Scot's Word of the Week - Archive page 4

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meaning New Year's Eve

In the festive spirit the final Scots' word of the week this year is Hogmany, the Scots word for New Years Eve. Hogmany is not just a word, it is the single biggest event in the Scottish calendar when a nation renowned for its ability to make drinking a competitive sport (perhaps second only to the Irish) is given a holiday to make merry and get over their hangovers before coming back to work. In Scotland shops and businesses get more time off for New Year than for Christmas, and there are several historical reasons for this. To find out more about Hogmany, read on....

What is Hogmany?

Hogmany is a grand celebration of a new beginnings which happens in the days following the Winter Solstice (shortest day of the year). This is the time of year when the days gradually begin to grow longer. In summer our days are so long that sunset can be as late as 10.30pm, and the night's sky is more a navy blue than actual black. In winter through the days are very short, with sunrise about 8am and sunset at about 3.30pm. The lengthening of the days would have been a lot more exciting back in the times of candlelight and no television, so perhaps this is why Hogmany is so well loved (well that and the amount of alcohol that is consumed!).

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Modern Hogmany - How do we celebrate it now?

Today, Edinburgh is renowned for its large outdoor street celebrations. Despite cold weather, the festivities draw large crowds and are marked by drinking and carousing into the wee hours of the morning. Thanks to marketing efforts, attendance has grown so overwhelming in recent years that tickets are now required to control crowds. Now only 100,000 people are allowed onto Princess St itself, which is about 50% of the number of people who used to arrive to have the best view of the fireworks and listen to the many concerts and events happening along the street. It is advertised as the world's largest new years party and people come from all around the world to experience it (while being a resident in Edinburgh I stay indoors and celebrate with my central heating - not like these mad folks that brave the sub zero temperatures and ruinous pub prices).

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What's in a word? The meaning of Hogmany

The origins of the word Hogmany are the subject of a great deal of debate. Some believe it comes from Haleg Monath, meaning Holy Month in the Anglo-Saxon language, and other's claim it's derived from the Gaelic oge maidne, meaning New Morning. Still others believe it may also have been a variant of the Scandinavian words Hoggo-nott and some think it is a French phrase inherited from the days of the Auld Alliance Homme est ne' (meaning "man is born"). It is also thought that the festival could have been brought south by the invading Norsemen or that it has it's origins in Celtic religion. Still others believe it dates back to the Picts. What is known is that it is a New Year's celebration which has remained an integral part of Scotland's culture for centuries upon centuries.

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Why is Hogmany so important to the Scots?

Until the 1960s, Hogmany and Ne'erday (Netherday, New Year's Day) in Scotland took the place of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in the rest of the UK. Although Christmas Day held its normal religious nature, the Presbyterian national church, the Church of Scotland viewed Christmas as a decidedly Catholic holiday and after the many changes brought about by the Protestant Reformation (in the 17th century), celebrating Christmas was actively discouraged for over 300 years. As a result Christmas Day was a normal working day in Scotland until the 1960s and even into the 1970s in some areas. The gift-giving, public holidays and feasting associated with mid-winter were held between the 31st of December and the 2nd of January rather than between the 24th and 26th of December.

With the fading of the Church's influence and the introduction of English cultural values via television and immigration, the transition to Christmas feasting was well-nigh complete by the 1980s. However the public holidays associated with Ne'erday and the day after have remained despite the addition of Christmas Day to the public holiday list. A few Scots still celebrate Ne'erday with a special dinner but, as of the year 2000, they are very much in the minority.

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Hogmany traditions - celebrating scottish style!

There are many curious customs associated with Hogmany which includes preparing for the New Year by cleaning the house (a guid Spring cleaning of sorts -- also know as a "redding."), paying off debts and being sure to clean all the ashes out their fireplace (it was believed by some that you could read the future revealed in the old ashes) - all symbolic of starting anew.

In Stonehaven (birthplace of R. W. Thompson, inventor of the pneumatic tyre and the fountain pen) a local Hogmany custom is the fireball swinging. This involves local people making up balls of chicken wire, tar, paper and other flammable material to a diameter of about a meter, or three feet. Each ball has two meters (six feet) of wire, chain or non-flammable rope attached. The balls are then each assigned to a swinger who swings the ball round and round their head and body by the rope while walking through the streets of Stonehaven from the harbour to the Sheriff court and back. At the end of the ceremony any fireballs which are still burning are cast into the harbour.

On Hogmany it is believed lucky if the first person to cross the threshold of your home is a tall dark handsome lad. This person, known as a "first footer" arrives after midnight bearing gifts which include a lump of coal, black bun, shortbread and, of course, an ample supply of whisky...

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Traditional greetings

Lang may yer lum reek (wi' ither folks' coal!)
Long may your chimney smoke (with other people's coal!)

A guid New Year and mony may ye see.
Happy New Year, and many more may you see.

May the best ye hae ivver seen be the warst ye'll ivver see.
May the best you've ever seen be the worst you'll ever see.

And, if you're feeling really brave, go Gaelic:

Slàinte mhath!(pronounced SLAN-jay vah)
Good health!

Bliadhna mhathùr!(pronounced BLEEne vah OOHR)
Happy New Year!

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Auld Lang Syne

This is the song which is sung throughout the world at midnight on December 31st and is perhaps the most widely known song in human history. It is a song without religious or political connotations, and is about the value of friendship. Perhaps this is why it is so well loved.

So where does this song actually come from?

The earliest germ of the song "Auld Lang Syne" is found in an anonymous poem of the 15th century, which George Bannatyne inserted in 1568 into his well-known manuscript of Scottish poetry, now in the Advocates' Library. The title of the poem "Auld kindnes Foryett," is in modern Scottish "[Should] auld acquaintance [be] forgot," - the first line of all the subsequent poems on the subject. 

The second song on the subject known to exist, is printed in Watson's collection of Scottish poems published in 1711, entitled "Old Longsyne." It consists of twelve stanzas of eight lines, and is written throughout in English, with the exception of the term "Syne" which occurs in every stanza. The author is not known, but the poem has been ascribed to Sir Robert Aytoun, a courtier and well-known poet, who followed James the Sixth to England, and who subsequently became private secretary to the Queen.

The third song is that of Allan Ramsay, entitled "Auld Lang Syne," beginning

"Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
Tho' they return with scars?"

which he printed in the first volume of his "Tea Table Miscellany," published in 1724.

The first record of the present well-known song is in Robert Burns' letter to his friend Mrs Dunlop, dated December 17, 1788, wherein he enclosed her a copy of the verse; saying, "There is an old song and tune which has often thrilled through my soul," and he apostrophised it in these words, "Light lie the turf on the breast of the heaven-inspired poet who composed this glorious fragment!" Five years afterwards - letter, September, 1793 - he sent a copy of the song to George Thomson, who then was projecting the issue of a collection of Scottish songs, with music, with a note that the air was mediocre, but that the song he sent was a song of the olden time, which never was in print, nor even in manuscript, until he took it down from an old man singing, - adding that the poetry was enough to recommend any air. About the same time he sent another copy to James Johnson for the now celebrated Standard Collection of Scottish Songs, the "Scots Musical Museum;" and it was printed and published for the first time in December 1796, in the fifth volume of that work, about five months after Burns died.

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meaning to shiver

This week's word is particularly appropriate now that the Winter has really set in here in Edinburgh. Over the last few weeks the temperature has plummeted and last Friday saw the first snow of this winter in central Edinburgh.

Chittering is a Scots word for shivering, and (like the English use of 'chattering') may refer to the way your teeth bang together when you are shivering. A "Chittering bite" is a snack eaten after swimming, it was believed that by eating something after coming out of the warmth of the pool would stop you from catching a cold.

Shivering is your body's natural reflex to build up heat, by moving your muscles back and forth quickly. Joggers are familiar with the idea of moving to stay warm, and it's exactly the same thing. The contraction of the muscles in the face which cause the teeth to chitter helps to regulate the body temperature in the cold. Different people have a different tolerance to the cold and the sooner you start to shiver, the colder temperatures you will be able to withstand.

There are few people in the world as well adapted to the cold as the Scots. While most people are piling on jumpers, the Scot will be the madman still walking around in a t-shirt. This is particularly noticeable at football matches, even though the football season is through the winter, most men will go to the match wearing their team's t-shirt without a jacket. In fact it seems to me to be a test of their manliness. I have seen men arguing about how cold it is, and refusing to wear a jacket because its 'not that cold' or 'only chilly' when in fact Polar bears would be chittering. You can guarantee that, whatever the weather, if you go out on a Friday night in Glasgow most of the men you will see will be wearing only a shirt or t-shirt with their jeans. This kind of hardiness to Scotland's cold weather is the same reason you will see Scots stripping off and bearing their pasty white skin as soon as the temperature reaches about 17 Celsius.

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Meaning tell-tale, gossip, grass, informant, whistleblower.

A clype is someone who is a tell-tale or gossip. At school it was considered mean to ''clype'' to the teacher on someone who had cheated at lessons. A ''clype'' would later suffer for his or her actions by being taunted and verbally branded: ''Clype, clype, clypie telt the teacher!''

This word is both a noun and a verb, you are a clype if you clype. The closest English comparison is telltale/tattletale, which first appeared in the English language in 1478.

There have been a great many famous Clypes over the years, here are just a few...

Famous Clypes

W. Mark Felt, (aka Deep Throat) - until very recently, a secret informant who in 1972 leaked information about United States President Richard Nixon's involvement in Watergate. The scandal would eventually lead to the resignation of the president, and prison terms for White House Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman and presidential adviser John Ehrlichman.

Daniel Ellsberg - a former State Department analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971, a secret account of the Vietnam War and its pretexts to The New York Times, which revealed endemic practices of deception by previous administrations, and contributed to the erosion of public support for the war.

Cynthia Cooper of Worldcom and Sherron Watkins of Enron, who exposed corporate financial scandals, and Coleen Rowley of the FBI, who later outlined the agency's slow action prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks. The three were selected as Time's People of the Year in 2002.

Katharine Gun - a former employee of Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), a British intelligence agency who in 2003 leaked top-secret information to the press concerning illegal activities by the United States and the United Kingdom in their push for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Joseph Darby - a member of the United States military police who in 2004 first alerted the U.S. military command of prisoner abuse in the Abu Ghraib prison, in Abu Ghraib, Iraq.

Christoph Meili - a night guard at a Swiss bank. He discovered that his employer was destroying records of savings by Holocaust victims, which the bank was required to return to heirs of the victims. After the Swiss authorities sought to arrest Meili, he was given political asylum in the United States.

Paul van Buitenen - who accused European Commission members of corruption.

Jeffrey Wigand - former executive of Brown & Williamson who exposed his company's practice of intentionally manipulating the effect of nicotine in cigarettes on the CBS news program 60 Minutes.

Bunnatine "Bunny" H. Greenhouse - former chief civilian contracting officer for the United States Army Corps of Engineers exposed illegality in the no-bid contracts for reconstruction in Iraq by a Halliburton subsidiary.

(Information on famous clypes was taken from Wikipedia)

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meaning slippers

This weeks Scots word is a new word for me too! Baffies, meaning slippers or house shoes, is apparently quite a popular word and was recently included in the Collins English Dictionary (the only other Scots additions to this edition are barrie, geggie and bogging which may be future words of the week!).

Baffies, I am told, are proper sturdy slippers usually with a rubber sole. Baffies are the sort of thing that your granny would wear, and in fact the inspiration behind this week's word choice was my own pair of baffies which were in fact bought for me by my granny. I was wearing them about the physics department after my feet got drookit in the rain, and was complimented on my baffies. Not knowing whether this was a compliment or a rude suggestion I went and looked it up.

In researching this weeks entries I found some other interesting meanings for the word Baffie. These include:

  1. A traditional name for a 5 wood in golf.
  2. A common name for the Californian Barracuda, or Sphyraena argentea.
  3. A moustache (spelled baffi, plural baffo), or the whiskers of an animal.

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meaning undecided, in the process of making a decision

This weeks Scots word is one of those words for which there is no direct English translation that can really do it any justice. In English you might use the word 'dithering' to describe the act of not being able to make up your mind one way or the other about something. The general connotation of dithering is that you are wasting time, and that there is not a lot of reasoning involved. Swithering on the other hand involves intelligent reasoning and weighing of arguments. You are still undecided, but in a much more logical way. You aren't vacillating (i.e. changing your mind in a fickle manner), you just can't make your mind up!

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meaning soaked, drenched, wet through

Visitors to Scotland will be well familiar with the feeling of being Drookit (unless you visit for the 2 weeks in May when, as legend would have it, the sun actually shines!). Drookit means soaking wet or drenched, which is likely to occur in Scotland with our very frequent rain. This is particularly apt this week, because it has been a particularly dreich (wet, gray and miserable) autumn week and I have been absolutely drookit more than once! Scots people tend to be quite philosophical about their famously wet weather, just as I imagine the Inuit are not particularly bothered by the snow, and perhaps my favourite saying on this subject is "Dinnae fash yersel, it stops at the skin" meaning, "don't worry about it (the rain) stops at the skin!". It is true that there is a limit to how drookit you can get, and this saying really sums that up nicely.

So if you happen to visit Scotland, and are caught in the rain, get out of your drookit clothes and into clean ones and enjoy a good hot toddy**. There really is no better cure, and its all part of the experience!

** The Hot Toddy is an excellent way to get the chill out of your bones, and it quite effective with sore throats and colds too. It does nothing to cure you, but you don't give a damn after a couple of these! Be warned, never mix alcohol and medicines!

Hot Toddy Recipe

  • 1 ounces Whisky
  • 1 ounce Honey¬†
  • 1 ounce Lemon Juice
  • 3 ounces Water (Hot)

If you have a microwave, the easiest way to make this drink is to warm the honey and lemon juice for about half a minute and then to add hot water and the whisky. Otherwise, we recommend that you stir the honey and lemon juice into extremely warm water, allow it to cool slightly, and add the whisky.

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Just for fun

A little peek into the lighter side of life within the Heriot-Watt Waves & Fields group.

Word of the Week: