Valerie Yules Letters

May 26, 2013

Scots language – and English culture

Filed under: humor, Pleasures — Tags: , , , , — valerieyulesletters @ 6:12 am

The Language of a Culture – Scots English

If more Celtic words had survived into the English language, in what ways would it have been enriched? (Tod, 2000.) Difficult to tell. If more standard Scots vocabulary were now part of our common English heritage, it would be enriched indeed – and curiously enough, the compilers of Chambers Scots Dictionary (1911) claim that we might then have more of a tongue that was the lineal descendant of the Anglian speech of Bede and Caedmon.

It is fascinating what a dictionary can reveal about a culture. you can tell about a culture by looking through its dictionary.
Here is vocabulary taken from random samples of pages of the Chambers Scots dictionary (1911). Much of it sounds very expressive indeed – but what does it express? For a holiday game, players could provide definitions for Scots words, – and then see how close they were to the actual Scots usage.
And then, inspired, make up similarly lively adjectives to describe whatever and whoever you like.
The Scots have spoken their own English in the Lowlands and along the east coast, since long before the Union with England. However, The Scots Dictionary contrasts with an English lexicon such as the Oxford Concise Dictionary in the sort of culture it contrasts with modern English. It is pawky and couthy and canny, very observant, and rather self-righteous – particularly about wantonness and drunkenness, which appear to be have been very common, from the large amount of vocabulary developed to describe a full spectrum of both. Much of the vocabulary in the Scots dictionary is now antique, and out of common use except by Scottish writers, but American English and the lazy general terms of our more limited conversation today have by no means yet fully taken over. Sassenachs can still not know whether to be upset or tickled if they are introduced at a public meeting as kenspeckled, and bairns can still be peely-wally.
The Scottish language was full of concise words that gave exact and specific meanings to observables that modern English can only describe with a phrase. For examples –
Frieshoch, a red, flameless fire, Gribble, to feel with the fingers, Gromish, to crush severely parts of the body, Grimesdike, a ditch made by magic.
There is not much vocabulary for love or high-flown emotions, but there is affection and humour, an interest in clothes and tools and livestock – although a narrow range of food.
A sample of Scottish adjectives
Grimly, grewsome, grippit, grisk, grobble, groff, groo, groogle, groose, groosh,(excellent) grooze, groozle, gropsey, (gluttonous) gropus (stupid) grou, grouble, grouf, rouff, grounch, grounge, grouse, grousome, grousy, growe, growble
The vocabulary of a rural peasantry –
Greth, gressum, grettlin, grew, greydog, grice, greive, grin, grind, grinstane, grintal man, grinwan, groatie, groilach, grip, gripper, gripping, grisket, grisset, grister, grizzle, grone, grool, groop, groot, groozlins, grosset, grotty (consisting of groats – now you know where that word comes from) grougrou, grounch, ground ebb, groundie-swallow, ground master, groundrotten, grounds, grout –
Hap is an implement to scrape up sea-ooze to make salt with.
Relationships. The Scots were clear about relationships, and had many handy words for them it could be no bad thing to adopt ourselves. .
Gruffer or gutser, grandfather, Gudame, grandmother, Gude-billie, brother-in-law, Gudeson, son-in-law, (And also, gudefather, gudemother, gudedochter) Half-cousin, a first cousin once removed, Oey, grandchild, Heir-oye, greatgrandchild,
Outsider, not a relative. (That says something about the strength of families.)
Eeldins, persons of the same age, (a better word than peer group)
Creepie, child at crawling stage
There are also many words for different types of friends, at different stages and ages
Teenage behaviour. The vocabulary suggests an amusedly tolerant though critical attitude. Certainly there is no great anxiety or adult fears of lost control. Some of these words would be useful today.
Halflin, a half grown boy, Halick, a giddy girl, Kelp, a rawboned youth, Keulins, young people, Hallachins, noisy, foolish conduct, Hallickit, haspan, a stripling, Jillet, a young girl entering puberty, Nickums, a mischievous boy (as in ‘Yon loon’s a right nickums,’) Bufflin boys, Knidget,a mischievous, saucy boy or girl, Laddie band, a band of boys.
Picturesque vocabulary –
Cauldkailhetagain, a sermon preached twice to the same audience.
Crying bannock, special cake eaten at feast on birth of a child
Grind, to study hard
Groaning-malt, ale brewed on the occasion of a confinement.
Groffins, prone on one’s face,
Grooschin, any disgusting liquid
Grouk, to become enlivened after sleep, or to overlook suspiciously.
Guller’s spree, guleravich, Guide ye, exclamations of contempt
Gum, the condensed moisture on the walls of a crowded church
Hamesucken, the crime of violently assaulting a man in his own house
Handthieves, steal with the hands
Hashrie, reckless waste
Hissieskip, housewifery
Holy-dabbies, shortbread used as communion bread
Hoozle, a paper band round a bundle of papers to keep them together
Houchmagandy, fornication (That’s a good word for the celebrity pages of women’s magazines.)
Jimmer, to make a disagreeable noise on a violin
Kail-kirk, a church where they ate together afterwards (Kale is of the cabbage family)
Leetach, to deliver a speech or sermon, incoherent talk, rambling speech, talk a great deal foolishly
Newance, the first kiss a child gives on getting a new garment (That would be a fine idea, now.)
Nip-lug, a school master (literally, ear-puller)
Ort, to pick out the best part of food and leave the rest; to crumble or waste food
Paigle, the dirty work of the house
Plotch, to work slowly
Polist lair, a finishing education
Pregnancy, fullness, ripeness, richness of promise (and its present more limited meaning not given)
A remarkably high proportion of the Scots vocabulary describes character and traits, and much of that is derogatory. It seems to rellish fining down aspects of being mean, lazy, stupid, worthless, churlish, clumsy, halfwitted, gluttonous, silly, and slovenly (oozlieness, etc.), and to criticise excess of anything, even virtues. A ‘predominant’ is a predominant passion or sin. If any behavior has an approving description, it will also have another that can take someone down a peg. If you want to put someone down, Scots will have a word for it.
Here are some Scots characters and traits described, with single words to depict folk rather carefully observed.
A professor is, among other definitions, one who claims an unusual amount of religious faith and fervour.
Carl-wife, a man that meddles with household matters
Grosie, fat and clumsy woman
Guldie, a tall, blackfaced gloomy looking man
Gust, an officious, flighty talkative woman, who means nothing in her talk.
Gweed-frauchty, ready to give to the poor
Haggersnash, a spiteful person
Hagmahush, a sloven
Hielant, a) Highland, b) silly and clumsy (A Lowland word)
Kneef, vigorous for one’s age
Maulifuff, a young woman without energy
Musch, a small person with a shock of dark hair
Mushlin, one who is fond of dainty food eaten secretly
Nebsie, an impudent old woman
Preek, to be spruce, conceited
Prejink, precise, smart, hypercritical
Pretty could also mean insignificant and petty
Prose-folk, people who talk in prose
Prossie, annoyingly nice and particular in dress or work
Queer, entertaining, amusing, humorous, or the choir or vault in a church, or the persons in the choir.
Drinking. Gluttony appeared to be regarded as worse than drunkenness, with harsher words for it, but there are more words for various ways of drinking and being drunk, such as kiss-the-caup, o- piper-fu, pouting, prime, exciter with drink, bosky, boke, blybe, blabber, bitch-fou, birl, banged, to belly puggy, swack, toom-the-stoup, drunkily, doon.
When young people had no toys, they were not bored, because they played games – and so many games, with so many names for them. Here is only a selection:
Hurley-whush, cahoo, catbeds, catanddog, catinthebarrel (a barbarous game,) hammer and block, habbie gabbie, harie-hurcheon, harry-purcan, hatty, heckle-birnie, heckery-peckery, henners, hickety-bickety, heytie, Hey Wullie wine, hespy, hie-spy, hop-my-fool, huckie-buckie, hunt-the-staigie, Jack’s alive, janet-jo, Jenny-mac, jump the cuddy, king and queen of Cantelon, King’s chair, King-come-along, kipperdy smash, kirk-the-gussie, kittle-kowt, knapsack, knurl, leads, line-him-out, lubin, namie and guessie, needle-cases, nineholes, nine Os, paipie, peavor, pillie-winkie (a barbarous child’s sport against birds, says the dictionary), pintacks, pirley pease-weep, poachie, plunkin, poor widow, popthebonnet, prappin, pretty, prickie and jockie.
Stories in Scots dialect in the past have tended to be unreadable, as thick with apostrophes as a briar with thorns, but since Lewis Grassic Gibbon and others have been ditching this unnecessary kowtow to an different English speech, other readers in the English-speaking world can have access to a very distinctive corner of it. Before, perhaps, too much of it has disappeared. But why, with the many flourishing and even growing Englishes that are now being studied across the globe, need the Anglian dialects of Scotland give way, from Doric and Shetlandic in the north to Glaswegian and the borders in the south?

The gude Scots folk were agin swearing. They did not need to. They had plenty of other words, sufficient to say anything at all.
A language that is queemly, querious, quirksome, quisquous, quirky, quirty and quistical.

Warrack, Alexander. & Grant, William. (1911). Chambers Scots Dictionary. Edinburgh: W. &. R. Chambers, Ltd.
Tod, Loreto. (2000). Where have all the Celtic words gone? English Today. 16.3.


A female origins of sex

Filed under: Pleasures — Tags: , , — valerieyulesletters @ 1:53 am

A female history of sex
A female Origins of Sex down the ages would have put Reproduction as the key, far beyond pleasure. The Origins of Sex: A History of the First Sexual Revolution, Faramerz Dabhoiwala, Allen Lane, £25, 484pp is very much a male Origins of Sex’ and cherry-picking at that. (An account of this book on a supposed Sexual Revolution is given in ABC Radio National’s Late Night Live. The book itself I have not read. It may go further, but other reviews suggest not.)

Until the pill and State aid for single mothers, reproductiom as the result of sex was the reason for most of our sexual attitudes. It was the reason for religious and social norms, celibacy and monasticism in many countries, approval of homosexuality as an alternative to heterosexual sex, requirements of female virginity, abortion, infanticide, and the horrible contraceptives often tried. Families threw out pregnant daughters because they did not want the burden of rearing the children. Various religious and social ideas were a consequence of Reproduction, and got some strange manifestations. The popular ballads and music-hall themes of women with unwanted babies, and the Poor Little Mill Girl on rich and poor inequalities are important data, along with Farmerz Dabhoiwala’s upper-class quotes.
Ancient Greece, Rome, and other countries had ideas similar to The Sexual Revolution, along with all sorts of other ideas.
(And why did the Bennetts want Lydia to marry the unsuitable Wickham?)
Nature made food and sex pleasurable, to ensure eating and Reproduction.. Men’s fatherhood was made valuable by social norms.

May 4, 2013

Setting New Statesman competitions

I set NS Competition questions mostly but not only in 2005. They were meant to arouse thought, but I stopped setting them because instead competitors only tried to be clever.
I set New Statesman Competition questions mostly but not only in 2005. They were meant to arouse thought, but I stopped setting them because instead competitors only tried to be clever.

Some questions sent in and mostly published included:
1. Much modern comedy is about being horrible to other people. Is it possible to be funny about being nice (random acts of kindness, etc) without the punchline being that it doesn’t work or has horrid unintended consequences or it’s not nice after all?

2. Biblical prophets despaired that supernatural visitations could ever change anything for the good, and so it has generally seemed. Describe a supernatural visitation that could achieve something useful today.

3. List ten items that a museum would keep hidden away as sacred totems of modern British society.

4. As fast as globalism opens the world and the internet to everyone, forces try to privatize everything or keep it secret – from water and knowledge to museum artifacts and government activities. Here is the struggle in the next Harry Potter book. Outline the story-line.

5.The New Statesman decides to get its various acts together, and make sure that one thing happens each year that can ‘make the world a better place’, rather than being a pot-pourri heavily into schadenfreudia and dystopics. What feasible concern would you urge NS to take up and push for 2005? Give reasons.

6. A famous poet rewrites some of her/his famous lines in light of modern knowledge. It might be Byron for example, finding that man’s ruinous control does not stop at the sea-shore, or Blake’s Tyger facing extinction.

7. The custom of beginning sessions of Parliament with dedication by Christian prayer has been condemned as biassed. Replace it with a secular reminder of members’ awesome global responsibilities in these critical times, of high liturgical quality and memorability, and not one platititude.

8.In 200 words, list ten ideas for inventions that could save the world from the catastrophes that loom ahead.

9. A non-profit DVD has been invented for self-help in learning to read. Write the report of an educational institution recommending that it not be trialed, or similar report by any organization against trialing a humane invention that might affect its interests.

9. It is discovered that since children learn more out of school than in school, however – schools are needed by society as baby-sitters. Selected children are therefore allowed out on probation into the work-force for two-week periods as assistants, after which they do projects and catch up on schoolwork from their computers and books. Disruptive children may be frequently selected. A longitudinal study includes a control group. Since the children are learning that life is a tricky business means, the school does not have to bother about legal liabilities or insurance.

10.The case that human beings are not Freudian plumbing systems puts paid to the public faith in ‘outlets’ for aggressive impulses and the value of continual excitation and stimulation.Instead, concepts of ‘fizzling’ emotions and redirecting impulses into sublimation actions. Rather than tensing up with worry beads and desktop gimmicks and throwing plates, send ideas for a new theory of therapy

11. A recent legal case was so complex that the lawyer spoke for five hours. At least two hours of this case must have involved Little Bo Peep. 200 words from the defence lawyers’ lengthy oration in any current or recent business legal case, that brings in Little Bo Peep in a way that can guarantee another two hours talkling.

11. Do a take-off of the New Statesman at the time of Kingsley Martin or now. Hopefully winners will include examples of both.

12. A future archaeologist interprets a modern urban midden

13. Write on the theology of the astrology in modern magazines.

14. Designer babies. Design a human with characteristics that already exist (ie feasible) that might best survive the environmental challenges ahead.

15. This crowded world. A new children’s game for a playground with 800 children in it.

16. The blurb for a fantasy novel with a quest, in which all the characters have names like Emma and Robert, they seek things like dish-washers, and a royal commission is – well, a Royal Commission.

17. ‘The Borrowers’ is a famous children’s novel by Nora . . . An exerpt from a further sequel in which a family of borrowers (Glitches?) live in a computer – and characteristically have taken over English vocabulary for themselves, as with mouse, ram, scroll, etc, – and how they take their entertainment at the back of the screen instead of in front.

18. ISAGIATT – It seemed a good idea at the time. Future-looking at unexpected consequences from say, translocation, designer babies, universal literacy, memory pills, ageless beauty, honest politicians, thought-reading or other dreams science might make true.

19. An art critic writes about Modern Art as the elaborate colorful graffiti that wayward geniuses spray on walls and fences.

20 An exerpt from the Ancient Mariner on the Last Albatross, Blake on the Last Tiger, Kipling on the Last Elephant, or Charlotte’s Web in a factory farm.

21. From a Just-So story explaining something like Climate Change.

22. A happy ending for any notable tragic play or novel – say, Hamlet.

23 Can you design principles for a reform for English spelling that is more way out than the extremes of those that are commonly proposed?

24 Translate some great passage of literature into modern English vocabulary of say, the hoodie or barmy-army type.

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