400: How Ah talk, written doon

This is the 400th post here on Walking Talking. After much deliberation, I decided to go down the Dewey Decimal route. At some point soon, I will write a post based on a kind suggestion about 1618, also known as 400 years ago. For those uninitiated in all things Dewey, it is the system used to organise many libraries around the globe. Subjects have a number with many more past the decimal point to make it all very precise and specific. 400 is language. Recently I saw a Tweet encouraging more folk to write in Scots, the words of this country and the people who live here. In that spirit, and fitting with the 400 theme, here’s a post written entirely in Scots.

Ah dinnae write much in Scots. It’s the way Ah talk, ken, it’s the way Ah hink tae but when tryin’ tae be understood, Standard English wi’ an inflection an’ a smatterin’ o’ the right wurds is usually the way Ah roll. The other day, Ah saw a Tweet fi the poet Thomas Clark who said that writin’ in Scots ‘keeps ye honest. Staps ye fae gan aff on wan. An we coud aw dae wae a bittie mair honesty’. Ah dinnae disagree. A difficulty Ah huv writin’ in Scots is that there is nae standard version o’ Scots. Wurds ur different fi toon to toon, even bits o’ toons. The wurds Ah yaise ur maistly fi where Ah grew up in East Lothian, even wi’ the nearly five year Ah’ve spent livin’ in the Weege. Guid Scots wurds that appear in Scots editions o’ books tend tae need a glossary even fir folk like me since there ur many that didnae make it doon the A1 tae Dunbar. It wis like the Scots edition o’ Harry Potter an’ the Philosopher’s Stane wi’ characters, street names an’ even the names o’ the hooses in Hogwarts changed. There’s a case fir translatin’ but there’s also a point when it’s just no’ needit. Glad they did the book, like, but it wis still stupit. We should scrieve the way folk talk, the way folk hink, no’ workin’ a’ the time oot the dictionary. There’s no such hing as standard Scots an’ that’s fine wi’ me. Take the different versions eh The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson. There’s The Gruffalo’s Wean but ‘wean’ is a Weegie word. Ah say ‘bairn’. Hence the many different editions, the Orkney or the Dundee Gruffalos. Thon Dundonians, though, they speak Martian, a’ the pehs, circles, clubbies and ingin yins an’ a’. Ma point is that there is a danger o’ makin’ these hings too standard. Language is ever-changin’, ever-evolvin’ an’ it should remain sae.

There ur loads o’ guid books in Scots that folk should read. Yin o’ the best books Ah read last year wis Hings by Chris McQueer, written largely in pure undiluted Weegie. One o’ the maist famous Scottish books o’ the last thirty year wid be Trainspottin’ by Irvine Welsh, which has nae shortage o’ Edinburgh wurds, sayins an’ mannerisms in it, plus a fair few mentions o’ the Hibees tae. While the crime writer Stuart MacBride writes mainly in English, his books are aye fu’ o’ the Doric tae, even decipherable for those o’ us whae live south o’ Perth. Harder tae figure oot is The Tartan Special One by Barry Phillips, a wonderfully funny novel written in Dundonian and publishit by Teckle Books, a wee publisher whaise Dundonian pride is right there in their name. Writers like Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Nan Shepherd, Jessie Kesson, James Kelman, Liz Lochhead an’ loads o’ others bring Scots intae whit they write an’ their work is much better fer it. An’ us tae, like.

When Ah write like this, Ah usually end up wi’ a muckle grin on ma puss fi the pure pleasure o’ it. Ah write stories much mair than Ah write blog posts. Mair dialogues than anyhin’ else. They help me work through life an’ hink a bit tae. Yin character Ah love writin’ talks like Ah dae, ken, usually wi’ much swearin’ as again Ah often dae an’ like a hairy-arsed engineer fi the Pans wid. He speaks a hail load o’ sense an’ while Ah dinnae write him very often, Ah’m always gled Ah dae, fir the way ma pen rattles across the page. Like Thomas Clark said, it keeps me honest, plus it’s braw to write intae the bargain.

Ah wrote a bit here aboot Muriel Spark recently. She spent her latter years livin’ in Tuscany (as yeh dae, ken) but she wid huv tae come back tae Edinburgh every noo and again tae git the voices back in her heid, the inflections, wurds an’ everyhin else fi’ the folk o’ the capital so they could make her books mair authentic. Ah live in Glasgow an’ some Weegieisms huv crept intae how Ah talk, maybe even how Ah write, but Ah’m aye gled tae go tae the fitba an’ hear the right kind o’ voices a’ aroond me as we a’ watch the Hibs. When Ah git through tae Dunbar, that bit further east o’ Edinburgh an’ that bit broader tae, it’s a relief tae hear folk speak proper, even fir a wee bit. As Ah travel back hame, the wurds change wi’ each passin’ mile, goin’ fi braw an’ muckle tae ra champion, pure dead brilliant an’ wan insteid o’ yin. The wurds ur important an’ it’s guid noo an’ then tae hear yir ain an’ even read it on the page rather than it bein’ lost, tae me an’ everyone else.

22 thoughts on “400: How Ah talk, written doon

  1. 400! Congratulations. I tried to see how much Dewey I could remember – 420s English Language, 430s German, 440s French. After that it’s a bit hazy and even those could be wrong! It’s amazing how something that was part of my everyday life for so long can just fade away. Is there a number for Scots? I seem to remember that Gaelic was somewhere in the 490s but can’t remember Scots.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Maia

    It’s funny how experiences echo. When my family moved from Minnesota to Louisiana when I was 12, I ran into a wall of “Wait, WHAT?”. I didn’t speak a word of French; Cajun French is nothing quite like any other version; and a Cajun speaker’s English will be liberally sprinkled with Cajun French, which is in turn sprinkled with German, African, English, Spanish, and Native American words. What that did was turn me into a very active listener; I had to focus on every word.

    Moving to Scotland was a very similar experience. I’d been seeing a guy from Glasgow for a while, but he’d been in the US for several years; I didn’t understand what a Scomerican accent was until I got to Glasgow and realized that I couldn’t understand anyone unless they spoke to me like I’d just taken a severe blow to the head. So it was back to that very active word-for-word listening. I find that I kind of like myself better that way.

    It took even longer to adjust to the concept that sometimes what I was hearing was another language — not just a dialect or an accent — and yet I could understand it with a little bending. Accents and dialects I’m used to; there are literally thousands in the US. That, incidentally, is why Americans are so often flummoxed by Scots; someone from Boston and someone from Houston sound nothing alike when they say “Park your car in the side yard,” but they’re saying the same words, and they’ll write it down the same way, because it’s the same language. To us, a different language is one you can’t understand at all if you don’t learn it, so Scots is a real linguistic curveball.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wow! I really enjoyed reading your comment and agree heartily with the joys of word-for-word listening as well as Scots being a distinct language.

      When I first moved to Glasgow, despite growing up 70 miles away, I really wanted a Babel fish, the little creature characters slipped into their ears in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to understand other languages. Even now, I get a little lost. But it’s worth it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Maia

        I lived up north when I first came here, and the accents there were just enormously heavy, but my ear tuned eventually. Here, I still have my “buh wuh?” days. *laugh*

        A reverse moment that still makes me laugh: When Drew and I realized we’d somehow gotten serious, I took him to meet my family at Thanksgiving. He had my grandma charmed down to her toes in about 5 minutes and was sitting there chatting with her when I heard this:

        “Did you cook all this food yourself?”

        “Oh no! I used to, but now I just sit on my fanny and watch everyone else work.”

        *dead silence*

        I peeked around the corner and his eyes had just about swallowed his face.

        (For clarity if needed: Especially in the part of the US where I come from, that word not only doesn’t mean *that*, it’s the word grandma uses if she’s too churchy to say “butt.”)

        Thankfully, we’d already had the talk about why he shouldn’t use the word “cunt” even once all day when meeting my family.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Maia

        I generally stay safe and avoid saying either one. *laugh* One isn’t so difficult for me; ‘tuckus’ is a useful replacement for the other. It also apparently marks me as just spectacularly American, as if my Midwest accent didn’t do that already. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I can imagine. ‘Tuckus’ is a great word. We have so many words for one’s rear. In Scots, I like ‘erse’.

        Swearing has an interesting place in our language. Sometimes, though, only a swear word will do. There’s a good blog called Strong Language, which talks about all things sweary.


      4. Maia

        Hinder, sit-upon (my personal old-fashioned favorite), keister. My home state has a town named Kiester which apparently was close enough to recently be featured in a Preparation H ad. No, really.

        (And no, I don’t sound like her. Well, not much…. 🙂 )

        Liked by 2 people

  3. MaryLynn

    Congratulations on 400 posts! I discovered Walking Talking about a year ago when I was researching information about trails in Scotland, where I was planning to walk last July. Google suggested that I read a Walking Talking post in which you mention the John Muir Way, and that post was the reason that I walked the JMW last July with a Danish friend who I had met several years ago while walking on the Camino Frances in Spain. We had a great time in Scotland!

    Because you have already considered walking the JMW (30 Before 30), I strongly recommend that you make plans to walk it! It is a well-maintained trail, with beautiful landscapes, interesting history, friendly people, good signage, downloadable maps and info on the JMW website, a range of accommodations, and access to trains or buses if the need arises. You can walk it in one go in 10-14 days, or in sections over a longer period of time. Do it!!

    I’m looking forward to reading at least another 400 posts on Walking Talking!
    Mary Lynn
    Waterloo Ontario Canada

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Mary Lynn! I have walked little bits of the John Muir Way particularly near Dunbar though I will definitely have to walk the full route. I have a map somewhere in the house and it’ll be good to get out there. Very glad you had a good time walking the JMW and in Scotland. As for the next 400 posts, I’ll do my best to write some!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Congratulations on your 400th post! Living in England, it’s amazing how my ears seem to prock up when anyone in the vicinity has a hint of a Scottish accent (esp if it’s a Glasgow accent).
    I don’t know if you’ve ever read a novel called But’n’Ben A-Go-Go by Matthew Fitt. It’s a sci fi-cum-cyberpunk novel written entirely in Scots dialect. I admit I found it a bit of struggle to read at first (my brain was screaming “No, that’s not how that word is spelled! I don’t care if I pronounce it that way!!!” but that’s just the pedant in me).
    Looking forward to seeing what you have planned for post 500 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! When I was in London last week, the tannoy announcer at Embankment was Scottish and I was glad to hear it.

      I read the Matthew Fitt book a few years ago, in fact when I was still at school, I think. I remember feeling much the same as you but I persevered and it was all right.

      As for post 500, it will be later this year. I’m thinking the kind of day trip Craig and Charlie Reid would take…


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