After three weeks in snowy Holland I returned to Scotland to find . . . more snow. And so the snow story continues. Pictured here is the famous Old Course at St Andrews. During my last golf lesson before the holidays, we used yellow balls so we could see them in the snow. I have learned that the Scots never, ever complain about the weather. I might have made some comment to our Scottish instructor about how the M8 highway connecting Glasgow and Edinburgh was closed, and both airports in those cities were closed–all due to the snow–but that at St Andrews the golf lessons must go on. He looked at me rather oddly, while my fellow students from China, Germany, and Canada nodded and smiled at me.
You can learn a lot about about what is important to a culture from its language. In Dutch, for example, there are many different words for canal. And for ice. And for the moods of the sea. There is an urban legend that the Inuit have many terms for snow. I don’t know if this is true, but I’ve been boning up on my Scottish, and it seems like the Scots have an inordinately large number of words for describing the outdoors. For example, the word frog means to snow or sleet at intervals. They have a word for this. What does this say about Scottish culture? That the outdoors plays an important part in Scottish life? This, and the freezing temperatures that no one complains about might explain the origins of whiskey. But that’s another post all together. On to our language lesson.
As we learned in a previous post, neuk means hook. If you want to know what it means in Dutch, then watch the Robin Williams video at the end of that post. It could also be that this is an important word in the Dutch vocabulary, as well.
In any case, today I’d like to look at another Scottish f-word: furth. The muckle furth means the open air. And muckle means great. To furtheyet means to pour out. Furthy means forward, frank, and unabashed. The Dutch might be described as furthy. To furthschaw is to manifest. And a furth setter is an author.
How cool is that? I’m a furth setter living on the Firth of Forth (and firth means sheltered place but also estuary), furtheyeting and furthschawing furthy words after I go for walks in the muckle furth. But I wonder, what does furth itself mean? As with all great questions, I haven’t found the answer yet.
Oh, but there’s an even better word: Gloming. Say it out loud, it rhymes with roaming. It’s what we grammar geeks call an onomatopoeia, or a type of word that sounds like the thing it is describing. Gloming means twilight. The gloamin-star is the evening star. The Scottish language seems to have several onomatopoeia: glock which means to gulp; gloff which is a sudden fright and glog which means slow. Glog also means a soft lump. Oh wait! And did you know what a gloy is? Not a glow-in-the-dark toy, but the withered blades stripped off from straw. How lovely is it that there is a word for such a thing?
One last definition . . . for the word golf: “A game in Scotland, in which hooked clubs are used for striking balls, stuffed very hard with feathers, from one hole to another.” So that’s what’s missing from my game, the feathers.
Now I’ll leave you with the gloming over St Andrews, and a sample of the Scottish language. See if you can recognize the text, and for those of you who know Dutch, note the many words the two languages have in common. That’s because of the fishing and the North Sea that both cultures share, a historical bridge between my two homes.
(Thanks to Tim who first introduced me to the mf-word as well as defining the f(o)urth dimension as time and the fifth as one of love, and to Ian who emailed me the words below.)
Wha is my Shepherd, weel I ken, the Lord himsel’ is he; He leads me whaur the girse is green, an burnies quate that be.
Aft times I fain astray wad gang, an wanner far awa; He fins me oot, He pits me richt, and brings me hame an a’.
Tho I pass through the gru’some cleugh, fine weel I ken He is near, His muckle crook will me defend, sae I had nocht tae fear.
A’ comforts whilk a sheep could need, his thoctfu’ care provides; Tho wolves an dogs may prowl aboot, in safety me He hides.
His guidness an his mercy baith, nae doot will bide wi’ me; While faulded on the fields o’ time or a’ eternity.