In recent days I've seen the word 'clusterbourach' come up to describe the Brexit process. For example, in the National:

The deal was, he said later, not just a bourach, but a “clusterbourach”.

I've tried looking up this word online but have been unable to find a definition (for example, in the Online Scots Dictionary). I'm guessing from context that it means 'a mess' or something similar. Still, it would be good to get a proper definition.

What does this word mean?

  • 1
    We're way past clusterburach, most commentators agree we are now well into omniburach territory. I put great faith in my local MSP's scots/gaelic/english vocabulary.
    – Spagirl
    Dec 14, 2018 at 15:37
  • There is a common vulgar phrase in English (which originated with the military), "cluster-F***". It's a local play on that.
    – Fattie
    Dec 14, 2018 at 16:38
  • Omnibùrach is clearly a Scottish version of omnishambles. However, I think we are well past omnibùrach. I think we are past all vocabulary. It is also interesting that politicians now think it appropriate to use the Gaelic spelling with the ù. How times have changed. Dec 14, 2018 at 22:33
  • I have today seen ‘galactabouroch’ in the wild.
    – Spagirl
    Dec 16, 2018 at 9:17

5 Answers 5


The writer of this article is assuming the reader is familiar with a rather vulgar term, cluster fuck, given by M-W as:

a complex and utterly disordered and mismanaged situation : a muddled mess

I am not that familiar with the term bourach, but one of the meanings given in your own link is "mess." This could be connected to its other meaning of hovel, i.e. dwelling in a bad state of upkeep, but this is conjecture on my part.

So the writer has either made playful use of some rhetorical parallelism by adding the cluster in front of bourach for emphasis, or a slightly humorous attempt to bowdlerize his statement by replacing the vulgar portion of cluster fuck with something else. Whether the attempt worked and got the desired effect is another question.

  • 1
    That makes total sense! I never considered clusterfuck as a source (although I am vaguely familiar with it). Would you take a stab at a definition, in the light of what you've said? For instance, would it be fair to describe the meaning of the quote in my question as "not just a mess but a total and utter mess"? Dec 14, 2018 at 12:44
  • 4
    By the by, I don't think it necessarily has the effect of bowdlerising clusterfuck, rather of playfully making bourach more emphatic. If it does modify clusterfuck then it 'Scottishises' it, giving it a distinctive Scottish nature. Which suits the SNP down to the ground. I do at least know more about Scottish politics than I do about Scottish linguistics! I do rather like it as a phrase. Playful and mischeivous. Dec 14, 2018 at 12:47
  • Could you add a source for ‘original meaning of a dwelling in a bad state of upkeep’?
    – Spagirl
    Dec 15, 2018 at 9:16
  • @TheDarkLord - The paraphrase in your first comment seems spot on from my perspective. As for your second comment, I had not thought of that, but it is an interesting idea for why the author chose this term, and is probably more valid than my explanation.
    – cobaltduck
    Dec 15, 2018 at 15:39
  • @Spagirl - The reference is in the original question, but I have edited that portion to clarify my intent.
    – cobaltduck
    Dec 15, 2018 at 15:40

The more common spelling of this is


meaning something like an 'awful great big complicated mess'. It has been used commonly recently to describe the legal difficulties in Brexit negotiations.

An example usage from recent news:

Scotland does deserve better. No reasonable person looking at the clusterburach at Westminster this week can deny that.”

It of course is patterned after the much more pejorative/taboo 'clusterfuck', a big mess. The interesting part is that

'burach' is Scots Gaelic for 'mess.

(thanks Spagirl for the dictionary link). So 'clusterburach' is two euphemism steps away from 'clusterfuck'.

Aside: there may be no trustworthy evidence for it but 'burach' may also mean 'duck', which may have been a multilingual rhyming euphemism (this is very questionable but entertaining). In other words, a cluster of ducks is not necessarily evocative of a terrible complication, but is associated by translation first and then by rhyming with a taboo word for 'a great big mess'. I have no evidence for this other than Google Translate, which is notoriously problematic for underrepresented languages like Gaelic in its various national forms, and idle, or rather motivated, speculation.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Dec 15, 2018 at 1:52
  • Thanks for the credit in your edit, but is isn’t a ‘scots’ Dictionary it’s a Gaelic one. Scots and Gaelic are different languages. ‘Irish’ may mean the gaelic spoken in Ireland but you can’t just map that across to Scotland. This is a Dictionary of Scots which I’d been trying to avoid since ‘bourach’ in scots apparently meant a hobble for cows before the Gaelic loanword for mess took over.
    – Spagirl
    Dec 15, 2018 at 8:13
  • @Spagirl Forgive me for misuse of terms, I'm from the US, not Scotland or Ireland, so am not immersed in the distinctions. From the 'Am Faclair Beag' site, at the very top it says 'An English - Scottish Gaelic dictionary', which is why I used the term 'Scots dictionary', which may very well be mistaken (I was mistaken to say 'Scots dictionary'). What I've found: 'Scots Gaelic': closely related to Irish Gaelic, 'Scots' or 'Lowland Scots': derived from Middle English.'Irish' is Irish Gaelic' and just 'Gaelic' is ... either?
    – Mitch
    Dec 15, 2018 at 14:29
  • 1
    Within Scotland the Gaelic language spoken is referred to, in English, as ‘gaelic’. People out with Scotland might refer to it as Scottish Gaelic to distinguish it from Irish and Manx. Referring to it as ‘Scots’ seems logical, but doesn’t work. I’m not upbraiding you at all, just trying to help weed out confusing elements of your answer.
    – Spagirl
    Dec 15, 2018 at 15:44

You'll find the Scots term "bourach" in this online Scots dictionary. It's a loan word from Scottish Gaelic "bùrach", which means "a mess, a hash (of something)". The Scots loan takes on other meanings, but in the word clusterbourach it is simply a more emphatic way of calling something a "shambles" or a "mess". Can be spelled "bourach", "boorach", "burach".

http://www.scots-online.org/dictionary/scots_english.asp boorach [ˈbuːrəx, ˈbuːrɪç] n. A small mound, a heap of stones. A heap or mass. A crowd, a group, a cluster. A humble dwelling, a hovel, a mess. dim. boorachie, boorie NN.a. a small heap v. To heap up, mass profusely. To crowd together. bourach [ˈbuːrəx, NN.b. ˈbiːrəx] n. A band put round a cow's hinder legs at milking. v. To fetter.

Here is the Gaelic definition of bùrach. https://faclair.com/ bùrach /buːrəx/ fir. gin. ┐ iol. -aich 1 bourach, mess, guddle, shambles 2 (act of) delving, digging 3 jostling (in sports)


Bùrach is used in Dumfries to describe a large mess or F...Up! Some think it's local Dumfries "Scots", but it's Gàidhlig, it's Praiseach in Gaeilge. Watching Ian Blackford talking on Sky news live saying " Clusterbùrach" is the best TV I've seen this year!


In Wigtownshire which has its own lallands Scots or lowlands Scots, to be completely burached, means to be very drunk.

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