A Happy New Year as 2018 blaws in

 

Early in 2017 I posted something on this blog with the title Caledonian Culture War.  This was about the introduction in Scotland of baby boxes – from 2017, the parents of every new-born child in Scotland will receive a box full of baby-friendly goodies like a blanket, changing mat, towel, reusable nappy, sponge and thermometer, with the box itself able to double up as a crib.  Also in the box is a poem of welcome to the bairn written by Jackie Kay, Scotland’s Makar (poet laureate).  This is composed in Scots English and begins: “O ma darlin wee one / At last you are here in the wurld / And wi’ aa your wisdom / Your een bricht as the stars…

 

Unbelievably, some people had a problem with this.  And in the post, I stated I had a problem with them having a problem with it.

 

Yesterday I was surprised and delighted to find in this blog’s inbox an email from Jackie Kay, who’d evidently read the post and had decided to include me in her New Year greetings.  The greeting came in the form of a short poem, part of which addresses the baby-boxes controversy.  You can read it in full at the bottom of the Caledonian Culture War post, but I’ll reproduce the ending of the poem here, as the sentiment expressed is perfect for the beginning of 2018.

 

“…happy new year yin and all, wee yins and big yins and – here’s tae us taking a snip at oor cultivated cringe – and turning the whinge down to a low peep in this year about to blaw in, the year 2018, wha’s like us?!”

 

So as 2018 blaws in, I wish you all a happy, cringe-free and whinge-free New Year too.  Though I have no doubt that on this blog I will continue to find things to whinge about from time to time.

 

According to Western Christianity, today is the 8th day of Christmas, so technically we’re still in the middle of the festive season.  Here are photos I took the other night of the Christmas tree and New Year greeting outside the Asok Skytrain station on Bangkok’s Sumhumvit Road.

 

 

Another 25 Scots words that must not die

 

Today is January 25th and this evening is Burns Night – commemorating the 257th anniversary of the birth of Scotland’s national bard and globally-loved ‘ploughman-poet’ Robert Burns.  And as usual, I’ll mark the occasion by listing 25 words and expressions that I like from the medium in which Burns wrote his poetry, the Scots language.  25 words and expressions that, despite the onslaught of modern-day standardised TV-friendly, IT-friendly English, still appear in speech and writing north of the border.

 

From etims.net

 

Bertie Auld (adj), as in “It’s Bertie Auld tonight!” – rhyming slang for ‘cauld’, the Scottish pronunciation of ‘cold’.  Bertie Auld was a Scottish footballer who played for Celtic, Hibernian, Dumbarton and Birmingham City and whose finest hour was surely his membership of the Lisbon Lions, the Celtic team that won the European Cup in 1967.  I first encountered this term when a character used it in an Irvine Welsh novella I was reading, contained in Welsh’s 1994 collection The Acid House and called A Smart C**t.  (Yes, Irvine is so hard-core that even his story titles have to be asterixed.)

 

Breenge (v) – to go, rush, dash.

 

Callant (n) – a lad or young man.  The Common Riding festival held annually in the Borders town of Jedburgh is called the Callant’s Festival.  Accordingly, the festival’s principal man is called the Callant.

 

Carlin (n) – an old woman, hag or witch.  Throughout Scotland there are stone circles, standing stones and odd rock formations that are known as carlin stones, presumably because people once linked them to the supernatural and imagined that witches would perform unsavoury rituals at them.

 

From themodernantiquarian.com

 

Dunt (n / v) – a heavy but dull-sounding blow.  The word appears in an old Scottish saying, “Words are but wind, but dunts are the devil,” which I guess is a version of “Sticks and stones will break your bones, but names will never hurt you.”

 

Eejit (n) – idiot.  Inevitably, in 2008, when Dundonian poet Matthew Fitt got around to translating Roald Dahl’s 1980 children’s book The Twits into Scots, he retitled it… The Eejits.

 

Flyte (v) – to trade insults in the form of verse.  This combative literary tradition can be found in Norse and Anglo-Saxon cultures, but flyting was made an art-form in 15th / 16th-century Scotland by poets like William Dunbar, Walter Kennedy and Sir David Lyndsay.  There’s a poetic account of one flyting contest between Dunbar and Kennedy that’s called, unsurprisingly, The Flyting of Dumbar and Kennedie and consists of 28 stanzas of anti-Kennedy abuse penned by Dunbar and another 41 stanzas of Kennedy sticking it back to Dunbar.  According to Wikipedia, this work contains “the earliest recorded use of the word ‘shit’ as a personal insult.”  Thus, flyting was the Scottish Middle-Ages literary equivalent of two rappers dissing each other in their ‘rhymes’; and Dunbar and Kennedy were the Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls of their day.

 

Gallus (adj) – a word that’s probably used by one or two Glaswegians when describing themselves, meaning bold, cheeky, reckless, show-offy and irrepressible.  However, the online Collins Dictionary tells me that gallus is derived from the word ‘gallows’ and it originally meant ‘fit for the gallows’.  Which is appropriate in a way.  On a few occasions I’ve tried to have a quiet, reflective pint in a Glaswegian pub, only to have my space invaded and my meditation disrupted by a would-be gallus local wanting to entertain me with his amazing patter.  With the result that I’d have liked to see that gallus Glaswegian strung up on a gallows.

 

From wikipedia.org

 

Gloaming (n) – The period after sunset but before it gets completely dark.  It inspired the famous 1911 song Roamin’ in the Gloamin’, written and performed by Sir Harry Lauder.  The song’s chorus goes: “Roamin’ in the gloamin’ on the bonnie banks o’ Clyde / Roamin’ in the gloamin’ wi ma lassie by ma side!”  There’s also a song by Radiohead called The Gloaming, found on their 2003 album Hail to the Thief, which you’ll be surprised to hear is a wee bit less jaunty than the Harry Lauder song.

 

Guddle (n) – a confused mess (similar to a ‘muddle’).  Guddle also exists in Scots as a verb and means to catch a fish with your bare hands, using the mysterious technique of tickling the fish’s belly.

 

Harled (adj) – a harled building has had its external stonework covered in a mixture of lime and gravel, giving it a roughcast coating that protects it against the worst of the Scottish elements.  Famous harled buildings include Stirling Castle and Aberdeenshire’s Crathes Castle.

 

Hirple (v) – to hobble or limp.

 

Howk (v) – to dig, rake or poke around in.  Once upon a time, the activity of manually picking potatoes out of the ground was called tattiehowking.  A more abusive derivation is binhowker, meaning someone who has to find sustenance by rummaging in other people’s bins.

 

Jakey (n) – a down-at-heels, worse-for-wear vagrant with an alcohol dependency – the alcohol in question usually being Buckfast Tonic Wine or Carlsberg Special Brew.  The Scottish-based, English-born bestselling author J.K. Rowling is sometimes referred to as Jakey Rowling by Scottish-independence enthusiasts, irritated at her high-profile support for Scotland remaining part of the United Kingdom.

 

(c) The Sun

 

Janny (n) – a janitor.

 

Kent yer faither! (idiom) – (I) knew your father!  In other words, “Don’t give yourself airs and graces because I know you’re from humble stock, same as the rest of us.”  I’ve never heard anyone use this as a putdown, but I’ve heard folk complain about the ‘kent-yer-faither syndrome’ in Scotland, i.e. Scotland’s a place where if you manage to improve yourself and be a success, you have deal with a bunch of jealous, moaning gits trying to cut you down to size.

 

Makar (n) – a poet or bard.  In 2004, the Scottish Parliament established the post of ‘Scots Makar’, i.e. a national bard or poet laureate.  The post has been occupied by the late Edwin Morgan and, since 2011, by Liz Lochhead.

 

(c) STV

 

Rammy (n) – a fight or brawl.  A stairheid rammy is a brawl that breaks out among the womenfolk in the staircases and on the landings of Scotland’s urban tenement buildings.  During the run-up to the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, stairhead rammies took place in Scotland’s TV studios too.  A television debate between then-SNP deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon and Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont was described afterwards by journalist Ruth Wishart as “a right good stairheid rammy” that “made strong men avert their eyes”.

 

Scooby (n), as in “I havenae a Scooby” – rhyming slang for ‘clue’, as in “I haven’t a clue.”  Scooby refers to Scooby Doo, the famous American TV cartoon dog who accompanied some ‘meddling kids’, without whose investigations many, many, many criminals “would have gotten away with it.”

 

Shilpit (adj) – thin, pale and weak-looking.

 

From bushcraftuk.com

 

Spurtle (n) – a long wooden utensil once used in Scottish cooking, sometimes a spatula for turning over oatcakes, sometimes a stick for stirring porridge.  I can’t recall the name of the story it was in, but I vividly remember reading a description of a sheep’s carcass lying on a Scottish hillside with its four stiff legs “sticking up like spurtles”.

 

Thrawn (adj) – stubborn, obstinate and bloody-minded, inclined to do the opposite of what everyone urges you to do.  However, there’s a macabre short story called Thrawn Janet by Robert Louis Stevenson, in which the word has a different meaning – ‘twisted’ or ‘deformed’.  The title character is described as having “her neck thrawn, and her heid on ae side, like a body that has been hangit

 

Trews (n) – tartan trousers, once worn by Scotland’s southern regiments and regarded as a traditional garment of the country’s Lowlands (although in reality, like kilts, trews originated in the Highlands).  I’ve heard it said that trews were the prototype for the tartan plus-fours that golfers used to wear.  Scotland’s ebullient, publicity-loving former First Minister Alex Salmond had a fondness for trews and was pictured wearing them on several occasions.  Although looking at those pictures now, I think that even the world’s biggest Salmond-admirer would have to admit that Alex Salmond + trews = sight for sore eyes.

 

(c) The Daily Record

 

Vennel (n) – an alleyway or narrow lane.  See also wynd and close.

 

Winch (v) – to be romantically involved with someone; though I’ve heard it used in more graphic situations where it clearly meant ‘get off with’ or ‘stick your tongue down the throat of’ someone.  Winch is a verb that seems to add some effort to the act of getting romantically acquainted – it makes it sound like it requires heavy lifting.  Yes, if you’re going to winch someone, you’re going to have to grit your teeth and shed some sweat.

 

(c) Hanna-Barbera Productions, Inc

 

James Bond in Scots

 

(c) Eon Productions

 

I have at least one seriously silly thought every day and I’ve decided to share today’s seriously silly thought with you.  What would the titles of all the James Bond movies sound like if they’d been formulated not in Standard English, but in Scots?  Well, maybe like this:

 

Dr No                                                             Dr Naw

From Russia with Love                               Frae Russia wi Winchin’

Goldfinger                                                    Gauld Pinkie

Thunderball                                                  Thunner Baw

You Only Live Twice                                    Ye Onie Bide Twa Times

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service                On the High Heid-Yin’s Secret Service

Diamonds are Forever                                 Diamonds are Firiver

Live and Let Die                                            Bide an’ Let Dee

The Man with the Golden Gun                    The Gadgie wi the Gaulden Gun

The Spy Who Loved Me                               The Spy Whae Winched Me

Moonraker                                                     Moon Howker

For Your Eyes Only                                      Fir Yer Een Onie

Octopussy                                                      Octo-Fannie

A View to a Kill                                              A Shuftey tae a Malky

The Living Daylights                                     The Bidin’ Daylichts

Licence to Kill                                                Licence tae Malky

 

(c) Eon Productions

 

Goldeneye                                                      Gaulden Ee

Tomorrow Never Dies                                  The Morra Nivir Dees

The World is not Enough                             The Wirld isnae Eneuch

Die Another Day                                            Dee Anither Day

Casino Royale                                                Ceilidh-Hoose Royale

Quantum of Solace                                       Smeddum o Solace

Skyfall                                                             Sky Cowp

Spectre                                                           Bogle

 

All right, some poetic licence – as opposed to a licence to kill – has been deployed here.  Certain Scots words I used because I liked the sound of them, not because they captured the exact shade of meaning.

 

For example, I know that the Scots noun ‘pinkie’ refers to your little finger only, not to any old finger; and the verb ‘bide’ means ‘live’ as in ‘reside’, not ‘live’ as in simply ‘be alive’.  Also, I don’t know of any direct Scots equivalent of ‘Her Majesty’; so for the title of the sixth Bond movie (the only one to show 007 wearing a kilt) I used the term ‘high heid yin’, which means the boss, the person in charge of an organisation.  Although if you believe the rumours about what people living near Balmoral Castle — which since 1852 has been the Royal Family’s private residence in Scotland — call the Queen and her kin, maybe ‘the auld German wifie’ would have sufficed.  As for Ceilidh-Hoose Royale, well, that’s me being really daft.

 

Incidentally, by penning this post, I risk incurring the wrath of fulminating wee columnist John Macleod, who in the most recent Scottish edition of the Mail on Sunday lambasted the fad for translating literary works — especially works for children — into the Scots tongue.  He cited one of Hergé’s Adventures of Tintin, The Black Island, as an example of the horrors that happen — in 2013 Susan Rennie had the temerity to translate it, as The Derk Isle, into the frightful devil’s gobbledygook that is Scots.  As the learned Macleod knows, Tintin should only be read in the civilised eloquence of Hergé’s native Standard English.

 

Anyway, I’m sure this man would approve…

 

From www.pinterest.com 

 

By the way — happy belated 85th birthday, you grumpy auld bugger.

 

25 more Scots words that must not die

 

In my previous post I mentioned two men with the surname Burns: Robert Burns, the famous 18th-century Scottish poet, and Montgomery Burns, the infamous 21st-century billionaire owner of Springfield Nuclear Power Station in The Simpsons.  This has reminded me that back on January 25th, to celebrate Burns Night – which is held in honour of Robert Burns, not Monty – I posted an article called 25 Scots Words That Must Not Die.  At the time I promised I would write an article about 25 more Scots words that mustn’t die, either.

 

Here now is that sequel.

 

Bawbag (n) – literally a scrotum, but normally, to quote the online Urban Dictionary site, bawbag is used as “a derogatory name given to one who is annoying, useless or just plain stupid.”  (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=bawbag)  Thus, when United Kingdom Independence Party leader Nigel Farage steamed into Edinburgh last May in a bid to raise UKIP’s profile north of the border, he ended up besieged inside the Canon’s Gait pub on the Royal Mile by a horde of anti-racism protestors who chanted: “Nigel, ye’re a bawbag.  Nigel, ye’re a bawbag.  Na, na, na, hey!”

 

(c) The Huffington Post

 

Bide (v) – to live.  Derived from this verb is the compound noun bidie-hame, which technically refers to a partner whom the speaker is living with but isn’t actually married to.  However, I’ve heard married men describe their wives – wives who aren’t in formal employment and spend their time doing housework – as bidie-hames too.  In fact, in the 1980s, when one of the most popular programmes on British television was Minder, the comedy-drama series about a lovable pair of Cockney spivs played by George Cole and Dennis Waterman, Minder was helpfully subtitled into Scots to help Scottish people understand the impenetrable London accents of its characters.  Whenever George Cole referred to his wife as ‘Her Indoors’, this was translated in the subtitles as ‘the Bidie Hame’.  Alright, I made that last bit up.  You can dream, though.

 

Blether (v) – to talk or chatter.  Journalist, editor and Rupert Murdoch’s one-time right-hand-man Andrew Neil used this word a lot while he was editor-in-chief at Scotsman publications.  He was forever fulminating against Scotland’s blethering classes – the equivalent of the ‘chattering classes’ in England who were so despised at the time by London’s right-wing press, i.e. left-leaning middle-class people who spent their time holding dinner parties, drinking Chardonnay and indulging in airy-fairy political discussion about how Britain should have a written constitution, proportional representation and devolution.  Then, however, Neil started working for the BBC in London and suddenly all his references to ‘blethering’ ceased.

 

(c) BBC

 

Bourach (n) – sometimes a mound or hillock, but more commonly a mess or muddle.  Like midden, then, it’s a vital word when you have to bawl out a teenager about the state of his or her bedroom.

 

Chib (n/v) – a knife, or to stab someone.  Considering the popularity in modern times of wearing Highland dress at Scottish weddings, and considering the custom of having a ceremonial sgian-dhu (i.e. dagger) tucked down the side of the hose (i.e. socks) in said Highland dress, and considering the amount of alcohol consumed at such affairs, it’s amazing that Scottish weddings don’t see more chibbing than they do.

 

Clarty (adj) – dirty.  A dirty person, meanwhile, is often called a clart.  And a pre-pubescent boy who avoids soap, shampoo, showers and clean socks and underwear, like Pig Pen used to do in the Charlie Brown comic strips, would undoubtedly be described in Scotland as a wee clart.

 

From www.funnyjunk.com

 

Cloots (n) – a plural noun meaning hooves (and having nothing to do with Anacharsis Cloots, the Prussian nobleman who became a leading figure in the French Revolution).  By extension, Cloots came to be a nickname for the world’s most famous possessor of a pair of hooves, Auld Nick, a.k.a. the Devil.  In his poem Address to the Deil, Robert Burns not only mocks Auld Nick but brags that, despite his wild and wanton behaviour in this present life, he’ll escape the fiend’s clutches and avoid going to hell.

 

“An’ now, auld Cloots, I ken ye’re thinkin,

A certain bardie’s rantin, drinkin,

Some luckless hour will send him linkin

To your black pit;

But faith! he’ll turn a corner jinkin

An’ cheat ye yet.”

 

Clype (n) – a contemptible sub-species of schoolchild, i.e. the type who’s always running to the teachers and telling tales on his or her schoolmates.

 

Colliebuckie (n) – a piggy-back.  Yes, Scottish playgrounds once echoed with cries of “Gie’s a colliebuckie!”  (And yes, I’m getting misty-eyed with nostalgia now.)

 

Drouth (n) – a thirst.  Many an epic drinking session has started when someone declared that they had “a right drouth” and then herded the company into a pub to rectify matters.  Tam O’Shanter, perhaps Burns’ most famous poem, begins with an evocation of the boozing that happens when “drouthy neebors, neebors meet.”  Indeed, Drouthy Neebors has become a popular pub-name in Scotland and there are, or at least have been, Drouthy Neebors serving alcohol in Edinburgh, St Andrews and Stirling.

 

Flit (v) – to move house.  Commonly used in Scotland, this verb has had success in the English language generally, as is evidenced by the use of moonlight flit to describe the act of moving house swiftly and secretly to avoid paying overdue rent-money.

 

Glaikit (adj) – silly, foolish, thoughtless.  Like a lot of Scots vocabulary, there’s a wonderful, near-onomatopoeic quality to this word.  You hear those two syllables, ‘glai-kit’, and immediately you begin to visualise a blank face, a dull pair of eyes, an expression that indicates zero intelligence.  Yes, it’s that man Nigel Farage again.

 

Hackit (adj) – ugly.  Thus, if the third and final instalment of Sergio Leone’s epic Dollars trilogy of 1960s spaghetti westerns was ever remade and relocated in Scotland, it presumably wouldn’t be called The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.  It’d be called The Braw, the Shite an’ the Hackit.

 

(c) Warner Bros

 

Hoor (n) – literally a prostitute, but generally a very nasty, abusive term for a woman.  Indeed, for sheer horribleness, nothing can compare with this word.  Uttered with its long vowel sound and its rolled ‘r’, it feels far more insulting than the plain old standard-English word ‘whore’.  On the other hand, the phrase ya hoor is merely an exclamation of surprise.  I remember sitting in a cinema in Edinburgh in 1999 and seeing The Matrix for the first time.  At the moment when Carrie Ann Moss sprang upwards, froze in mid-air, and the camera rotated around her in an early and unexpected display of the cinematic technique known as ‘flo-mo’, there was a stunned silence in the auditorium.  Apart from one guy in the row behind me, who promptly exclaimed: “Ya hoor!”

 

Jings! (exclamation) – another exclamation of surprise, though one more acceptable in polite company than ya hoor!  I don’t think I know anyone under the age of fifty who goes “Jings!” nowadays.  However, it’s still used by the eternally-juvenile, dungaree-wearing ragamuffin Oor Wullie, who’s the star of the Sunday Post newspaper’s comic-strip pages.  See also crivvens! and help ma boab!

 

(c) D.C. Thomson

 

Merle (n) – a blackbird.  For that reason, whenever someone mentions the name Meryl Streep, the first image that forms in my head is not the acclaimed and world-famous star of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Sophie’s Choice, Plenty, Out of Africa and The Iron Lady, but a big, noisy, dark-feathered, flappy-winged bird.  I understand that ‘merle’ is also the French word for ‘blackbird’, so presumably it’s another example of the linguistic legacy of the Auld Alliance that once existed between Scotland and France.

 

Neep (n) – a turnip.  Hence in the 1970s kids’ TV show Wurzel Gummidge, Billy Connolly played a turnip-headed Scottish scarecrow called ‘Bogle MacNeep’.  Turnips and potatoes together on a plate are, of course, known as neeps an’ tatties.  I have an American friend who tells me that whenever I talk about neeps an’ tatties, it sounds like I’m describing something extremely lewd and filthy.  Goodness!  Or better still, jings!

 

From www.listal.com

 

Oxster (n) – an armpit. Dundonian poet Matthew Fitt deployed this word when he wrote the Scots-language translation of the new Asterix-the-Gaul book, Asterix and the Picts.  In the original French text, Asterix’s hulking sidekick Obelisk made a joke about ‘oysters’.  Fitt converted it into a joke about armpits to make it more Scottish-friendly.  As you do.

 

Peely-wally (adj) – pale and ill-looking.  That’s why in Solo, the new James Bond novel written by William Boyd, there’s a bit where an injured Bond is scolded by May, his formidable old Scottish housekeeper, for looking “awfy peely-wally”.

 

Quine (n) – a girl or young woman.  This is commonly used in North-East Scotland, where boys and young men are also described as loons, so you hear a lot there about quines an’ loons.  In the early 1990s, a group of Scottish feminists, including the journalist Lesley Riddich, started up a magazine called Harpies and Quines – harpy being a word commonly used in Scotland to describe a grumpy, ill-tempered and mean-minded woman.  The famous high-society magazine Harpers and Queen failed to see the joke and attempted to sue them.

 

From en.wikipedia.org 

 

Shoogly (adj) – wobbly.  To hang on a shoogly peg means to be in dodgy, precarious or dire circumstances.  For example, since the Liberal Democrat party formed a coalition government with the Conservatives in 2010, the peg that their electoral fortunes have hung on has been a shoogly one indeed.

 

Skoosh (n / v) – a squirt or spray of liquid.  A commonly heard exchange in Scottish pubs: “Dae ye want water in yer whisky?”  “Aye, but just a wee skoosh.”

 

From en.wikipedia.org

 

Sook (n) – nothing to do with an Arabic marketplace or commercial district, a sook is a person who grovels to, and sucks up to, those in authority.  The term is commonly used for school pupils who suck up to their teachers.  However, in his book Scots – The Mither Tongue, Billy Kay identifies the first great sook in history as being James Boswell, the companion, biographer and toady of Dr Samuel Johnson, who was perfectly happy to pander to the Doctor’s brazen anti-Scottish prejudices even though he was Scottish himself.  (“I do indeed come from Scotland,” he whined when he first met Johnson.  “But I cannot help it.”  To which the Doctor snorted contemptuously, “That, sir, I find, is what a very great many of your countrymen cannot help.”)

 

Spaver (n): a trouser zip or fly.  (Another Scots word with a similar meaning is ballop.)  The Doric Dictionary at www.doricdictionary.com provides this eye-watering example sentence: “Help, mither, av nipped ma tadger in ma spaver!”

 

Tod (n) – a fox.  James Robertson (who, like Matthew Fitt, does a lot of this stuff) once translated Roald Dahl’s children’s book Fantastic Mr Fox into Scots, where it sported the more Caledonian-friendly title Sleekit Mr Tod.

 

(c) Itchy Coo

 

It’s possible that the future will see a post called Yet More 25 Scots Words That Must Not Die.

 

25 Scots words that must not die

 

This evening is Burns Night, marking the 255th anniversary of the birth of Alloway ploughman-poet Robert Burns.  During the past few days, no doubt, children in schools the length and breadth of Scotland have stood in front of their classmates and teachers reciting Burns’ poems.  Those poems, of course, were written in Scots; so this must be the only time in the year when kids can come out with certain Scots-language words in the classroom without their teachers correcting them: “Actually, that’s not what we say in proper English…”

 

However, it’s not teachers’ disapproval that looks likely to do for the Scots language – and it has been classified as a language, a separate one from ‘standard’ English, by organisations like the EU and linguistic websites like Ethnologue (http://www.ethnologue.com/).  It’s more probable that the death-blow will be delivered by television, exposing Scottish kids to a non-stop diet of London-based soap operas where manically-depressed, faux-Cockney, shaven-headed petty criminals shout at their family members and tell them to ‘shaddup’.

 

Maybe a decade or two from now, everyone north of the border will be talking, if not in Eastenders-style Mockney, then in a bland, soulless ‘Estuary English’.  That’s the glottal-stop-ridden vernacular that is sometimes adopted by wealthy politicians during public speeches – Tony Blair, for example, when he was attempting to sound what Nu-Labour strategists thought was ‘street’; or George Osborne, when he wants to show that despite his inherited millions he can speak oik, just like 99.9 percent of the British electorate do.

 

Personally, I love listening to and reading Scots.  Here are 25 of my favourite Scots words, which I would be very sad to see slip into linguistic extinction.  Most of the definitions given come from my heavily-used copy of the Collins Pocket Scots Dictionary.

 

Bairn (n) – a baby or young child.  Actually, the other night, I was watching an episode of Star Trek – the original series – and I heard Scottie lament, after Mr Spock had burned out his engines in some ill-advised space manoeuvre, “Och, ma poor wee bairns!”  So I guess this Scots word is safe until the 23rd century at least.  Also, ‘the Bairns’ is the nickname of Falkirk Football Club, so it shouldn’t be dying out in Falkirk anytime soon.  As you head towards Glasgow, though, I think more folk refer to their young offspring as ‘weans’.

 

From startrek,com

 

Bampot (n) – a foolish, stupid or crazy person.  In the 1970s, this word became the height of cool among me and my mates when we saw Big Banana Feet, the documentary about Billy Connolly doing a stand-up tour of Ireland, and we heard Connolly respond to a heckler with the gruff putdown, “F**king bampot.”

 

Boak (v / n) – to vomit / vomit, or something unpleasant enough to make you want to vomit.  One of those Scots words that convey their meaning with a near-onomatopoeic brilliance.  For example: “Hae ye seen the new Richard Curtis film?”  “Aye.  It wis a load o’ boak.”  In his sort-of-stream-of-consciousness novel 1982 Janine, Alasdair Gray represents the main character throwing up simply by printing the word BOAK across the page in huge letters.

 

Bowffin (adj) – smelling strongly and unpleasantly.  Once upon a time, ‘mingin’ was the favoured Scots adjective for ‘smelly’.  Now, however, ‘mingin’ seems to have packed its bags, left home and become a standard UK-wide slang word – with a slight change of meaning, so that it denotes ugliness instead.  (“See that Miley Cyrus?  She’s a right minger.”)  Thus, it has fallen upon the alternative Scots adjective ‘bowffin’ to describe the odour of such things as manure, sewage, rotten eggs, mouldy cheese, old socks, certain species of orchids, on-heat male goats, hippies, etc.

 

Carnaptious (adj) – grumpy, bad-tempered or irritable, as in “Thon Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight is a carnaptious auld bugger.”  This is another Scots word that somehow feels like it’s onomatopoeic even though it isn’t.

 

Corbie (n) – a crow or raven.  The knowledgeable Australian musician / singer / writer Nick Cave uses this word at the beginning of his gothic novel And the Ass Saw the Angel, which has a couple of ‘sly corbies’ circling in the sky above the dying hero.

 

From salon.com

 

Cowpit (adj) – overturned, fallen-over.  Often used to describe sheep when they fall onto their backs, can’t get up again and run the risk of breaking their spines.  Around where I live, there’s a story of a young farmer who was about to get married and, just before his stag party in Edinburgh, was collected at his farmhouse by a coach-load of his mates.  As the coach was driving away from the farm, someone on board spotted a ‘cowpit ewe’ in one of the fields.  Jocularly, the young farmer told the coach-driver to manoeuvre the vehicle off the road, into the field and across to the spot where the unfortunate beast was on its back, which he did.  The young farmer got out and put the cowpit ewe on its feet again; but meanwhile all the other sheep in the field, seeing the coach and not knowing the difference between it and a tractor carrying a load of hay, flocked around it expecting to be fed.  That left the stag-party and their transport marooned amidst a sea of woolly white fleeces.

 

Dreich (adj) – dreary or tedious, especially in regard to wet, dismal weather.  A Presbyterian-sounding adjective that, needless to say, is heavily used in Scotland.

 

Haver (v) – to talk nonsense.  This is word is essential for understanding the end of the first verse of the Proclaimers’ song 500 Miles, which goes: “And if I haver, yeah, I know I’m gonnae be, I’m gonnae be the man who’s havering to you.”

 

Haud yer wheesht! (exclamation) – be quiet!  Incidentally, Haud Yer Wheesht was also the name of a rather good folk band that operated in Edinburgh in the late 1990s, headed by Jimmy the Bagpiper who used to busk around St Giles’ Cathedral.  (If you were familiar with Edinburgh at the time, he was the one who dressed up like Mel Gibson in Braveheart.)

 

Hochmagandy (n) – a jocular or poetic word for sexual intercourse, for recreation, not procreation, between people who are not married to each other.  Unsurprisingly, Robert Burns was familiar with this saucy noun, as indicated by the final lines of his poem The Holy Fair:

 

‘There’s some are fou o’ love divine,

There’s some are fou o’ brandy,

An’ mony jobs that day begin,

May end in hochmagandy…’

 

Hoolet (n) – an owl.  This charming Scots word, like a number of others, is derived from the French language, where the word is ‘hulotte’.  (A historical example of Scots-borrowing-from-French is ‘gardyloo!’  This was the cry given by people in the densely built-up tenements of 18th century Edinburgh when they emptied their buckets out of their windows.  This supposedly comes from the French, ‘Gardez l’eau!’ which means, ‘Watch out, water!’  Though in the Edinburgh context a more accurate meaning might have been, ‘Watch oot or ye’ll get pish an’ shite dumped aw ower yer heid!’)

 

Jobbie (n) – a turd.  A word much loved by Billy Connolly, as in his routine about the mechanism that expels faecal matter from underneath airplane toilets, the ‘jobbie-wheecher’.  (‘Wheech’ – to remove something quickly and suddenly.)

 

(c) Daily Telegraph

 

Jouk (v) – to duck or dodge.  A nice story I’ve heard is that this word found its way to the American south.  There, a ‘juke joint’ became a roughhouse dancing venue where people had to keep jouking this way and that to avoid punches, bottles, etc., thrown on the dance floor.  In turn, this led to the machines that played records of the music you heard at such places being called jukeboxes.

 

Keek (v) – to peep or glance at something.  The derivative ‘keeker’ refers not, as you might expect, to a peeping Tom, but to a black eye.

 

Lum (n) – a chimney.  A while back, the Guardian reviewed a collection of short stories by Alasdair Gray and the reviewer complained about the number of typos in the book.  He cited as an example ‘Edinburgh lums’, which he assumed was a misprint of ‘Edinburgh slums’.  But no, Gray was actually referring to the smoky chimneys of the Scottish capital.

 

Midden (n) – a dunghill.  A word often employed by Scottish parents while they complain about the condition of their teenage kids’ bedrooms.  Also, at one point, the celebrated British sci-fi comic 2000 AD featured a character who was a futuristic Scottish bounty hunter with a gruesomely mutated visage: his name was Middenface McNulty.

 

From forbiddenplanet.co.uk

 

Neb (n) – a nose, beak or projecting point.  Once upon a time, ladies of a certain age had to put up with uncomplimentary remarks about ‘nebs’ whenever they stuck their Barry Manilow records on the household stereo.

 

Nippie sweetie (n) – an irritable sharp-tongued person.  This is usually applied to the female of the species, and currently Scotland’s leading example of a nippie sweetie is the Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.  Actually, in a recent televised debate between Sturgeon and Alastair Carmichael, the Secretary of State for Scotland, Carmichael discovered that she wasn’t particularly sweet and she delivered considerably more than a nip.

 

Numpty (n) – a stupid person.  To me, though, a numpty is more than that – it’s a preposterous, pompous person who is also stupid.  In In the Loop, the movie spin-off from the satirical TV show The Thick of It, the preposterous, pompous politician played by Tom Hollander becomes a laughing stock when the wall of his constituency office collapses.  Jamie MacDonald, the ferocious Motherwell-born spin doctor played by Paul Higgins, taunts him about ‘Wallgate’ by calling him ‘Humpty Numpty’.

 

(c) BBC

 

Pisht (adj) – drunk.  Just as the Eskimos are said to have a hundred words for snow, there must be at least a hundred words in Scots for being inebriated.  (See also ‘arsed’, ‘bevied’, ‘bleezin’, ‘blootered’, ‘buckled’, ‘fou’, ‘gubbered’, ‘hingin’, ‘minced’, ‘mingin’, ‘miraculous’, ‘miracked’, ‘mortal’, ‘reekin’, ‘reelin’, ‘steamboats’, ‘steamin’, ‘stocious’, ‘wellied’, etc.)  Which I suppose is a tragic reflection on the state of the Scottish psyche.  Now excuse me while I pour myself another dram.

 

Scunnered (adj) – sickened or disgusted.  During the 1980s and 1990s, this word was commonly used in Scotland on the mornings following general elections, when it became clear that a majority of people in Scotland had voted for the Labour Party and a majority of people in the south of England had voted for the Conservatives.  Guess who ended up ruling Scotland each time?

 

Smirr (n) – a drizzly rain falling in small drops.  A sad, ghostly word that perfectly describes the sad, ghostly semi-rain that seems to envelop the Scottish landscape… well, 365 days of the year.

 

Stramash (n) – a disorderly commotion or argument.  A word popularised by the Scottish TV commentator Arthur Montford, he of the extravagantly checked jackets, who would rarely let a football match go by without referring to some sort of ‘stramash’ breaking out in the penalty box.

 

From scottishleague.net

 

Widdershins (adv) – anti-clockwise.  I like this word because of its spooky connotations.  In olden times, to perform something ‘widdershins’ was to do it in the opposite way from how it was naturally done, which was to invite bad luck.  This gave the word occult overtones too.

 

Very soon I will print a list of 25 more Scots words that must not die.