Ishbel McFarlane runs through her favourite Scots language words, ahead of her quest to find examples of them around Edinburgh
My show, O is for Hoolet, is a funny, thinky meditation on language and Scots in particular.
It’s about everything from Abaga (a Papua New Guinea language with five speakers) to Zumaya (a Cameroon language with twenty-five speakers). Compared with the 513 world languages that UNESCO lists as having fewer than 100 speakers, Scots is visible, vital and thriving with ONE AND A HALF MILLION speakers in Scotland!
Throughout August, we are going to be celebrating the written Scots around us by collecting examples of Scots use around Edinburgh. We are looking for people to take pictures of signage, cafe menus, shop names, show names – anything that visibly uses Scots. Share them on social media with the hashtag #FringeScots. It will be great to see them gathered together.
Here’s a selection of seven of my favourite Scots words that you might want to look out for!
Hoolet is a Scots word for owl. You can see it in Macbeths witches’ brew:
‘Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,/ Lizard’s leg and owlet’s wing’
Do I make a brew in the show? I drink tea, does that count?
I was a student in Edinburgh and found the whole place historically exotic. Even the weather. Being back in Edinburgh to perform O is for Hoolet means that I will get to see and say one of my favourite thing-words – haar.
It’s the name for the cold, wet, sea mist that sweeps and smothers the city. It’s a Scots word, but it’s also used in the north east of England. We think of words ending at borders because it’s easier for us, and our category-crazy brains, but language is no respecter of boundaries.
My favourite swearword! It is a dainty alternative to ‘Jesus Christ’. My mum sometimes uses ‘Jinglin Geordies’ as an ebullient alternative – she loves to make things longer for effect. The original Jinglin Geordie was an Edinburgh goldsmith who had a jinglin purse of coins in the sixteenth century. We research our curses, motherbuckers! Bucker, of course, was a Protestant martyr in the reign of Henry VIII.
That pause when you know you know someone but you can’t yet remember their name. Straight up excellent word.
Shaky, insecure, rickety. I’ve mostly heard it used for shoes though, and it’s perfect. It’s when they are worn down at the heel and they’ve lost their shoely-umph. Most of my shoes – or ‘shin’ in Scots – are shauchly.
Originally used to mean an enchantment or spell – ‘the witch cast a glamour over the eyes of the minister’. It was brought into literary language, and Standard English, by Walter Scott. Scott almost literally invented Scotland.
Lucky he had the surname he did, or we might be calling this place Walterland. You can see how witchcraft comes to mean allure. For the actual jump of the meaning of glamour from the supernatural to a sort of sunglasses-and- lipstick charm we can thank the Americans. That’s right, pedants who hate to use American English – too late.
Because Hugh MacDiarmid said that since the Union of the Crowns of England and Scotland in the seventeenth century Scots has contained all of English. And how much fun is it to say that ‘lfth’.
That is a BUNCH of consonants in a row. Don’t collect this one for #FringeScots though. You’ll only confuse us.
Aug 12-29: O Is For Hoolet, Scottish Storytelling Centre, EH1 1SR, 19.00 – 20.15 / more info
Main image: Irene McFarlane