Category Archives: Literacy

Bairns an Books – Braw!

A rare project wis run in Dundee a file syne – fir Book Week Scotland in fact. Junior Scots Ambassadors wis the name o this pilot.

Twa richt fine quines, Elaine Hallyburton and Moira Foster, faa wirk wi Dundee City Cooncil Libraries, ken aw aboot foo tae gaur bairns wint tae read. Their stamagaster o an idea wis tae gie Scots texts tae bairns in P6 and gaur them get eesed tae readin them. Syne, the big bairns went intae P1 clesses an read tae the wee bairnies there.

They hid a puckle o siller, an bocht a wheen o books fir the bairns tae choose fae. They gied them some advice an trainin an aw: A wis lucky eneuch tae be invitit tae help wi that bittie. An the bairns, Scots spikkers or no, were aw fair chuffed wi fit they were daein.

Twa clesses fae Craigowl an ane fae St Clement’s were inno this pilot. Their teachers helpit tae: singin sangs an yaisin Scots wi the bairns tae help wi their confidence.

Dis this soon lik somethin ye could dae yersel? Ye’ll need the books tae begin wi: yer library service micht help here. Yaisin picture books that the aulder bairns mind on fae faan they were wee is nae a bad idea.

Time tae plan is anither guid idea. Mak sure aabidy involvit kens fit ye’re ettlin for an faa is gaun tae dae fit. An mine an plan fir evaluation an aw. Foo will ye ken fit wirkit an fit maun be sortit afore ye dae it again?

Haud gaun! There’s mair nor ae wye tae gaur bairns read. This ane micht wirk fir you.


Orrie? A Dinnae Think It!

Having taught in Dundee for eight years I have noticed an alarming belief amond Dundonian Scots speakers that their language is orrie. ‘Orrie’ is a much more pejorative term than its cognate in Doric, ‘orra’. The ‘orra loon’ was the odd-job boy on a farm and the word has come to be associated with dirty things as a result. An orra story is a dirty joke. In Dundee ‘orrie’ signifies something more completely beneath contempt and is the almost universal moniker for broad Dundonian Scots.

But why? Mary Slessor, Dundonian by upbringing and celebrated heroine of altruistic African missionary work, was a braod Scots speaker; Matthew Fitt, who has undoubtedly done more for Scots in Education than any other individual, is a Dundonian; the Dundee Makar, Bill Herbert, writes in Dundee Scots and English; Michael Marra, legendary, late-lamented folk singer, sang frequently in Dundonian Scots; Oor Wullie and the Broons, responsible for most of the written Scots read regularly over the last fifty years and more, are both products of Dundonian journalism. The list could go on.

The fact is, Dundonian is many things. Orrie is not one of them.

The most unique and distinct thing about the dialect is the ‘eh’ sound, pronounced ‘aye’ in much of the rest of the country. “Eh sehd eh!” was a frequent statement made to me in the early days of my time in Dundee when I was questioning reluctant teenagers. Now, the romanitc story is that this emphatic sound developed in the jute mills where a less robust ‘aye’ might disappear in the noise. Sadly, this is but a myth. The mills were so loud that workers developed their own sign language. The ‘eh’ is more likley due to the mix of Highland and Irish immigration with the local Scots.

Not orrie but adaptable – jinky, indeed.

“A plain peh and an ingan ane an aw” is perhaps the most famous phrase to come out of Dundee. This is beautifully explored by Saint Andrew and the Woolen Mill. Dundonians, it seems, feel the need to accept the plain before they can dream of asking for the extravagent.

Orrie? No – unassuming, or blate and canny.

‘Cundie’ is another particularly Dundonian word. the West of Scotland calls is a ‘sheugh’. Coming from the same root as the French ‘conduit’ this word demonstrates Dundee’s international outlook and ‘come awa ben’ attitude to new things and new comers.

Nae orrie, but inclusive. Fair freen-lyk.

One of my favourite Dundonian expressions is ‘Eh’ll no miss her an hit the waa.’ To me this typifies the direct, no-nonsense approach of Dundee in particular. And for historic reasons, Dundee women are particular. They tended to be the bread winners, working in low-paid jobs in the mills while the unemployed men of necessity ‘biled the kettle’.

This is not orrie, it is feminist pragmatism: sodger-clad but major-mindit.

When a Dundonian takes her leave, the ‘cheerio’ of much of Scotland tends to be abreviated to ‘cho’. So much more couthie, werm and succinct.

Orrie? A dinnae think it.

So if you are lucky enough to have Dundonian Scots, throw your shoulders back, hold your head high and rejoice. It’s nae orrie!cow pie

Ne’er Cast a Cloot til Mey be Oot

Weel div A mine ma Grunnie sayin yon. Bit the winters is lang in Scotland, an its aye the same; first blink o sun an some fowk’s gaun aboot nae half-clad. Bit ony gate, wi hiv it wrang! Ane o the maist kent mistaks seems tae be thit ‘mey’ in ma title is nae the month ava, bit the blossom o the mey-tree – ‘hawthorn’ in Inglis. Gie it a go; try tellin somebody an see if they dinnae tell ye aboot the mistak.IMG_20150121_170842

Fit ither mistaks div wi mak in Scots? Ony teacher can tell ye aboot the confusion aroon the Inglis ‘how’. Bairns faa hiv Scots o ony kine will answer a ‘how’ question be stairtin aff wi ‘because’. The Scots wird ‘how’ means ‘why’ an aat’s the wye they get raivelt.

A hid a guid ane the itther wik. A mannie hid scrievit directions fir ma. Noo the day afore A hid learnt the wird ‘caur’ meaning twa-three calfies. Ono ma bit paper A wis telt tae gang by the caur shawroom. Wir spikkin motor caurs, ye ken. Bit A did tak a lauch at the idea o shawin calfies ahint gless! Mair o a snorel wis tae come. A wis telt tae turn tae ma caur side. Fit? A wirkit it oot, an noo A ken thit ‘caur’ can mean ‘left haun’ an aw.

Ae time a filie syne (a lang filie noo A think aboot it), A wis experimentin in the kitchen. A telt ma sister A’d made a peanut saas tae gang wi oor maet. She speirt, “Satay?” Aw innocent A telt her, “It wisnae ower sautie – a didnae pit in muckle saut, cis ye ken fit peanuts is like” Foo we lauched!

Mine, we deliberately cause confusion wi wirds aa the time. Puns, they’re cried. ‘Fit fit fits fit fit’ is the aft- spoken joke fir Doric spikkers tryin on sheen. (Which foot (shoe) fits which foot?)

Ma pictur is fir anither pun bit it disnae wirk richt in Scots. A’v a nephew his a birthday on Mey the fourth – Luke Skywalker’s birthday (speir at a fan o Starn Waurs). Aye, its nae sic funny in Scots.

Bit ye ken, wir afa lucky: haein baith Scots an Inglis maks puns an wird gemmes a sicht easier. Gie thon gemme Taboo a shot wi a mixtur o Scots spikkers an fowk wi nane. They’ll get fair raist faan ye can yaise aw the wirdies ono the caird, bit in Scots. So if the heid wird is “Christmas”, eence ye’v said “bubblyjock” yer awa. It’s nae on the caird as ‘taboo’; turkey is, bit nae yon! Chaetin? Mebbes.

Bit is aat nae fit ye love about leids? Playin wi yer maet micht be ‘verboten’. Bit playin wi wirds is some eese.

Hunner Wird Challenge

Fitna excitin! There wis a lion at ma door iss mornin afore A’d even ae cornflake inno ma mou! Nae a rael lion, richt eneuch. It wis jist ma cattie, wintin in fir a haet up. Faan A openit the door, oor Elsie fair dauncit he wis that hungert. Nae cereal fir him, nor yet parritch. He gets Go cat ilka day an tuna ilka nicht. Mine, iss mornin ma man wis makin his peece faan I opent aat door. The ham wis oot! It didna staun a chance. Oor Elsie wid aet ham tae the beat o a drum!


Aprile is the coorsest month

‘Aprile is the coorsest month,’ accordin tae TS Elliot. He didna scrieve in Scots, richt eneuch, bit the personification dis gaur ma think oan the metaphorical natur o wir leid.

A wis spikkin tae a wifie nae sae lang syne faa pyntit oot foo direct Scots is. Her example wis the English, ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’ – flooery, evocative an metaphorical. Scots disnae yaise as mony wirds. ‘It’s bucketin’ is a shorter wye o sayin it. Sae is ‘hale watter’. Bit ye ken, thir are baith fair flooery, evocative an metaphorical an aw.

Tae gang awa fae the wither (fir peetie’s sake wi maun ga’wa fae it files!) a fair puckle o Scots is afa metaphorical, ye ken. Billy Kay is fair tricket that ‘wapinschaw’, a term meanin ‘muster’ thit he thocht wis lang deid, is bein yaised in Ayrshire fir bowlin gaitherins. Fit a graan metaphor thon!

Lowsin time and yoking time are baith wirds ma faither yaised ilka wirkin day. Bit as a jyner he nivver hid tae tie horses tae a ploo nor yet lowse them. Foo mony wirkin Scots yaise thay terms withoot minin, or kenning, far they come fae?

Ma mither aye telt ma A hid a ‘tongue that wid clip cloots’. A dinnae ken thit it’s oany less insultin than being telt tae ‘whisht!’ (forbye it hid the same result). In Dundee, fowk telt ye they’ll ‘nae miss her an hit the wa’ – she’s an afa besom, so she is. Fit a rehr image thon! An of course, we hae anither metaphor there an aw, as weel yaised as tae hae bin forgotten: the witch’s besom is bein yaised as synecdoche – the pairt fir the hale. Ilka time ye cry a bodie a ‘besom’ yer likenin her tae a witch.

Maet gie’s us an afa lot o guid images. A fine smell ‘gangs roon ma hairt like a hairy worim’ and a fine taste is a ‘histe ye back’. Noo dinna tell ma ‘moreish’ says as muckle. We yaise metaphor tae name wir maet tae: flees’ cemeteries, bowler hatties, sair heidies and pokie hats. Fine seein A’v a sweet tooth!

Fit metaphorical wirdies his ticklit you, A winner?

Coorse? nae fan we hae sic bonnie heather!
Coorse? nae fan we hae sic bonnie heather!

Mair Nouns

Maist o fit A hiv tae say aboot nouns can be fun bi readin If Mairch Comes in Lik a Lamb: Bit A hiv a twa-three mair thingies tae add.

Collective nouns can be afa guid fun. Ye can mak up yer ain fir a lauch, files. Bit some o the rale anes are super tae. An they can be fun an aw. A’m afa taen bi the ane thit’s gaun aboot Facebook. It’s a pictur o twa craws wi the caption “attemptit murther”. Ma best ane in Inglis is “a charm of goldfinches”. E Scots wid be “a chairm o gowdspinks” or mebbies a “cantrip”. Thinkin aboot aat gaured ma winner: are we spikkin magic faan we say “charm” or the ither sense o being fair taen wi something? The Inglis gies baith senses. Dis the Scots?

Onywye, Chris Robinson suggests a wee hole in e grammar wi collective nouns. Thir singular things, grammatically spikkin. So, “the cantrip o gowdspinks wis atten e seeds.” Bit gin A’m wintin tae suggest thir actin mair alane-like, A cuid say: “the cantrip of gowdspinks were fleein aw wye.” Iss draws attention tae the individuals ino the group, div ye see?


The hinnermaist thing A’v tae say aboot nouns is aboot Proper Nouns. Aye, they’re the anes thit aye need a capital letter – same as in Inglis. A wis fair trickit in a skweel nae sae lang syne faan aw the bairns wintit tae ken fit the Scots version o their names wis. Afa disappintin fir them thit the maist o them were as Scots as they were ivver gaun tae be. Bit Dauvit and Rabbie wir chuffed. A micht hae wished fir a Dod an a Beldie!

Bit there’s nae aye gaun tae be a different wird ino Scots – fir ony noun, proper or nae, or ony ither pairt o speech aither. Sib leids are gaun tae share wirds. It wid be fine tae yaise some o the different proper nouns files though. A’m awa tae Glesca the morn an Aiberdeen neist wik. Fitan eese if there wir signs sayin thon at the stations!

Help wi nouns an aw ither grammar can be fun in A Modren Scots Grammar bi Christine Robinson, Grammar Broonie bi Susan Rennie and on on GLOW.

Nouns are graan – or – If Mairch comes in lik a lamb

IMG_0310If Mairch comes in lik a lamb, it’ll gang oot lik a lion. Weel, St Dauvit’s Day wis blawie an coorse wi his: mebbie Voar is aboot here an the hinner eyne o Mairch’ll be fine.

An afore ye stairt: I ken “Voar” isnae a wirdie fae Doric. Its ane o ma twa new nouns an comes fae Shetlan. The ither ane is “guddick” – anither Shetlan noun fir a riddle or a heid-twister.

Ono the face o it, nouns in Scots wirk richt lik nouns in Inglis. Ilkane’s a thing. They are awye. Ye cannae gang wrang wi them. Subject, object, concrete an abstract, coont or mass: aw fairly straicht forrit. Fit’s e noun daein? Or fit’s it bein? Fit’s it haein daen till it? Can ye touch it or is it aw in yer heid? Dae ye missur it bi nummer or bi foo muckle ye hae?

Bit Scots aye his the pooer tae begake. We hae ae ee: Inglis “an eye”. And baith yer een mak an irregular plural: mair like “children” than the maist o wir plurals fit tak “s”, or “es”. The kind o plural A’m maist trickit wi is the like o “reef”. Aw the hooses hiv slate reefs: nae fashin wi “ves” lik in Inglis.

Possessive nours yaise apostrophes – the verra same as Inglis. The rale guddick is fitna wye aat’s sic a trauchle tae fowk. Thon “mad wee comma things that float abeen the line” (as ae bairn eence cried them tae me) is nae bather tae yaise. Lik Lynne Truss, A’m dementit wi fowk faa cannae, or winnae, lairn tae yaise them richt. It’s nae hard!

A mair unnerstannable cause fir bombazement is the wye a wheen o mass nouns in Scots act lik coont anes. Lik Davie Balfour’s Uncle Ebeneezer, wi can aw hae parritch: “they’re grand food.” Nae that A div, mine. Ma parritch comes in a bowlie or a micht hae a sup o it – singular, on its lane (wi milk an a wee tate saat). Bit fowk faa “pluralise” thir mass nouns lik thon are nae wrang – aat’s guid Scots. An get iss: fish, lik in Inglis, is the plural o the wird fir thon beasts thit sweem. bit only fir the mass noun. If ye can coont them, ye hae sae muckle fishes.

Bit of course we missur nummers differentlike. Ye ken A’m twintie-ane year auld, an it’s taen ma twa oor ti scrieve this. Nae an “s” in sicht! (an less space tae pit an eeseless apostrophe!) Mine, wi hae “days” jist lik in Inglis.

Aye, nouns are graan. A’m a sicht closer tae yaisin Voar ma sivvinteen times so’s it’ll be pairt o ma wirkin vocabulary. An A’m hopin Voar’ll be here, lik a lambkin, afore A’m deen!



Help wi nouns an aw ither grammar can be fun in A Modren Scots Grammar bi Christine Robinson, Grammar Broonie bi Susan Rennie and on on GLOW.

Reid invelopes

Weel, aat’s aa the reid invelopes teemt fir anither ‘ear. As if! A’m nae the kind o quine faa his tae worry aboot ower mony cairds fir Valentine’s!
Mines is nae really a hoose o heirts an flooers, ye ken. Nae complainin – ma man’s qwate an romantic in his ain wye. In hunners o wyes he mair than maks up fir nae chocolates. Mebbies like maist Scots men?
A mean, he is nae as bad as some McRomeos A ken o. A ken een faa geed his wife flooers – self-raisin, plain an wholemeal – ae ‘ear. A ken anither faa geed a quine a pokie o seeds an telt her tae growe her ain. Mine their mairrit noo, as far’s A ken, sae he maun hae makit up fir it. Best ava micht be the mannie faa stertit his proposal wi, “Kin ye mak chips?” an syne said, “Ye’ll dee!” faan she did an he wintit tae “seal the deal.”
But I micht be beein ower hard on oor men. Burns screived “A Reid, Reid Rose” an “Ae Fond Kiss”: twa o the maist romantic poems ivver. An he wisnae alane.The Scots Language Centre his sangs and poems be Scots, in Scots:… an Aabodie kens The Proclaimers 500 Miles an aw. An faa kin forget Gregory’s feel pals in Gregory’s Girl? Mine, yon’s anither een wi mair nor a touch o comedy. Are oor men better wi jokes nor romance? Mair comedy nor Casanova? Quines, if ye dinnae lauch ye’ll greet!
But fit if it’s nae the mannies’ wyte? It micht hae somethin tae dee wi wir leid. It is Germanic. A’v aye winnert if A cuid be sweipit aff ma feet be a mannie soughin “Ich leibe dich” inno ma lug. Ye’d be ower splootert wi slaivers tae be enamoured be yon!
Haud oan though, A’m nae gaun doon the road o “we dinnae hae the wirds.” We maun hae them – Scots is a leid same’s oany ither. A wis fair chuffed tae see “wurds fir love” onno a Facebook Doric page nae sae lang syne. Hooiver, gie quick-like it aa descendit intae mair fairm-yaird nor boudoir. Noo dinnae gang an try an find it – it wid gaur yer hair curl. Thir’s mair romance aboot William Morrice Wilson’s Spick Aboot …Coortin. Or is there? “It’s Scotch love – aye fechtin”? disnae soond lik love tae me.
Mibbes we hiv forgotten the wirds, like sae monie ithers, fir lack o yaisin them. Mair practise is fit we are needin.
An Richt eneuch, it taks twa tae tango. A’m nae sae sure A’m fit oany Romeo wid luik fir. The ae time ma man did come in the door wi flooers A speirt, “Fit hiv ye deen?” in a wye that wid brak oany lichtbulb o romantic thocht in ae heirtbeat. An birslt cotton is mair eese in Scotland in February than satin is ivver gaun tae be.
Aye, romance is nae deid… it’s jist cooried doon tae bide cosie throwe the cauld.

Burns is By…

Weel, at’s Burns Nicht by wi for anither ‘ear. Tae say A hiv a mixter-maxter o feelins wid nae be wrang. Burns maks ma prood tae be a Scot. He is kent an mindit the warld ower. He wis far aheed o his time in mony wyes an his themes are aye relevant the day. He scrieved things that will aye be mindit, makin the Scots leid, aye an the English ane tae, dee bonnie, unco things. Like a mannie capin sheep, he cuid gaur wirds dee fitiver he wintit.

Maist ivvry bairn in the country his been “deein Scots” ower the heids o Burns. Richt eneuch – it’s oor birth-richt. Bit…foo mony o them his learnt a poem wi nae understaundin o context or meanin? (There’s monies the adult fa cannae staun Burns fay sic an experience.) Foo mony o them willnae spik anither word o Scots until neist January, faan it is time tae wheech Burns oot again? Foo mony o them will think Scots dee’t wi Burns an isnae really pairt o their daily day?

It wid be afa fine if ilka bairn cuid leave the schuil kennin fit Auld Lang Syne means, an foo tae sing the wirds the richt gate. Mair fine still if they cuid yaise the leid an mak it boo til their needs, withoot bein feart or afrontit.

There’s them thit hiv Burns haised up abeen mortal men an cannae see by him. Fit wid Burns dee gin he were alive ayenoo? He wid be scrievin for bairns as weel as growen ups – there’s a mairket for thon noo thit didnae exist in his day. He wid be yaisin words like “council telly” and scrievin aboot female ordination, nuclear wappons an the state o the roads. He wid wint Scots tae be a livin, sonsie leid, for ilka pairt o wir lives – nae jist for poetry.

I winner tae fit he’d mak o the microwaveable haggis. It’s nae the same, addressin the cauld, shrunklt, peelie-wally puddin afore ye skin it tae haet it in the “pie haeter”. Bit fan there is jist the twa o yese in the hoose (forby the pussy bawdrons, fa disnae get haggis bar a snuff), it maks life mair than a thochtie easier. Aye Burns wid haud wi that an aw. Tae see the common man (or wifie) a sicht less trauchled wid faa richt intil his barra, A’m sure.

Time wis, as a student, A telt ma Irish freen tae gang ontae Union Street an speir atony passin wise-like wifie faar tae buy a haggis. The een A’d gaed her cam fae the best butcher in Macduff – best for haggis. The auld dear she speirit fairly proved her worth: she telt her the butcher ower the wye wis guid for maist things, but for haggis she shid gang roon an ben til anither een aathegither. For nae ivvry haggis is created equal. The advice wis guid, an ma pal’s mammie fair enjoyed the pudding faan she tried it.

Thon days is lang by. For there’s nae ae butcher in Macduff noo, niver mind ane faa’s better than anither. An ivery supermairket his guid eneuch haggis noo – like faist food, the same in ilka toon.

So the ‘ear’s mairchin awa. We hiv nae hope bit tae mairch wi it or we’ll be tracked intil the stoor an dubs forby. An the warld gangs roon an Burns is mindit. Bit mine iss – Scots is fir ilka day, nae jist for Burns nicht. It’s time is comin yet, for aa that!