Queer-like spelling

Burns Tonight is Burns Night — a fact that my dangerously nationalist self keeps on forgetting. I had forgotten once again until James Higham left this in a comment:

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face, Great chieftain o’ the Puddin-race! Aboon them a’ ye tak your place, Painch, tripe, or thairm: Weel are ye wordy of a grace As lang’s my arm.

Which I assume is some Burns. I recognise the second line, but none of the rest. Which probably proves something about how much of a philistine or traitor I am. But I don’t care.

Anyway, it just so happens that last night I went on one of my (very) occasional trips to the Scots Wikipedia.

Guid tae see ye at the Scots Wikipædia, the first encyclopædia in the Scots leid!

Noble though it may be, it does make me giggle a little bit whenever I read these attempts to take what is essentially slang very seriously. I must try and pick up some of those weighty documents that the Scottish Parliament apparently publishes in Scots. It would make some of those train journeys pass by quicker.

For the most part, English Wikipedia is written in a very formal manner. Scots Wikipedia is like reading Oor Wullie explain quadratic calculations. Here, for instance, is part of the article on naitural philosophy:

Pheesicists studies a braid reenge o pheesical phenomenae, frae the sub-nuclear pairticles that maks up aw ordinar maiter (pairticle pheesics) tae the maiteral Universe as a hail (cosmologie).

I also like this message that appears at the top of some pages (such as this one about Commissioners tae the Scots Pairlament):

The “Scots” that wis uised in this airticle wisna written by a native speaker. Gin ye can, please sort it.

I guess the slightly slap-dash, antiquated nature of the language part of the charm for some people. One of my maths teachers used to drop in loads of baffling slang words which were presumably meant to be Scots, but I’m certain she just made them up on the spot.

I also know that, for instance, Kirkcaldy has several different spellings in Scots. The Scots Wikipedia article spells it Kirkcaudy, which is redirected from Kirkcawddy — but, of course, you and I know it as Kirkcaldy!

The famous (in Kirkcaldy) poem, ‘The Boy in the Train‘ uses a yet another different spelling of Kirkcaldy (the collogue page at Wikipedia touches on this).

When the train station was rebuilt in the early 1990s the whole waiting area was decked out in linoleum — Kirkcaldy’s greatest export, and the cause of that famous “queer-like smell”. The smell can linger in the east of the town, particularly when it’s raining. It’s the kind of smell that, a bit like coffee, is really foul when you are a child but eventually you become fond of it as you grow older. I imagine if I ever move out of Kirkcaldy I’ll want to occasionally visit to catch the smell again.

In the linoleum-covered waiting area of the train station, the poem that makes reference to this smell takes pride of place above the stairs. Appropriately enough, the poem itself is cut in linoleum as well. I stand in the waiting area and try to decipher the poem when it is raining and I can’t stand outside on the platform. It seems as though when it’s raining in Kirkcaldy you just can’t escape linoleum!

From my memory, the version of the poem hanging on the wall in the station uses more than one different spelling of Kirkcaldy, but I could be wrong. I’ll have to take a look at it tomorrow. But it does seem as though Mary Campbell-Smith, judging by the rhymes she tried to pull off, thought that Kirkcaldy was pronounced “Kirkcaddy”. I suppose it’s an improvement on many non-natives’ attempts to pronounce the ‘l’ which is actually silent.

Best just to stick to ‘The Lang Toun’ really…

Other interesting Wikipedia projects


  1. Scots isn’t slang. You’re spared the full-on linguist rant because it’s 8.30am, but – while there’s often some debate on the matter – it is a language in its own right. It’s not really something you hear that much in Fife, though. We’re a bit too centralised and posh (!)

    Also, I had to memorise that poem at school and can still reel it off, to the extent that whenever anyone goes, “what will we have for tea [tonight]?” I reply, “a herrin’, or maybe a haddie?” and they look at me oddly and slowly back out of the room…

  2. It’s no the lino factory which causes the smell – it’s the Pathhead Pong, caused by the dodgy sewage works! Big news round these parts.

  3. I was born and bred in Kirkcaldy, haven’t lived there for about thirty years. I can’t remember a smell, but still have delightful visions of lots of unsavoury items floating in the water off the steps at the beach.