17 Utterly Charming Articles on Scots Wikipedia

istock / wikipedia
istock / wikipedia

Wikipedia is not just an English encyclopedia. It has versions in many different languages, and not just the big ones. There are active Wikipedias in everything from Abkhaz to Zulu, more than 250 of them. There are even dead languages with living Wikipedias (see Latin and Old English). There are also Wikipedias for languages commonly considered to be dialects of larger languages such as Venetian or Pennsylvania Dutch, though they often differ enough from the larger languages to be evaluated as separate systems by linguists.

One of those dialects is Scots, not to be confused with Scottish Gaelic or Scottish English. Scots is close to Standard English in the way Norwegian is close to Danish, which is to say, they are pretty much mutually intelligible. It’s possible to read the Scots Wikipedia and understand nearly everything, but there’s just enough unfamiliar vocabulary and syntax to make the experience linguistically interesting and also utterly charming. Here are selections from 17 Scots Wikipedia articles that illustrate the effect perfectly. 

1. WATHER (WEATHER)

"Wather tells us whit's gaun on in the lift abuin us."

We borrowed the word air from French, and atmosphere from Greek, but Scots kept the older form lift—compare German Luft.

2. FILOSOFIE (PHILOSOPHY)

"Filosofie is a Greek wird for 'luv o wit.' It can be uised ti mean monie things."

In Scots, knowledge is wit and many is monie.

3. GLESGA (GLASGOW)

"Glesga, an aften spelt Glesgae or Glesca, is Scotland's maist muckle ceity, on the River Clyde in west-central Scotland."

Muckle or mickle means large. It goes back to Old Norse and is the source of the English word much.

4. BAIRN (CHILD)

"A bairn, wee 'un, child or littlin is a youthie body, a lad or lass."

Bairn is one of the few articles that has its own separate entry on Scots Wikipedia, but not on English Wikipedia.

5. YIRD (EARTH) 

"The Yird is the thrid planet oot frae the Sun. It is the mukkilest o the solar seetem's fower stanie planets, an the ae bodie that modren syense kens ti haud lyf." 

Thrid preserves the "three" better than English third, which moved the r to come after the vowel. Here, the four terrestrial planets are called stanie, or stony, and to know is to ken.

6. SHAKESPEARE

"William Shakespeare wis an Inglish makar an playwricht, nou cried the brawest writer in the Inglis leid an the warld's maist kenspeckle dramatist."

A makar is a poet, a “maker,” and braw, the Scots version of brave, carries more the sense of "mighty fine." Kenspeckle means recognized.

7. COFFEE

"Coffee is a brewed drink makkit fae roostit seeds, eften cried coffee beans, o the coffee plant. Caffeinatit coffee haes a stimulatin effect in fowk." 

Fowk is folk, an older word than people, which was borrowed from French.

8. BEUK (BOOK)

"A beuk (spelt buik anaw) is a set o prentit sheets o papers hauden thegither atwein twa kivers."

Where English has "held together," Scots has hauden thegither.

9. MUISIC (MUSIC)

"Muisic is soun that is makkit by humans for tae be haurd deleeberate by ither humans."

Scots adverbs often take the same form as adjectives, especially when they follow the verb. So "deliberately heard" is haurd deleeberate. This article also includes a wee list o pure deadly tuins.

10. THE APOLOGETIC APOSTROPHE

"The apologetic apostrophe is the name gien tae a wey o writin Scots for tae mak the seimilarities atween Scots an Inglis gey appearent. It is the uiss o an apostrophe (') for tae shaw letters wantin frae Scots wirds but's aye tae the fore in Inglis, for tae gie the impression that Scots is nocht but orra Inglis.

"Aften thae wirds haes nivver haed thir letters 'wantin.' Ae exemplar in this seestem, is the wird taen it wad be spelt ta'en (frae Inglis taken); but the wird wis spelt tane in the 14t century, sae the apostrophe here coud be caa'd specious."

The apologetic apostrophe is a way of writing Scots that makes it look more like broken English. Read the English article about it here.

11. MATHEMATICS

"Mathematics is the studie o feck, structur, room, an chynge. Historically, Mathematics developed frae coontin, calculation, meisurement, an the studie o the shapes an muivins o pheesical objects, throu the uise o abstraction an deductive raesonin." 

Scots feck is effect or quantity. We know it in English only in the word feckless.

12. AULD LANG SYNE

"'Auld Lang Syne' is a Scots poem written by Robert Burns in 1788 an set tae the tuin o a tradeetional fowk sang. It is weel kent in mony a Inglis-speakin kintra an is aften sang for tae celebrate the stairt o the new year at the straik o midnicht on Ne'er Day."

Auld lang syne itself translates to “old long since” or “old times.”

13. BREID (BREAD)

"Breid is a staple fuid prepared by bakin a daich o floor an watter."

Why do we spell dough with a gh? Because it once had a fricative sound on the end, which is still there in Scots daich.

14. GOWF (GOLF)

"Fowk haes lang raxt their harns ower hou gowf cam aboot, at the hinderend naebody will richt ken." 

Brains is a strange Old English word with no modern cognates. Harns, on the other hand, is much closer to existing German and Scandinavian languages.

15. COMPUTER

"A computer is a machine for tae mak manipulatin data mair eith. A body taks data inpits an maks ootpits in uissefu forms."

A body is how a body says “one” in Scots. Easy comes from French, but eith is from Old English.

16. SNAWBUIRDIN (SNOWBOARDING)

"Snawbuirdin is a winter sport. A body staunds on a snawbuird an gaes scrievin doun a brae happit wi snaw. It's sib tae skiin but baith feet is strappit tae the ae buird insteid o haein a buird (ski) on ilka fit."

Scrievin is gliding, brae is a hill-side or slope, and ilka is each.

17. SKIIN (SKIING)

"Skiin is a winter sport needin a muntain."

Exact and to the point. Well said!

What's the Difference Between Tequila and Mezcal?

iStock.com/mediaphotos
iStock.com/mediaphotos

Aside from tacos, enchiladas, and other tasty tortilla-wrapped treats, tequila and mezcal are among some of Mexico’s best-known offerings in the food and beverage category. These tipples, made from the agave plant, are so embedded in the country’s culture that Mexico City even has a museum dedicated to the two drinks, and Jose Cuervo operates a "tequila train" to none other than the city of Tequila. These beverages can be used to make a variety of cocktails, from the tequila sunrise to the mezcalita, but unless you’re a bartender or a connoisseur of spirits, you might not know the difference between the two. Is mezcal just fancier tequila?

Not exactly. Tequila is a type of mezcal, but the reverse isn’t always true. It’s similar to the distinction between champagne and sparkling wine, in which the name of the beverage depends on whether it was produced in the Champagne region of France or elsewhere. While mezcal can be produced anywhere in Mexico, tequila is made in the Mexican state of Jalisco (though a few exceptions do apply).

Tequila and mezcal also differ in the ingredients from which they are derived. Mezcal can come from any of the dozens of agave plants—a type of desert succulent—that are grown throughout Mexico. Tequila is made specifically from blue agave and, depending on the variety and brand, a bottle will contain between 51 percent and 100 percent of the plant-based nectar. According to The Tierra Group, a wholesaler of agave products, blue agave nectar is especially sweet because it’s 80 percent fructose, per Mexico’s regulations.

Lastly, tequila and mezcal taste different because of the ways in which they are prepared. Mezcal tends to have a savory, smoky, earthy flavor because the agave hearts (or piñas) are left cooking for several days in a fire pit that has been lined with volcanic rock and covered with agave leaves and earth. The piñas destined to end up in tequila, on the other hand, are often cooked in a brick oven, then crushed up to extract the juice.

If you ever feel adventurous at the liquor store and decide to bring home a bottle of mezcal, just keep in mind that there’s a particular way to drink it. “The first mistake many people make is pouring mezcal in a shot glass and pouring it down their throat,” Chris Reyes, a mixologist at New York City’s Temerario bar and restaurant told Liquor.com. Instead, the spirit is best sipped in a clay cup known as a jicarita.

Some words of advice if you do go shopping for mezcal: If you ever see a worm at the bottom of the bottle, that means it’s probably not a very good mezcal, according to Reyes. By contrast, tequila bottles should never have worms in them (despite the common misconception). So if you’re looking to avoid invertebrate-infused concoctions at all costs, tequila is your best bet.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

15 Animal Names That Can Be Used As Verbs

iStock.com/fotojagodka
iStock.com/fotojagodka

People can go fishing, rabbit on incessantly, dog one another, and horse around. But because of their usefulness in completing burdensome work, horse has also been used in (originally naval) slang since the mid-19th century to mean “to work to the point of exhaustion”—or, in the words of the Oxford English Dictionary, “to drive or urge at work unfairly or tyrannically.” But horses aren’t the only animals whose names can be “verbed.” From turtles to tigers, you can drop any one of these 15 creatures into your everyday conversation.

1. Bulldog

No one is entirely sure why bulldogs are called bulldogs, with different theories pointing to everything from their bull-like stature to their bullish faces to the fact that they might once have been bred to bait bulls. Whatever the origin, the bulldog’s strength and its robust, resilient behavior means that you can use its name as a verb meaning “to attack roughly,” or “to wrestle to the ground.”

2. Tiger

A tiger
iStock.com/konmesa

If you tiger, then you walk to and fro, like a tiger pacing in a cage. If you tiger something, then you paint or mark it with contrasting stripes.

3. Spider

Jumping spider
iStock.com/elthar2007

As well as being used simply to mean “to creep” or “to move like a spider,” if you ensnare or entrap something, or else cover it in a cobweb-like pattern, then you spider it.

4. Cat

British shorthair cat with expressive orange eyes
iStock.com/Leesle

Because the cathead is the horizontal beam at the bow of a ship that’s used to raise an anchor, the word cat has a number of nautical uses as a verb, including “to lift an anchor from the water,” “to secure an anchor,” and “to draw an anchor through the water.” But because shooting the cat was 19th century slang for being sick from drinking too much, you can also use cat to mean “to vomit.”

5. Vulture

White-backed vulture
iStock.com/EcoPic

Vultures’ grim feeding habits and their remarkable flying ability have given the word two meanings as a verb in English. Feel free to use it to mean “to eat voraciously” or “to tear at your food,” or else “to descend steadily through the air.”

6. Owl

Owl in flight
iStock.com/WhitcombeRD

Owling (as well as being a short-lived social media craze) was once the name given to the crime of smuggling sheep and wool from England to the continent—a crime so-called because the nefarious “owlers” carried out their crimes at night. That might not be the most useful of words these days of course, so feel free to also use owl to mean “to act wisely, despite not knowing anything.”

7. Shark

It’s easy to presume that the use of shark as a verb to mean “to act like a predator” (which is the same shark as in loanshark, incidentally) derives from the deadly sea creatures. In fact, it might be the opposite: Both meanings of the word shark date back to the late 16th century, but it’s possible that the verb shark is the older of the two. If so, it’s possible that it comes from the earlier word shirk (in the sense of using deceit or trickery to avoid work) or else a northeastern French word, cherquier, which was often used in a phrase that essentially meant “to sponge of others” or “to act as a parasite.” So how did sea-dwelling sharks come to be called sharks? It’s possible the deceitful sharks gave their name to the menacing creatures, or else the two could be completely unrelated—and, thanks to a sea battle off the Yucatan peninsula in 1569, shark could in fact be a Mayan word.

8. Monkey

Chimpanzee looking surprised
iStock.com/photomaru

As well as meaning “to play the fool” or “to behave playfully”—as in “monkeying around”—monkey, like ape, can also be used to mean “to mimic” or “to copy someone’s movements or actions.”

9. Turtle

If a boat “turns turtle,” then it capsizes and flips over, so that it looks like a turtle’s domed shell floating atop the water. Because of that, to turtle something is to turn it upside down.

10. Snail

Burgundy snail
iStock.com/AlexRaths

For obvious reasons, snail has been used to mean “to move slowly” since the late 16th century, but because of the snail’s coiled shell, you can also use snail to mean “to draw or carve a spiral,” or “to roll into a spiral shape.”

11. Porcupine

Porcupine walking
iStock.com/ser-y-star

When your hair stands on end, feel free to say that it porcupined.

12. Canary

Canary birds take their name from the Canary Islands, which, somewhat confusingly, take their name from canis, the Latin word for “dog.” But in the 16th and 17th centuries, the canary was also the name of an energetic dance inspired by a traditional dance performed by the natives of the Canary Islands. And because of that, you can also use the word canary as a verb meaning “to dance in a lively fashion.”

13. Earwig

Earwig
iStock.com/Mr_Fu

Earwigs are so-called because they were once (thankfully erroneously) thought to crawl inside people’s ears as they slept. Through association with someone whispering clandestinely into someone’s ear, in the late 18th century eavesdroppers and people who seeked to secretly influence others became known as earwiggers—and so to earwig is to do precisely that.

14. Pig

Cute pig leaning on railing of his cot
iStock.com/Fotosmurf03

Pig has been used to mean “to give birth” since as far back as the 15th century in English (a fairly uncomplimentary allusion to a pregnant sow delivering a litter of piglets). But slightly less depreciatively, the living habits of pigs mean that it can also be used to mean “to huddle together,” or else “to live or sleep in crowded or dirty conditions.”

15. Dingo

A dingo
iStock.com/JohnCarnemolla

Because of their stereotypically sneaky behavior, to dingo on someone meant “to let down” or “to betray” them in 1930s Australian slang, while to dingo meant simply “to shirk” or “to back out of something at the last minute.”

This list first ran in 2016.

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