I’m sitting preparing this post while looking out the window on a very dreich day. Ah yes, Scottish summertime! It makes me smile that when the book arrived a few weeks back and I took the photo above, it was another dreich day. We have had lovely weather this year honestly, I even have a homegrown suntan to prove it! Now dreich is a word that I think many people outside Scotland will be aware of, a word that means wet, miserable, grey and dreary. But this book is indeed a treasury of Scottish words, some better known than others.
About the book
Scottish writer and bookseller, Robin Crawford, has gathered 1,000 Scots words – old and new, classical and colloquial, rural and urban – in a joyful celebration of their continuing usage. His amusing, erudite definitions put each of these words in context, revealing their evocative origins and essential character. Delightful line drawings by Scottish printmaker Liz Myhill contribute to this treasury of linguistic gems for language lovers everywhere.
The Scots language is intricately bound up in the nation’s history, identity, land and culture. It is also a living and vital vernacular, used daily. With references to Robert Burns mingling with contemporary examples from Billy Connolly and even Monty Python, Cauld Blasts and Clishmaclavers revels in the richness of one of our oldest languages, and acts as a precious reminder of words that are also beginning to fade away, their meaning and value disappearing.
What I really enjoyed about reading this book was coming across words that I had half forgotten, words I’d used in childhood. I also found words that I remembered my grandparents using. It brought back so many fond memories. However there were plenty of words which I do still use and it’s interesting to think that people outside Scotland might not know what they mean. There were also plenty of words which were new to me. There is such a rich variety of dialects across Scotland and it was great to learn some new words.
I have picked out just a few of the words I found interesting to share with you today.
Bumfle: a wee bump or crease that needs smoothing. I use this in the context of bed covers. My quilt cover always seems to be bumfled!
Haar – east coast sea mist. Something we are all too familiar with here in Portobello…
Hirple – walk with a limp. This brings back memories of my gran who used it a lot when she was older and waiting for a hip replacement!
Jannie: school janitor. We had a lovely jannie at my primary school. He was loved by everyone and ran the St Andrew’s Ambulance first aid group.
Loch-lubbertie – jellyfish. This was a new word for me!
Messages: provisions or the act of going shopping for daily foodstuffs. I was just reading some of these words to my daughter and her friend and they were surprised to find out that ‘going for the messages’ might not be universally understood.
Midge – tiny wee biting flying insect. I pronounce this ‘midgie’ and am fortunate that they don’t seem to like me. For many people they are the scourge of a holiday in Scotland particularly on the West Coast or the Islands.
Nyaff – insulting term for a diminutive, insignificant person, often small minded, usually irritating or a numpty. Two insults there for the price of one!
Smowt: youngster, technically a young trout or salmon but also affectionately applied to a child. This is a word I think of fondly as my dad used to call my youngest daughter a wee smowt when she was little.
Tube: an idiot or someone doing something stupid. This is an insult that was used all the time when I was at school!
One question – where are the baffies??
Cauld Blasts and Clishmaclavers is a great book for Scots and non Scots alike. It entertaining, informative and great fun to dip in and out of. It would be a perfect gift for anyone with an interest in words but why not just treat yourself?
My thanks to Alison Menzies and Elliot and Thompson books for sending me a copy of the book. It is available now in ebook and hardback formats and I’d really recommend the hardback copy for flicking through. If you can support a local bookshop at this time please do. Otherwise, you will find buying options for various retailers on the E&T website here: Cauld Blasts
About the author
Born in Glasgow, writer and Scottish bookseller Robin A. Crawford has a particular interest in the culture and natural heritage of his native land. He is the critically acclaimed author of Into The Peatlands: A Journey Through the Moorland Year, longlisted for the Highland Book Prize 2019. He lives in Fife, Scotland, with his wife. He is available for interview.