Scots: a celebration in 10 words of everyday poetry

A Scottish glen in a blog about everyday poetry

Scots have a way with words, it’s probably fair to say. Ahead of Burns Night, a get-together to honour the life and work of the bard of Scotland, here’s a wee celebration in 10 words or so of everyday poetry.

It’s a light-hearted selection. (Enjoy ourselves, why don’t we? It’s later than we think.) These few examples have caught my ear recently, and added to my affection for Scotland. On we go.

Bonnie

What a bonnie word it is too. Often heard in England, too, it can’t fail to remind us of the Scottish folk song My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.

But it seems churlish not to enjoy some of Burns’ fine words, and sentiments, when Scots the world over gather to eat haggis, neeps and tatties, with a whisky or two, to honour their national poet.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass
So deep in love am I:
And I will love thee still, my dear
Till a' the seas gang dry

My Love is Like a Red Red Rose, Poem for the Day, Sinclair-Stevenson, 1996

From the archive: Burns: Scottish poet’s lonely glens, tim’rous beastie, homage to haggis

“Burns was a labourer and ploughman (with a “plougman’s stoop”) on his father’s ailing farm, and later on unsuccessful farms of his own,” read the comments below this poem, by Scottish poet and broadcaster Maurice Lindsey.

The poet farmer, national treasure of Scotland, is quoted as saying:

“To the sons and daughters of labour and poverty, the ardent hope, the stolen interview, the tender farewell, are the greatest and most delicious enjoyments.”

The pleasure and pain of living, in a poem of a sentence.

Another blog: “If you like words and you like music, you probably like poetry”

Coothie

A fellow writer, Lorraine Forrest-Turner, very kindly sent me a list of a few of her favourite words, reminding her of family back in Scotland.

Coothie, Lorraine says, is a nice, lovely, caring, gentle person – the opposite of uncouth, a word I remember my Irish mum using often.

A coothie seems the type of person who pours oil on troubled waters, is hospitable, encouraging and kind to a fault (if too much kindness be a fault).

Might an uncouth person take advantage of their good nature, I can’t help wondering…

St Patrick (diplomat, snake chaser) – and the gifts of language from Ireland

Others from Lorraine’s list that caught my attention:

  • scunnered – fed up, a bit down, slightly frustrated (“I’m never scunnered,” says nobody, ever; unless, of course, they happen to be fibbing);
  • dreich – a grey, miserable, drizzly day; if we’re feeling scunnered, or otherwise under par and off colour, the murk and damp might make us more so?

Dram

A wee dram on Burns Night? Seems churlish not to have a small glass of the good stuff, if alcohol is an option.

A glass of whisky in a blog about Scots everyday poetry

Health and good cheer to us all. Slàinte!

A Scottish uncle, much loved and admired, helped me with a few of the ideas for this blog. A shared dram again before too long, we hope.

For there is a dram.
For there is a farthing.
A bushel for your thoughts.
A hand for your withered heights.

Song of Weights and Measurements by Martha Silano
Credit: Poetry Foundation

Murrder

“I get away with murder,”
the comedian says in
Billy Connolly: Made in Scotland.

“If I’m walking along a street and there are men down a hole,
fixing some pipes or the sewage or something, I like to say
<Come on, get your back into it,
no wonder the country’s in the state it’s in>
and they’ll burst out laughing.

Anybody else would get a kick in the arse.”

In a typically eccentric scene in the sitcom Two Doors Down, set in suburban Glasgow, in-laws from England are challenged to pronounce “murder” with a Scottish burr.

(The results are mixed.)

There’s a get-the-nod-if-you-do moment in that scene. Eric, husband of kind and hospitable Beth – a coothie if ever there was one – is played by Alex Norton, known for the way he said murder in his role as Taggart.

The conniving conductor
in a Columbo TV film

Billy Connolly, a modern-day national treasure of Scotland and beyond? That’s probably no exaggeration.

He’s an actor too, of course. If you like relaxing TV, you might also have seen and enjoyed him play a pantomime baddie in the family film Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties.

Or how about as the conniving conductor in the 1998 Columbo movie Murder with Too Many Notes?

Sook

If you like farming, beautiful landscapes, and Scotland, then series 6 of This Farming Life – also mentioned in my first blog of the month – might be a bit of you, too.

(4 January) Food, farming, frugal living: my focus for 2024. Here’s a flavour

Many of the farmers refer to young sheep and cattle sooking on their mothers’ teats or, if needs be, a substitute bottle. And (no spoilers here), it’s a pronunciation that a nostalgic character in that Glasgow suburb uses when, by chance, the sitcom neighbours gather in the wee small hours listening to the shipping forecast.

Very rough or high, becoming rough or very rough. (Hebrides)

BBC Shipping Forecast from Wednesday 24 January 18h UTC

Troosers

Hard to say why, but many people in my family seem to pronounce pantalon in this manner. Part and parcel of the banter we all develop with our nearest and dearest, I guess.

The Andy Stewart troosers song has poetry aplenty in its lyrics, that much is certain.

A lassie took me to a ball
And it was slippery in the hall
And I was feared that I would fall
For I had nae on my troosers

www.songlyrics.com

Tummal-tootra

No surprise perhaps that it’s a Nostalgia Editor (who knew?), David McLean, who wrote a recent tribute to the Scots comedian and entertainer Stanley Baxter, now in his late 90s.

Remembering Stanley Baxter’s Parliamo Glasgow as the ultimate comedy guide to Glaswegian patter – Glasgow Live

Judging by comments on a Parliamo Glasgow sketch on YouTube from the 1960s, in which Baxter and co-star Clare Richards poke gentle fun at Glasgow speech patterns (and received pronunciation too), the comedian has a large and affectionate following.

(“Which is funnier – the Glasgow Scots or the RP English?” asks Scots Language Centre, which has pages on 10 different Scots dialects by region. Those simple, stumbled-upon pleasures.)

American here. I get almost all of it, and it’s fantastic, but I politely request a Glaswegian’s assistance with “raperorum tummul-tinty bed.”

@rosswhitakerguitar on YouTube

Incidentally, tummal-tootra means fallen out of, Richards explains about four minutes into the sketch on YouTube. Tumal-tootra, it has a lovely sound to it.

I’m not sure how exactly to use the expression – a question to ask on our next visit to Scotland, perhaps? Or just try and maybe get it wrong. After all, there’s a kind of everyday poetry in that too.

Image and video credits: Pyxis-Web-Solutions, AliceKeyStudio, PublicDomainPictures, CLEARSTREAMFILM, all on Pixabay.

*What everyday poetry have you heard in
Scotland, or anywhere else?
Please add a comment, I’ll be sure to reply.
My target is for five reader comments on this blog.*

6 comments on “Scots: a celebration in 10 words of everyday poetry

    • Brian McGee on

      They say that things happen in threes: a tremendous troika, not least as you use two of Lorraine Forrest-Turner’s word choices. Thanks a lot for your kind, creative comment.

      Reply
  1. Lorraine Forrest-Turner on

    Thank you Charles and Brian. In my haste to send my words to Brian, last night, I failed to say that ‘coothie’ is used as an adjective – describing a person’s behaviour as opposed to who or what they are. Hence, ‘couth’ being the opposite of uncouth. However, I like the new noun ‘coothie’. Wonder how long it will take to catch on?

    Reply
    • Brian McGee on

      The adjective/noun fault is mine… uncouth is an adjective, so coothie must be too. That logic was lost on me at the time.
      After publishing the blog I was reminded of the word “dote” – used in Ireland – which I take as an equivalent to our newly invented noun, a coothie.
      Words and language are in constant evolution, so why not?!

      Reply

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