It is Burns Night today! Scottish English week comes to an end with a guest post by Janet Gough.
My sister got married on January 8 at Pollokshields Burgh Hall (1) , on the Sooside (2) of Glasgow. Sláinte, Alison and Colin! The wedding day was brilliant. So much work needed done beforehand to make it so pure dead brilliant but!
As an English incomer to Glasgow 16 years ago, I would have found it slightly difficult to get my grammatical & lexical head around the previous sentence. We’re most of us familiar with the phrase ‘pure dead brilliant’, popularised by Elaine C Smith, and even taken by Prestwick Airport as a marketing slogan. And the sentence ‘makes sense’ to an English speaker, albeit ‘pure’ would not generally function adverbially in non-Scottish English. But what about the grammar of ‘need’? Surely things need doing, not done? Well, not here in Glasgow. Things don’t need doing, sorting, or celebrating, they need done, sorted, & celebrated. There is to my mind something nicely definitive to the use of the past participle here.
And what about ‘but’ – a conjunction at the end of a sentence? When I first heard this usage, I was waiting for the phrase following the ‘but’… But it doesn’t come. ‘But’, at the end of a sentence, is almost impossible to ‘translate’ into standard English. The closest equivalent is probably sentence-final ‘though’ (‘it was pure dead brilliant, though!’)
So Scottish English has its own grammar, as well as its own lexicon. Added to the much-cited impenetrability (to an outsider) of the Glasgow accent, the three elements of different vocabulary, accent and grammar can lead to an impression of a certain harshness, a dourness to Scottish English.
I beg to differ!
When asked to suggest a ‘Scottish’ word, probably most Sassenachs would first come up with ‘wee’. Meaning? Small, of course. But its usage here in Scotland is not confined to the literal sense. ‘Wee’ is scattered liberally in the spoken language not as a meaning-specific adjective, but to soften and add an element of care to what is being said. When I take my feline companion Daisy to the vet’s, for example, she is always referred to not as just ‘the cat’, but as ‘the wee cat’, or ‘wee Daisy’. All animals seen at the veterinary practice – from the smallest pygmy hamster to the hugest great dane – are termed ‘the wee ones’. Perhaps it is not without significance, too, that this is the first word of the famous Burns poem ‘To a Mouse’: the creature addressed is not just small, but also, somehow, cherished.
My Mum, who had travelled up from Yorkshire for the wedding, even caught herself saying that my bit (3) was ‘a wee bit further out’ of Glasgow than she’d expected – she had been in Scotland for just a couple of days, but already found herself catching the idiom. What better demonstration could there be that Scottish English, like the Scottish people, draws you in and makes you welcome?
1 burgh: town, or equivalent autonomous district (hence ‘Edinburgh’). A burgh hall is a town hall.
2 Sooside: South Side. Glasgow has a South Side, East End and West End. No North Side or North End though!
3 one’s bit: the place where one lives – or in local parlance the place where one stays – to ‘stay‘ somewhere is to have one’s home there
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Great post! I think you’re so right about “wee” being used to soften and add an element of care to what is being said.
One of my favourite “wee” idioms is: “Aw, the wee scone!” — when one of the kids hurts themselves or does something cute.
A’ the best
Glasgow certainly does have a North Side, even if “Of all the city various sub-divisions, the north side of Glasgow has the lowest profile … Bishopbriggs was once a little place all on its lonesome on Glasgow’s north side, but it has now been swallowed up by the big city … Villages of Glasgow: The North Side”
(etc, thank you Google)