Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Word Nerd Confessions: October


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I might have mentioned it before that my heritage harkens back to the Isle of Skye in Scotland. Since that discovery I have grown more aware of all that is Scottish. This month I favor words that have Scottish roots. I might have to dedicate a post to famous Scots. I do enjoy listening to David Tennant and his broguish wit.

Who has the knack for Scottish wit and bravado? The Doctor, of course.

grumphie: a pig

hooly: gently

sennachie: a storyteller

blellum: an indiscreet talker

atweel: surely

shavie: a trick or a prank

I’ve come across other Scottish words in my readings of authors such as D.E. Stevenson and Allan MacKinnon that leave me puzzled to the point of setting my book down and searching out its meaning.

One of the words that stumped me was “ken.” Sentences like, “I ken your meaning,” really threw me. Context sleuthing pointed me towards understanding, but I finally looked it up and got this from dictionary. com:

verb (used with object),  kenned or kent, ken·ning.

Chiefly Scot.

  1. to know, have knowledge of or about, or be acquainted with (a person or thing).
  2. to understand or perceive (an idea or situation).

Scots Law. to acknowledge as heir; recognize by a judicial act.Archaic. to see; descry; recognize.

To “ken” something means to have a deeper understanding that just a mere acknowledgement. It’s one of those words that doesn’t translate well out of its cultural context–I ken that some words do better in their home language.

What Scottish words have you come across? Better yet, which of the above is one you are adopting? I’m leaning towards grumphie, as I do enjoy Guinea pigs. Then again, tossing out hooly at the right instance could be satisfying.

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17 thoughts on “Word Nerd Confessions: October

  1. I’ll take any of them, so long as a Scotsman reads them aloud. 😀

  2. I love listening to David Tennant and am amazed how he can alter his accent!

  3. How about ‘Numpty’??
    My uncle brought his wife home from Dunoon, Scotland. Her crazy sister followed. They are all 3 gone now but loved them to bits. Crazy sis called me Numpty. I miss her so….

  4. It’s a braw bricht moonlicht nicht the nicht. If ye can say that, ye’re awricht, ye ken? 😉 An old Scots saying. Mostly we just use “ken” as a straight alternative to “know”. D’ye ken wee Jock? Aye, I ken him weel. Must admit the only one of your list that I’ve ever heard anyone use is blellum, but there are lots of regional variations even in such a tiny country.

    Here’s one for your collection : weans. Glaswegian for young children – a sort of contraction of wee ones. Rhymes with trains. In other parts of Scotland, young kids are often called bairns.

  5. Next time someone eats too quickly or too much, I’m going to tell them not to be a grumphy. Of course, I’ll say it hooly–I don’t want to hurt their feelings.

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