The Scottish Tongue

Recently a friend asked me if I would put a glossary in the back of my newest book release, A Hundred Kisses, to help with the Scottish words.  That got me thinking…how does one pronounce some of those mixed vowels and perplexing consonant-vowel duos? Admittedly, during my writing journey when I came upon the names, towns, and phrases while researching, I found myself googling their pronunciation as well.

In my opinion, there are 3 types of readers and approaches when a perplexing foreign word comes along. Let’s use an example from my novel. The isle of Uist. Seems simple, doesn’t it? Och, aye, maybe not.

The Three Types:

1.     Glossers: People that glide right over it (you fast readers, you know who you are) and they just assign it some arbitrary sound – or heck they just see the word and are like “U-something”, moving on… You readers are speed-readers and oh, how I envy your nonchalant approach!

2.     Ponderers: People that stumble and look at it for a longer time and come up with how they think it may sound. YOU-IST. Okay, got it. Or no wait, maybe it’s UHST. Okay, that’s what I am going to say in my head even if it’s not correct.

3.     Seekers: And then there is group three. These readers want…no, NEED to know how it sounds. So, they look for the glossary. Darn, not included. Okay, then… off to google or Wikipedia they go. Ah, now they know what it sounds like. Got it. And they also know all about it. Uist just happens to be an isle in northern Scotland, has some standing stones, and actually there is a North Uist and South Uist, and at one point it was inhabited by the Norse (Norwegian Vikings). So this group knows more than just the pronunciation.

And yes, the pronunciation is YOU-IST.

Depending on my mood and the book, I can be any one of those three types of readers. Word pronunciation can be a great discussion point between friends reading the same book, with groups on Facebook pages, and between people commenting on blogs.

Ever hear of a character named Leg-Hair? Well, if you are an Outlander-phile (ahem, yes I am!), you have. That would be the bonnie Laoghaire in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. Look at that name! I can see why many of us called her Leg-Hair (it also went along with her conniving, prissy character). But really, it’s pronounced LEE-ree. Whoa! Mmphmm! We were way off the mark, huh? To help with the Outlander-addiction, the current Starz television series which has brought the book to the screen, had put out a series of lessons on “Speaking Outalnder”, videos on word pronunciations from the series. It was entertaining.

Now, given that A Hundred Kisses takes place in 13th century Scotland, my use of Scots vernacular is minimal; I use just enough to set the story. There is a mixture of traditional Gaelic words, Scots slang, and regular Scottish vocabulary that has its own unique challenges.  A contemporary story could be vastly different, as Scots phrases are commonplace, much like those in any other country or culture. Granted, my thesis advisor, who hailed from the land of pointy crags, sheep, magnificent stone castles, kilts, golf, and whisky, did teach me a phrase or two – but those couldn’t be repeated here. They are a bit colorful, to say the least. However, he also taught me how to understand the lilted “r” and to appreciate the tunes of a fantastic Scottish folk band.

And just for fun, I threw some Norse into my book, as the isles are rich in both Scottish and Norse history.

Which one do you fall under, my fellow lovers of words? Glosser, Ponderer, or Seeker? Come on over to my Facebook page and share your reading approach to befuddling and fun words.



A sampling of some words from  A Hundred Kisses . Created by

A sampling of some words from A Hundred Kisses. Created by