…the horological journals…


I am minded to write a short article for one of the horological journals…

This is an actual quote from an email I received this morning. Gloriously olde-worlde as this is, it was only the second archaically worded email I got today (both from external enquirers). The other regarded a case from 1807… and could have been written by a gentleman of that time!

I love my job.




Beautiful Scots Words You May Not Know – via @scottishbktrust

Another piece from the Scottish Book Trust. Author Anne Donovan discusses some of her favourite words from the Scots Thesaurus…

Beautiful Scots Words You May Not Know

Tuesday 18 November 2014

Feilamort: the colour of a dead leaf

Browsing through the Scots Thesaurus, I came across this lovely word. I use the Scots Thesaurus occasionally as a reference, but mainly for the pure pleasure of the sounds of the words. But what does ‘the colour of a dead leaf’ mean? Are dead leaves really all the same colour?

I started to write, without thinking.

Feilamort: the colour of a dead leaf.
But dead leaves are of different hues. Cooried round the trunk of the mithertree, they shade frae rich gowd tae near-black with everything inatween; edges owerlapping like the fabric scraps I steek intae coverlets.
Mibbe they are at different stages of death.

Then came a vision of a young boy, dressed in a hooded cloak, descending from a carriage on a dreich Scottish day, observed by a girl. My new novel, Gone Are The Leaves, was born.

And, for me, a different way of writing. My previous work was in a familiar Glasgow form of Scots but I felt the novel had to be told mainly in the voice of Deirdre and to use Scots words from a previous era.

I wasn’t trying to recreate some kind of “authentic’ mediaeval speech, but to create the feeling of being in that other world and the Scots Thesaurus helped me to inhabit it. I looked for words which were marked as obsolete, and thereby discovered the interests and obsessions of the people of the past. So many words for weather conditions, words for farming, so many insults!

Closeness to nature is shown in the numerous words for bird calls which, like numerous Scots words, are onomatopoeic, and need no translation: cheetle, chirm, chirple, chelp, screel. The variety and specificity of words relating to weather conditions reflect the minds of people far closer to nature than many of us in the present day; life and livelihood depended on knowledge of sea, sky and earth, resulting in such precision of expression.

More favourites

Here are a few of my favourite Scots words.

nirlie: shrivelled, pinched with cold
mortfundyit : stiff with cold, chilled to the point of death (one of the many words which bears testimony to Latin and French origins)
madderam: boisterous fun, wild pranks
forfauchlit: worn out, exhausted
dowfie: a stupid person
gamphrell: a bumptious foolish person
glumsh: sulky, sour-looking
barber: a freezing coastal mist in calm frosty weather (all in one word!)
moonbroch: a halo round the moon which presages an approaching storm
howder: of the wind: to blow fitfully, in gusts.

In my opinion, these words are too vibrant and evocative to be left in the pages of a book. Let’s reclaim them in everyday 21st century life.

How about:

I had to wait that long for the bus that my hands are nirlie with the cold.
I’m away out on Saturday night for some madderam!
After a hard day at work I was forfauchlit.
And if someone in your life is annoying you , there’s always gamphrell, dowfie, gommeril, glumsh . . .
Just say it under your breath!

A Very Fine Library vs the Grammar Nazis!

I posted the above pic on Facebook earlier today because I felt a bit disheartened. I’ve spent a chunk of this week posting, editing and generally primping a three-part series of pieces by Edinburgh’s Makar for the ELISA website. I admit I feel pretty proud of those posts. I contacted the current Makar and asked her to write something for ELISA and she obliged, pics and all! It feels like a bit of a coup.

The first part went live on Wednesday but, so far, the only feedback I’ve received was a notification that there’s a “Wee Typing Error in the Post”. I don’t know what or where. I made a joking response but the nitpicking stung me somewhat. It’s a longish post, full of interesting information, images and poetry – but all someone thought to say was “Typo!”


Incidentally, I joke about this sort of thing but I increasingly experience it as a kind of online bullying. Though my grammar is good, I’ve never been a great speller – thank the gods for spellchecker! Even so, I always feel compelled to check and double-check everything I post because I know the tiniest error will be picked up and pointed out by some ‘helpful’ soul. It’s nerve-wracking.

I honestly don’t understand why they do it. As Angry Puffin up there says, as long as your point gets across, what does it matter? People can be as precise (and anal) with their own writing as they wish – but what makes them think they have the right to correct others?

Angry Puffin says “pretentious and idiotic”. I say “bullying and oppressive”.

It’s different if someone asks to be corrected of course. A learner or someone trying to improve their language skills. I have an Italian friend who sometimes seeks advise on english-grammarly things. Also, I’m learning gaelic so welcome input on word order and suchlike in that language.

As far as english goes though, I’m not asking. While I’m writing I relish the flow and play of words. The odd typo, here and there, won’t cause the sky to fall. I endlessly footle with my posts in any case so I’m likely to pick up errors in time. And if not, so what?

Grammar Nazis and Spelling Fascists – D’you think these terms came about by accident? You may actually think you’re being helpful but folk wouldn’t call you nazis if they enjoyed what you’re doing. A lot of folk probably just find you irritating but I’m sure there are others, like me, who find your criticisms upsetting or oppressive.

Please think before you correct. Thank you.