Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Cauld Blasts and Clishmaclavers - Robin A. Crawford

Cauld Blasts and Clishmaclavers: A treasury of 1000 Scottish words by Robin A. Crawford - I will admit that when I when I volunteered for this Blog tour I was a little bit concerned that this book would be a classic example of tartanry ("term for over elaborate interpretation of authentic Scottish culture or customs, especially dress - what my granny would call 'bum-bee tartan'. The identification of what is 'authentic' is somewhat open to interpretation.").

It was a mostly unfair suspicion, but as this is Crawford's personal choice of a 1000 Scottish words informed by his humour, experience, the occasional nostalgic memory, and interests, I am aware of the sentiments of the author in a way that I wouldn't be if it was a dictionary. On the other hand dictionary's aren't much fun to read and this book is so a touch, or suspicion, of tartanry is very welcome.

It is absolutely worth reading the introduction of this book before doing anything else with it for Crawford's succinct but accurate summing up of what he means by Scottish words. Scots as a language or dialect is quite distinct from Gaelic which is a language, or the broader dialects of Orkney and Shetland which might put forward a convincing argument to be considered as separate languages despite the proliferation of Scots words within them. But then Scots is a diverse, clannish, kind of thing anyway. The northeast, west, lowlands, highlands, central belt, borders, and islands all have their distinct rhythms and words along with their own identities.

If Scots can be defined as anything it's as the language spoken by working people, the language of home and school yard rather than the office or the schoolroom, as Crawford explores (with obvious delight) it's still an evolving and vibrant urban dialect too, and one that thrives publicly on twitter, and perhaps more privately on platforms like facebook. In a world that sometimes feels increasingly standardised when it comes to accents and regional dialects this is an encouraging development.

In the end this has been a delightful book to sift through and find treasure in. My favorite entry is probably for yer grannie (disbelieving response to a lie. Sir Walter Scott wrote in his Journal in 1826, 'Dined with the Duke of Wellington... I wish for sheep's head and whisky toddy against all the French cookery and champagne in the world.' To which the response should be, 'Yer grannie!'...). I'm fond of Sir Walter Scott, and the Duke of Wellington - though of the two I consider Scott to be by far the more heroic so this episode has everything going for it from my point of view, as well as being a sound example of the general charm of this book.

It's also the perfect book to keep by your bedside for when you want something to read for perhaps only a few minutes, or maybe something that will have you following words for a bit longer, or push you towards other books and thoughts (bedside is where I also keep my copy of Sir Walter Scott's journal, and the amount he's referenced in here is sending me back to him). I can thoroughly recommend Robin Crawford's company - especially on a day as dreich as this particular Tuesday when to go out would leave me fair drookit. 


  1. I see "Madam will you talk" is on BBC radio 4, thanks to your review I discovered Mary Stewarts books. Really enjoyed the ones I have read. Looking forward to listening to this radio series.

    1. I need to catch up on it, and maybe see what Mary Stewart I've got on the shelves that I haven't read yet.

  2. Yer grannie! indeed to Scott's comment :-)