The Scottish accent is an evocative, wind-tousled thing. Those fortunate enough to visit or live in the land Romans dubbed Caledonia know it well. Unfortunates such as myself who’ve never been must get our fix reading “Kidnapped!,” watching “Brave,” etc.
But when it comes to being transported to a different time or place, readers are at the mercy of the author. Good writers know that conveying an authentic sense of the language is as important to the reader’s experience as description, character arc, or even plot. Here are some thoughts about writing in a Scottish accent.
The Laird of Logan
For authors who want to plunge their readers into colorful, authentic (albeit archaic) language, there is The Laird of Logan: being Anecdotes and Tales illustrative of the Wit and Humor of Scotland. The book, published in 1854, is filled with more than five hundred short vignettes with titles like “A Daft Bargain,” “Every Body has his Bubbly Jock,” “Infantine Shrewdness,” and “Recipe for Speaking English.”
It includes such gems of advice as, “Dinna mak ony body suffer by ye, as thae scranky-shanked mizzle-shinned Highlanders do.” Scranky-shanked, as it turns out, means thin-legged, while mizzle-shinned is defined as legs that are red and splotched from sitting too near a fire. Pretty specific, that.
In one vignette, the eponymous laird is dressing down an educated squire who has just used too many big, high-falootin’ words in a sentence.
Nae wonder, Peter, than yer blawing like a bursting haggis, after a’ that blatter o’ words; you’ll hae pitten a’ the lair ye e’er got at the college in that speech, I’se warrant; ye mind sin’ you and I were at Claymires school thegither what a poor, fusionless, whey-faced shawp o’ a creature you war, baith in soul and body, and that you couldna spell your ain name!
Of course, too much patois might be incomprehensible and send today’s readers running. However, a judicious sprinkling of phrases like “blawing like a bursting haggis” or what a “whey-faced shawp o’ a creature you war” can lend crucial authenticity. Even the simple substitution of “thegither” for “together” can give the narrative or dialogue some convincing heft.
While “The Laird of Logan” may be the best resource, there are other places to get fun “Scottishisms” online. ScotlandWelcomesYou.com has a number of phrases posted, such as:
“Weesht yer puss!”
Means : shut your face/be quiet.
“All his eggs are double-yoakit!”
Means : A comment on someone who boasts.
Dicht yer neb and flee awae
Means : Wipe your nose and go away.
Yer aywis at the coo’s tail
Means : You’re always lagging behind everyone else.
You could’nae see green cheese but yer een wid reel
Means : If you see someone getting something you want it too.
Ya muckle gype!!
Means : You stupid idiot.
Lang may your lum reek and a wee mouse never leaves your cupboard with a tear in its eye.
Means : May you always have fuel for warmth and food in the house
Writing a story that takes readers into a world of colorful characters and textured landscapes is fun. Not least of all because you get to go there first.