outside of” can replace “outwith”, which is what I think people generally use.

  3. I’d never heard the term “outwith” before reading this entry – at least as far as I can remember, I actually read the list of words partly to read their description of the word to find out what it meant (before finding it wasn’t there) – I should have read the comments first!

  4. Whilst at University (I did English Language and Linguistics) we had to help find some citations for the OED and were tasked with discovering whether Mike D from the Beastie Boys really did coin the term ‘mullet’ in reference to hair-cuts. I can’t remember the outcome…

  5. Having a wee look at Google there are quotes like: “Civil weddings outwith Council premises”; “Children educated outwith school”; “City thriving outwith euro, says Greenspan”. All from Scottish sources! Basically, ‘outwith’ is very similar to ‘outside’, but I think of it as the opposite of ‘within’.

    I like the Wikipedia entry:

    The word is of Scots origin, and is less recognised outwith Scotland than within it.

  6. I got here googling ‘outwith’ after erlier today when a friend mentioned that I sounded particularly Scottish when using the term – until that point I thought it was common enough to all English speakers. Seems not.
    Mike D did not coin the term ‘mullet’ though, absolutely no way.

  7. I found myself here at doctorvee while looking for the meaning of ‘outwith’ after seeing it on the Globespan website while booking my flight from Canada to the U.K. Who’d a thunk?

  8. Outwith is definitely very Scottish, you will find that English people don’t have a clue what it means. I had never heard it until I moved to Scotland. The other Scot-ism that tickles me is “Is that you?” used in various contexts such as “Are you leaving now?” or “Is that all you want?” or “Have you finished?”.

  9. I guess maybe people who hear it for the first time don’t think about language much.
    What on Earth else could “outwith” mean other than (to use mathematical terminology) “outside the set of”?

  10. I was just about to use ‘outwith’ in an essay when I got a strange feeling that I may have made up the word. Seems not! Thanks for clearing that up for me.

  11. I do English Language at uni as well… you’d be amazed how many words Scottish people (me included) THINK are “proper” English (that is, they’re used in England and belong in the dictionary) and actually are what linguists call covert Scotticisms. I spent half the lecturers going to English people “you don’t know what birl means?!”, “you don’t say jag for an injection”?, “you don’t know what a stookie is?”.

    Scottish people know some words are Scottish… (like bairn, wean, stappit-fu, awfy gid ken whit a mean n that ae), but some words we’re oblivious to (‘piece’ (sandwich), ‘outwith’ (outside), ‘slater’ (woodlouse??)). All part of our Scots language heritage – the few remnant words left behind, and a few new words we’ve coined and which haven’t caught on down south yet!

  12. Steve- they are not likely to catch on ‘down south’ just like your use of the word lecturer instead of lecture or is that just another daft scotticism?

    If you really spent half the lecture period asking stupid questions- it says a lot about your chances of getting a degree!

  13. The opposite of ‘within’ is ‘outside’ this is perfectly logical in the UNIVERSAL English language, for example:

    ‘outwith the European Union’

    Sounds like a chant at an anti Europe demonstration ?

    ‘outside of the European Union’

    No mistake, its meaning is crystal clear- even to a foreigner like me!

    If local dialects were to be used widely in national information, broadcasting, safety legislation, government reports and education etc. can you imagine the confusion?

    So GET REAL it isnt catching on!!!!

  14. Ricardo – I’ll give you a wee scottish phrase. Away and bile yer heid ya numpty. Yer a doss cunt and no doot, ya gleechit fanny.

  15. Fett- Scottish (definition): a prickly, aggresive and unsociable creature with an ignorant and distasteful nationalistic view.

    It is quite lovely that you encapsulate all these qualities in your somewhat erratic and offensive rambling.

  16. I was beginning to think that I had dreamt the word ‘outwith’. Since moving from Scotland to England I’ve never heard it being used. It must be another word unique to the Scots.

  17. Hehe, I was googling to see if outwith was one word or two in something I’m writing and this was the second hit 🙂

  18. Like most I was shocked that the English don’t have ‘outwith’. It has no exact synonym (‘outside’ is more physical, which is why it can also mean ‘outdoors’). ‘Outwith’ is a useful everyday concept, it’s not like the twentieth different word for a small stream. And the English don’t have it! So weird.

  19. As an Englishman I first heard ‘outwith’ when I started a new job in Glasgow in 1985. It sounded most unusual to my ear but I immediately realised what it meant although initially it sounded ‘wrong’, particularly when used by my highly educated colleagues. I think it’s a great word and adds a delightful shade of meaning. Having said that, 24 years after I first heard it, I’ve never used it myself and never heard anyone but a Scot use it.
    The Scottish expression I like is ‘Where do you stay?’ as opposed to ‘where do you live?’.
    Long live diversity.

  20. I spent a few years in Edinburgh and never encountered ‘outwith’, but have just searched for it having encountered it online.

    My favorite scottishism is ‘getting your messages’, which has nothing to do with messages and everything to do with shopping.

  21. Ricardo “can you imagine the confusion?” Ohh just imagine Ricky, we’d all be in a right muddle, wouldn’t we? I publish the word outwith frequently and have never had any complaints and I work on the Continent. So there you go smart arse Ricardo.

  22. ‘Outside’ is perfectly satisfactory in every sense in which Outwith is used. We don’t need or want it. But it is pleasing to have options, I suppose.

  23. English has used ‘without’ in the not too distant past, viz “There is a green hill far away, without a city wall” to which, as a child, I always thought, “I can’t imagine a hill with a city wall.

  24. I’ve used “outwith” a couple of times in stories, but until now I thought only fantasy and science fiction writers used the term rather than, for example, “outside”. Nice to see that in parts of Scotland it’s used in everyday language, because it’s a pretty word.

  25. Who can decide what is proper English? Scotland, Ireland, Wales, America, and Australia, along with various other nations speak English. Is the English they speak wrong? Can one nation decide what language we should all speak? There are are so many Englishes about that we should be able to think outside the box and not be bogged down by what the high and mighty think is English. Long live “outwith” and other such words which brighten the English language.

  26. I concur with all those Sassenachs and other non-Scots ilk who were bewildered on first encountering this word. In my case I was in the Middle East working with ex-pats (coming from or in some way associated with Aberdeen!) when I was first confronted with it. Since then it rather seems to be making attempts at the mainstream as I hear it more and more. I put this down to the large number of Scots in the previous UK government, who would use it in statements to the House and interviews with the media. I guess if enough people start using the word we shall just have to accept it as one more synonym. Until such time as “outside of” begins to sound archaic!

  27. I am 67 and only heard “outwith” for the first time a year or so ago when dealing with Scottish members of my beekeeping association. Strangely, I read it today in an Ian Rankin novel of 1993, which is why I Googled it. To my mind it falls into the same category as “bairn” – I understand what it means, but it is a Scottish term and not one that I am likely to use myself. I don’t suppose the Scots would want to use some of my London words such as dog in “who’s on the dog (phone)?”

    Sentinel – thank you very much. I have never understood that business of “without a city wall”. Doh!

  28. I work for a Scottish company (in England) and it find it totally bizarre that loads of the managers seem to use “outwith” in their general vocabulary. As if we all use it. And they all pretend everyone has always used it instead of the word “OUTSIDE” Whereas no one says “I’m going outwith for a cigarette” or “…that was never a penalty (add kick if you are Scottish – we don’t bother in England) it was outwith the box.”

    It doesn’t seem quite a proper word does it unless you are Scots?

  29. Ricardo

    What a sneering, offensive little creep you are.

    Since when was the english language ‘universal’?

    Since when was ANY language ‘universal’??

    Delusional twat that you are…

  30. It isn’t proper book English. It is however proper Scots. You’ll find books on this around the time of the Union where English appeared on mass over the border.

    There are quite a number of these “outwith” type words. “input” is Scots for an insertion and goes way back. The English would be “put in”. Of course it’s now a familiar computer term.

    “neebour” should be standard across Scotland. Around the NE Scotland area it could be “neepour”. Other variants exist.

  31. 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’! Funnily enough they dont use ‘inwith’, not following Chaucers lead on that one.

  32. That’s hilarious! I was just reading this then went to say goodbye to some colleagues, as it’s my last day here on contract in Edinburgh. The immediate response was “is that you?”!!!

    I just love the scottishisms (if that’s what they are). We English think we know the Scots but we are sorely deceived.


  33. The absurd and proud Scottish use of the word outwith is not confined to its meaning either. According to the Scots dictionary – (which it is part of, not being an English word) outwith means outside of, and does not mean ‘not included’. The Scots havnt yet caught onto the use of ‘inwith’ such language long ago discarded by sensible English folk who havnt the time the Scots have to swop their fuzzy daft words.

  34. Grungbucket – you may not have time to learn our (Scots) language, so I suggest you start with your own and learn how to spell haven’t

  35. (I landed here while googling “outwith”)

    Now I’m confused. I’m just running through tracked changes in a manuscript. “It’s not out with the realms of possibility.” was the origional line. A London based editor has changed it to “outwith” and she’s most definately not Scottish. But in this instance, and most of those noted above, is it not the word “beyond” that is being replaced with the word “outwith”. i.e. much less commonly used as a noun than “outside”.

    “Beyond the realms…” “Beyond the city wall…” etc.

    The context in which many words are used can change their meaning, and often definition can be derived from context. -Glass half full- I think the bottom line is; if you know what is being said then, right or wrong, the words worked.

    “outwith” is a good word with a single meaning. Used correctly it is easily understandable, even by the literary challenged.

  36. Interesting article, though I don’t see why so many people are getting so irritated about the subject.

    I landed on this webpage having had my sentence “we accept no responsibility for this service as it is outwith our control” rejected by the spellchecker.

    I have changed it, but wasn’t keen too –as in my opinion “outwith” captured my meaning better than “outside of” or “beyond”. One of my favourite things about the English language is its variety, and its a shame that so many people are such sticklers for their own particular dialect that we all move into line with it.

    I agree with the comments of someone above that “outwith” does have a hint of legalese about it, but that is probably why I wanted to use it — I wanted a word with a higher register, than the offical words seemed to supply.