Friday, November 1, 2013

Separated by a Common Language: Orcadian Dialect Edition

As I've noted previously, folk in the United States are separated from folk in the United Kingdom by a common language. Within the United Kingdom, you have regional dialects that separate UK citizens/residents from one another. One of the most entertaining of these is the Orcadian dialect.

As I mentioned yesterday, I was on the radio a couple of weeks ago to inform Orcadians about what I've unofficially dubbed the "Orcadian Gordon Highlanders Accountability Project". Several people back in the States listened to the program via the Listen Again function, and essentially all of them remarked about the accents of both the woman who introduced my segment, and the guy who interviewed me. Lady Jaye couldn't understand a word either of them said, and Windshield Ninja said she loved the musical quality of the woman's voice, but could only understand about eighty percent of what she was saying by concentrating really hard. I've spoken to several people (including Gus, who thinks he knows everything) who figured it was just Doric, but I've mentioned it to folk who actually speak Doric, and it's not Doric. Doric is different.

I sort of accidentally familiarized myself with the Orcadian Dialect by reading Alex Leonard's comic, The Giddy Limit, in which four of the five principal characters speak in a phoneticized Orcadian dialect, with the fifth character (the wife/mother, Liz, being regularly confused by both Orcadian speech and local customs). A little over a year ago, while chatting with Gray 2, I stopped her and remarked about how, if I hadn't gone through all of those comics, I'd have been completely confused by what she was saying.

On Wednesday night, and apparently on a regular basis, Radio Orkney features a program called Whassigo, which the BBC Radio Scotland website describes as an "Orcadian version of Call My Bluff". If you're reading this before 06 November 2013, you can listen to the program here. I picked up a number of other words from the Orcadian dialect that aren't really in common usage, but the show was pretty entertaining.

So, what are some of the words I've picked up over the years? The ones I picked up on the Whassigo program are marked with "(W)", and the rest aren't.

  • "bairn" - Child.
  • "beuy" - Probably derived from "boy", it's sort of the Orcadian equivalent of "dude", used mostly by older Orcadians.
  • "disnae" - Doesn't. In fact, "nae" is "not" - disnae, wasnae, cannae.
  • "fae" - From.
  • "gemple" (W) - A person who handles situations with grace and dexterity, remaining calm and sorting things out in a seemingly effortless manner.
  • "glet" (W) - A bright patch in the sky during a storm.
  • "gushel" (W) - Someone who's walking with a limp.
  • "gussel" (W) - A wind that keeps blowing, and blowing, and blowing... And blowing.
  • "heuved" (W) - To be swollen from the inside, e.g. from eating too much. This one is allegedly Old Norse, tracing back to Orkney's viking heritage.
  • "ken" - To know - as in, "Yes, I ken, but I'm nae gonna to tell ye." If you say "kent", it's the equivalent of "knew" - as in, "Yes, I kent, but I wasn'a gonna tell ye."
  • "luridan" (W) - A mythical spirit who cleans your house for you, also apparently referred to as a "broonie".
  • "mimp" (W) - To chant.
  • "nae bother" - "No bother" or "no problem", Orcadians essentially substitute this for "you're welcome".
  • "peedie" - Small.
  • "smooring" - Blowing, referring to weather. "There's a storm smooring in from the East."
  • "tatties" - Potatoes. As I'll note in an upcoming post, Orcadians love potatoes. This one isn't particularly Orcadian, as I frequently ate mince and tattie pies down in Aberdeen, but Orcadians never seem to talk about potatoes, it's always tatties.
  • "wit like/what like" - Similar to the Scottish/Doric "fit like", it's the equivalent of "how are you" or "what's happenin'?"

    So now, if you show up in Orkney, you'll be able to make out some of what they're saying. Take it from me, it requires a bit of practice, and it's much tougher on the telephone.
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