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There were occasions on which, reeling from the condescension, I almost regretted my choice of career. Even if you don’t actually speak Scots, if you are born and brought up in Scotland you will inevitably often speak English like a Scotsman (after a drink or two is one notable and recurring occasion). One trap waiting for the publisher laddie was the word “book”, a rather common item of vocabulary in a publishing house. That I would pronounce this as “buik” rather than the flat, unemphasized “buck” favored by my English colleagues took me a long time to overcome. It never failed to provoke comment.

But Scots is mair nor English wi’ a Scottish accent. There’s a large vocabulary which just doesn’t feature in English English at all, though the syntax is largely the same. There’s aye been a tendency for the educated Scot to speak “proper” English, while at any moment being ready (and eager) to switch to the odd word of broad Scots. Certainly around our house there were words unknown doon England constantly in the air. Your familiarity with the language was reinforced by the singing of the old songs, and the reading of Burns’ poetry.

Scots is recognized as an indigenous language of Scotland, as a regional minority language of Europe and as a vulnerable language by UNESCO. 2019 is the United Nations Year of Indigenous Languages, though I must confess to not feeling like I’ve been much bashed ower the heid aboot this. It was the language of the court, the courts and the kirk until we were rash enough to give up our independence. I still cling to the belief that Scots is totally comprehensible to the English speaker — the problem they all have is, I think, a simple refusal to try! Come oan! Gie ‘t shot. Here’s a wee introduction:

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Quartz has a braw article about the Scots language and how it’s being helped by Twitter. (Link via Lit Hub.)

Like every language, I guess, Scots is basically a spoken language, and the way it gets written down can occasionally be confusing even to other Scots. A simple example is “canna”/”cannae” (cannot). The first results from the pronunciation in the North East while I in the south grew up saying the second (when my mother didn’t tell me off to speak properly). This one’s fairly straightforward: other, rarer, words can get lost behind their variant spellings/pronunciations, and become hard to figure out in written form while you’d probably have no problem if they were spoken at you. See the Tom Leonard poem below for an example of this.

Any account of Scots cannot fail to mention Hugh MacDiarmid (1892-1978). Born Christopher Murray Greive in Langholm in the Borders, he first wrote poetry in English. Early on he conceived a mission to rescue Scots words for use in his verse, and he’d scour dictionaries to find vocabulary which he’d reintroduce into the language. One of the first poems to emerge (1925) from this effort was “The Watergaw” (The pale rainbow). His book-long poem in Scots, A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle (1926), was considered by Oliver St. John Gogarty “the most virile and vivid poetry written in English or any dialect thereof for many a long day”. MacDiarmid here comments on the superficiality of many a Scot’s Scottishness at their annual celebration of Burns’ Night:


No’ wan in fifty ken a wurd Burns wrote
But misapplied is a’body’s property,
And gin there was his like alive the day
They’d be the last a kenning’ haund to gie —
Croose London Scotties wi’ their braw shirt fronts
And a’ their fancy freens, rejoicin’
That similah gatherings in Timbuctoo,
Bagdad — and Hell, nae doot — are voicin’
Burns’ sentiments o’ universal love,
In pidgin English or in wild-fowl Scots,
And toasting’ ane wha’s nocht to them but an
Excuse for faitherin’ Genius wi’ their thochts.

His poetry was always overflowing with ideas, and some of his later poems almost fall into a catalog of obscure scientific, political and sociological ideas and quotations. But his almost single-handed rescue of the Scots tongue ensures his immortality. I did once see him at a reading in Cambridge.

This poem by Tom Leonard (1944-2018) needs to be heard in the head before it yields up its meaning. It’s a conversation on the way to a football game, no doubt a Celtic game, and no doubt in the boozer. (The intrusive interlinear dots in these poems are there to force my software into the layout required.)

“The Good Thief”
hey jimmy
yawright ih
still wayiz urryi
hey jimmy
ma right insane yirra pape
ma right insane yirwanny us jimmy
see it nyir eyes
wanny uz
heh jimmy
lookslik wirgonny miss the gemm
gonny miss thi GEMM jimmy
nearly three a cloke thinoo
dork init
good jobe theyve gote the lights

This Leonard reflection on the language starts off “Right enough”. After that you’re on your own:

right inuff
ma language is disgraceful
ma maw tellt mi
ma teacher tellt mi
thi doactir tellt mi
thi priest tellt mi
ma boss tellt mi
ma landlady in carrington street tellt mi
thi lassie ah tried tay get off way in 1969 tellt mi
some wee smout thit thoat ah hudny read chomsky tellt mi
A calvinist communist thit thoat ah wuz revisionist tellt mi
literati grimly kerryin thi burden a thi past tellt mi
literati grimly kerryin thi burden a thi future tellt mi
ma wife tellt mi jist-tay-get-intay-this-poem tellt mi
ma wainz came hame fray school an tellt mi
jist aboot ivry book ah oapnd tellt mi
even thi introduction tay thi Scottish National Dictionary tellt mi
ach well
all livin language is sacred
fuck thi lohta thim.

Today, 17 July, is World Emoji Day: a “global celebration of emoji” marked by emoji events and product releases. July 17th is the date displayed on the emoji for “calendar”, which explains why this day has been chosen. Seems every self-respecting thing has to have a World Day nowadays.

Shady Characters has done a nine-part series on emojis. As Keith Huston (the creator of Shady Characters) points out this is entirely appropriate for a blog dedicated to punctuation, since punctuation marks share much of the character of the emoji: graphic representations of meaning.  Here’s Part 1Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5Part 6a, Part 6b, Part 6c, and Part 7 of his exhaustive examination of what remains for me an odd phenomenon. However there’s obviously something in the air: emojis have been around long enough that they have to be studied now. Wired also has a history. Apparently we are resisting the introduction of a whole raft of new emojis Medium tells us. I say introduce them: you don’t have to use them and surely won’t suffer from their existence somewhere out there. Until everyone almost automatically recognizes the meaning all emojis they will go nowhere. When they do, they might. So what?

The wild growth of emojis started with a 🖤 for the pager in Japan in the nineteen nineties. By the end of the century an “alphabet” of 176 symbols was available on the Fujitsu F501i smartphone. Apple first introduced them to the Western world in 2011, though Part 3 of Shady Characters history includes a photo of a book published in 1935 which contained two emojis — convergent evolution at work. If you want to get a new emoji added to the already generous offering, you have to petition the Unicode Consortium. They’ve agreed to breaking down the Union flag into its Scotland, England, Wales components: 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿, 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 and 🏴, though I can’t believe Wales really has a black flag: more likely a platform/recogntion issue.

The tears of joy emoji,😂, was the word of the year chosen by Oxford Dictionaries in 2015, but do emoji represent a new language? I doubt it. In 2015 Andy Murray tweeted about his wedding using only emoji (lots of tears of joy going on):

🌞☔😂👔💅💇😂👰😂🚗💒💃👫🙏💍💏👏📝🎹📷🎥🚗🍷🍴🎂🎊🎉👯🎶🎤🍹🍻🍷🍺🍩🍦🍷🍹🍸🍺🌙❤💕😘💤💤💤💤💤💤💤22 . While it may be possible to follow this if you are really determined, surely nobody would consider it narrative. Which symbols are the verbs? I guess you could say the little red car was acting as a verb, though it is disconcertingly taking Mr Murray away from the church. And of course it’s not really a verb, is it?

The world of emoji lacks any grammar, and is not open to innovation by users, both of which would be essential to their becoming a proper language. I suppose there’s an outside possibility that they could ultimately evolve in such a direction, but the directed effort involved would appear to militate against any such outcome. At most emoji represent the inclusion into written speech of a certain amount of non-verbal, gestural communication. There is of course an online emoji dictionary. The definitions given for 😂 at that link rather illustrate the problem. In a way I suppose we could see the growth in the emoji universe as analogous to the growth of the Chinese character set, which makes it unsurprising that they originated in Japan.

In Part 5 of the Shady Characters piece Mr Huston gives us a generous look at the use of emojis in sexting, another 21st century manifestation we might all have been better off without. There follows a good deal of discussion of the gyrations needed to overcome racial and sexual stereotyping in emojis, though isn’t that just an illustration of the basic problem with this whole system as a communication medium: if you’re going to use little cartoon pictures as a means of communication it could be said to be rather silly to expect there to be much sophistication of meaning available to you.

Towards the end of Part 7 Shady Characters discusses translations into emoji of various classics: notably Emoji Dick, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and under way The Bible. The “quotes” he displays from Moby Dick surely just make one regret the time wasted by someone striving to achieve the unachievable.

Atlas Obscura tells about a film on the creation of emojis.

Just for clarification an emoticon is a symbol made up of punctuation marks, e.g. the happy face 🙂 — which interestingly WordPress won’t let me show you. Although I typed colon, hyphen, parenthesis, the software converts it into the emoji you see. The emoticon would show just : – ) — without the spaces I used to defeat the software. Someone’s rooting for emojis!

On the Mac a host of emojis can be accessed by pressing Control, Command, Space bar.

Photo: iMore

Maybe the most striking thing about Marie Kondo is that you can make a fortune by going on about tidying up. The most recent stir has been caused by her advice to throw out all these books, though she has been harping on the theme for a while. I wrote about Ms Kondo before: see my 2015 post entitled Decluttering. Here’s The Passive Voice‘s take on the Kondo phenomenon. Tom Gauld as usual neatly sums up the real problem:

Why is it that a sparsely furnished room should be considered better than a cluttered one anyway? Still I don’t suppose you’d ever get a television show advocating cluttering up your home, office space, bookshelves. We all seem quite capable of doing that on our own without any expert help.


Wonderful to know that you can just drill a hole in some of those boring old books which are cluttering up your house and, bingo, have a planter. This example from Etsy will set you back $39, and you don’t even have to supply the books.

As Etsy assures us: “This book planter will look wonderful in any decor from shabby chic to rustic, to classic decor. Book planters also make wonderful table centerpieces for any event from intimate dinners to book club events. Book planters are the perfect gifts for book lovers, librarians and teachers. It will look great on a table or shelf or desk.” So if you’d like to give the book lover in your life an Independence Day gift — and don’t think that as a book lover they’ll weep at the destruction — here you go.

A scholarly examination of the repurposing of books by one SHARP correspondent can be found here. The author tells us “Books are used as home décor, mousepads, bill folders, and sculptures. Books are also pulped and anonymously converted into other, non-book related products.”

I have posted about book sculpture, about which there was a flurry of communication five or so years ago. In this context one might also consider blooks and of course the Marie Kondo phenomenon.

“Here lies one whose name was writ in water” was the entire epitaph a rather discouraged John Keats directed should be inscribed on his tombstone which can be found in Rome at the Cemitero Acattolico. As this article from The Paris Review outlines, all the editorial comment above those two lines was added by Keats’ friends. The bitterness was theirs: Keats was quietly resigned to death and assumed he was being taken before he could properly work out his poetic mission. The anonymity he wished for is achieved. The date of death is off by one day; he died on the 23rd.

Now The National Trust announces the construction of a reflecting pool at Runnymede which has picked up and run with the writ in water idea. The structure was designed by Mark Wallinger in collaboration with Studio Octopi. Mr Wallinger presents it here:

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The inscription reflected in the pool, a quotation from the Magna Carta, signed of course at Runnymede, reads “No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.” Those of us who grew up with letterpress printing may be almost as capable of reading the inscription upside down and back-to-front as in its right-reading reflection in the pool. I frequently found this ability of use when confronting bosses across their desk.

Thank you Nathan Barr for the link.

The Book of Riddles by Fabrice Mazza and Sylvain Lhullier is the source of the fascinating puzzle in the video below, forwarded to us by David Crotty at The Scholarly Kitchen.

The Book of Riddles can be found here. It is, according to Amazon, published by Charwell Books, an imprint of Quarto. This can be confirmed by the Look Inside feature, however I can’t find the book on the Quarto site. Puzzle books have long been a staple of the catch-penny end of the trade. Here is a PDF of one example: a 19th century book, published in Portland by Bailey and Noyes. What looks like exactly the same book, this time published by John F. Brown in Concord is available at Project Gutenberg with a publication date of 1846. The PDF of the Bailey and Noyes has an intrusive “Concord” on the second title page. This suggests it came after the Project Gutenberg book, and was printed from the same type with a few corrections.

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I swear I almost got it: well half-way anyway.

This has nothing to do with books, but it is fascinating. Just think of the thrill of slowly building this object bit by bit and then having it actually work. A wondrous mania.

But how often would you play it? The repetition might become a little trying.

In a way its complexity reminds me of the music typewriter I recently wrote about.

Link via Open Culture.

We know about cli-fi. Here comes ecologically sensitive poetry which I choose to name eco-po.

The Guardian brings us a selection of poems about insects selected by Carol Ann Duffy. In her introduction the poet laureate writes “Earlier this year, the journal Biological Conservation published the first global scientific review of the insect population, recording that more than 40% of species are declining and a third are endangered. The journal concludes, ‘unless we change our ways of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades. The repercussions this will have for the planet’s ecosystems are catastrophic.’”

We tend to assume, even those of us without the Bible to direct our thoughts, that animals are there pretty much for our benefit, or, from the other end of the telescope, that insects are there just to annoy us, and that getting rid of them would be a great thing. Just the other day, Mike Bloomberg, pretty woke on climate issues, was calling for the elimination of the mosquitos who carry malaria. But hang on: sure we don’t like them, but we’d be pretty disgusted if some Mosquitoese speaker revealed to us that these little toughs were actually calling for the elimination of humans. This, as we really do know, would be a bad idea from the mosquito’s point of view, and isn’t one they’d be stupid enough to espouse. They know that human blood is an integral part of their life cycle, and eliminating their blood bank would be sui-genocidal. If only we could bring the same sort of wisdom to our attitudes to the world around us.

Mike McCarthy’s The Moth Snowstorm, published in Britain in 2015, and in USA the following year, is all about the vast losses in the numbers of members of almost all species of wildlife. His moth snowstorm refers to a phenomenon I can just remember from my childhood: driving in the evening with headlights on and finding so many moths attracted to the light source that it became hard to see your way forward, just as if you were driving though a snowstorm. Anyone a bit younger than me has never experienced this. The main reason for the population thinning appears to be the use of agricultural pesticides, though there are enough reasons to fill a book. Now the good news: I wrote recently about the rewilding of Knepp in Sussex, also discussed in a book from New York Review Books, due this fall, and the author, Isabella Tree told us that they have, after very few years of cutting out chemicals and allowing nature to reestablish its unaltered state, run into moth snowstorms themselves on the estate.

Not as dramatic as the 3D maps I wrote about yesterday, and also a day late for Shakespeare’s birthday (or a couple of days early), but here’s another map post.

Charles Webb has created an online map indicating locations mentioned in history plays by Shakespeare. The Collation, the Folger’s blog, brings an account. His initial impulse was the fact that “in the beginning of Antony and Cleopatra Antony’s trip from Alexandria to Rome takes only twenty pages in the Folger Edition of the play, which corresponds to only three scenes on the stage. According to ORBIS, however, this trip would have taken Antony at least sixteen days if he had perfect weather conditions and made no stops”.

Antony and Cleopatra results

The mapping program can be found here, though it doesn’t seem to show the length of that particular journey.


Atlas Obscura has a story about The National Library of Scotland’s (Leabharlann Nàiseanta na h-Alba in Gaelic) improvement of their 3D tool which allows you to see elevation in maps with contours or even a consistent shading system to indicate slope. This 3D tool has apparently been available since 2016 and has now been tweaked to allow a more emphatic indication of verticality.

Galashiels, Borders. Meigle Hill, Gala Hill and Buckholm Hill did always tend to look higher from the middle of town.

The 3D map viewer uses open-source technology from Cesium, a geospatial 3D mapping platform.

The National Library’s website gives several examples, but you can visit the site and noodle around. Pretty cool.