Posts Tagged ‘traveller’

I recently read “The Yellow on the Broom” and “Red Rowans and Wild Honey” by Betsy Whyte. (Bonnie wee Scottish lassie, isn’t she?)

Betsy Whyte

Bessie, as she answered to when she was a wean, writes her memoir of her childhood in the 1930s as part of a family of Scottish “traveller” people. Tinkers. Mist People. Gypsies. (Although they would disapprove of the ‘Tinker’ designation.) The book is wonderfully written and attempts to describe the life and philosophy of travellers. Why they live in tents and move from place to place most of the year, only settling down when they have to in winter. Working on farms, pearl fishing, making willow baskets and many other odd jobs. How they view the country hantle.

And here we are. “Hantle?” Yup. That’s cant for “people.” Her book is rife with strange words. So much so, that I became intrigued. Was this different than Scots? Yes. Was there anywhere online with a good glossary? Not really. So I was pleasantly surprised to find a thorough one at the end of Mrs. Whyte’s book. I don’t think she’d mind if I shared some of my favorite words with you, as she lamented that it was dying out within her lifetime.

The cant that Bessie spoke was unique to the Highland travellers. Irish Tinker cant, often called Shelta, or Gammon, would be completely unintelligible to her. Regardless of which group of tinkers were speaking, the purpose of cant was secret communication, often right under the noses of the country hantle or hornies (police). Two travellers could be asking a cottar if they could boil some water for tea, but if one of them notices something is amiss, they could alert the other one in the midst of speaking to the cottage resident.

What follows is a list of my favorite cant words. This is by no means comprehensive, as I have left out many other words that are included in Betsy Whyte’s books which are published by Birlinn publishing out of Edinburgh, Scotland. (This is reproduced with their permission.) As always, please comment with any thoughts or questions.

agley- in the wrong direction

anonst- unknown (to somebody) going hunting in the field anonst to the landowner.

bagle- a lazy fellow, one who breaks sexual taboos

bang- a crowd, especially domineering and overpowering people.

barming- flighty, foolish

besom- a sweeping brush, an unpleasant woman

birse- to bristle, feel annoyed or angry

bogy roll- a twist or roll of tobacco

breenge- a lunge, an attack

broonie- supposedly a very helpful spirit creature: manshaped, ugly, covered with brown hair, with long feet and red eyes. He usually attached himself to a family, nearly always millers or farmers, and did the work of ten men.

buck- a person who as taken to the travelling life, or with only one real Traveller parent.

bullyrag- to order somebody about, to demand a lot

bung- taken, jailed

burker- an intruder. Originating from William Burke who murdered people and sold their bodies for medical research at the universities. Travellers were often his target.

caber- a heavy log for tossing at the Highland Games, slang for (you guessed it) penis.

cannyways- cautiously

chuckie stane- a small smooth pebble

cleek- to walk arm in arm

conyeeched- spoiled, petted

coorie- to crouch or snuggle down

cottar- a farmworker in a rented cottage

country hantle- the settled, house-dwelling country people

Cruelty- ‘A Cruelty’ was an Inspector of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, or any official of a local authority

dander- a stroll or leisurely walk. to take a dander might mean a short walk away from camp to relieve oneself

dreich- dull, wearisome

drookit- drenched or soaked

drumly- applied to stream water, this means disturbed, muddy, unsettled. Applied to a person, it means they are confused, mixed up.

dwam- a faint or swoon

ettling- being eager or impatient to do something

fang- the venomous side to one’s nature. to go off the fang was to lose one’s temper.

forfochen- worn out

gadgie- man

ganch, ganch- to talk too much. to bore someone by talking in too much detail

gaswork cinders- coke (soda)

gie- to give. gie us a crack- give me some conversation, let’s have a chat. gie him his tatties- give him what he deserves

glaikit- silly, senseless

glaggen- the sheen over a field of grain, hay, or over a moor

glaur- mud, ooze

gloaming- dusk, twilight

granny sooker- a pan drop, a peppermint sweet

guffie- a boorish, unfeeling, cruel person

gurly- applied to water, the weather, this means cloudy, rough. So, applied to a person, it means they are grumpy, in a bad mood.

hap- to dress a child; to tuck up in bed

haver- to talk nonsense

hornies- the police

hurl- a lift on the road

in-aboot-  to enter into an encampment from any direction and move about greeting people at their various occupations

John Barleycorn- wiskey

jugal- a dog

keek- to peep

knickit- made pregnant

lee-lang – whole

limmer- a rascal or rogue, a loose girl

moich- foolish, mad

mootyay- a rabbit

nakens- Travellers

nash avree!- get moving!

oxter- armpit, to lead by the arm

paggering- a beating

peekit- sickly looking

peevie- drunk

plank!- hide!

ploops- the police

plouter- to potter about on trifling tasks

pluffen- tobacco

plukie- faced – pimple-faced

polis- the police

puckle- a small quantity

raise the wind- to earn enough to survive

rax- to stretch, overstrain

reel-rall- helter-skelter

reenge- a pot scrubber made from tying heather together

scaldified- behaving like scaldies, town dwellers of the lowest class.

scalpions- roguish young men, eager to work off high spirits by tormenting others

scouff- freedom, sufficient space to romp and play

screich- the first light of dawn

shan- bad. really objectionable, unsavory, causing shame

shaness!- an exclamation meaning ‘bad word’ , ‘bad deed’ or ‘bad situation’ but it can be used in many different ways

shuch- the private part of a woman

sleekit- sly, cunning

smeeked- smelling of, and cheery with, drink

snooled- made to feel low or downtrodden

souch, sough- a murmur: of the sea, a river, the wind, distant voices, birds wings…

thrang- crowded, close together

thrash- scared

thraw- to argue, to contradict

toll- a cant word for skirlie, the dish made from oatmeal and dripping

trauchled- overburdened, overworked

troosh- to humble or frighten someone

tuggery- fine clothes

walsh- dried up and bad tasting

want- When we say that a person has a want, we mean that they are otherwise quite normal, but has an obsession or distorted view about some thing (or things). Such a person is usually very touchy about the subject and the ability to recognize such a ‘want’ helps one to humor the person.

whammel- to turn upside down

wheesht!- hush! be quiet!

yirdy- a toad

younker- youngster, child