Tuesday, August 28, 2007


I was reading some Hugh MacDiarmid earlier, one of his best-known poems, The Watergaw. The opening line is:

Ae weet forenicht i' the yow-trummle

99.99% of you won't know what that means. I didn't know what it meant. MacDiarmid used a synthetic Scots language, taking words and phrases from all over Scotland, from his own Borders tongue and from the Doric in the north-east and from everywhere in between, to create a patchwork vocabulary which no-one has ever spoken and no-one really understands. But anyway, that's not the point. The line means:

One wet-dusk in the ewe-tremble.

Okay, you ask, so what's a ewe-tremble? It's apparently a Scots expression, at one time well-known, which means a cold spell in summer after sheep shearing.

Only the Scots could ever have decided there was the need for a word which means a cold spell after the sheep shearing...

If you're interested in the whole poem, here it is:

The Watergaw by Hugh MacDiarmid

Ae weet forenicht i' the yow-trummle
I saw yon antrin thing,
A watergaw wi its chitterin licht
ayont the on-ding;
An I thocht o the last wild look ye gied
Afore ye deed!

There was nae reek i' the laverock's hoose
That nicht - an' nane i' mine;
But I hae thocht o' that foolish licht
Ever sin' syne;
An' I think that mebbe at last I ken
What your look meant then.

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