May 31, 2004

if it's not scottish...

I was fortunate enough to be able to spend a few hours with the Scottish-born Parents yesterday. I've not mastered any language other than English (something I'm not proud of, by the way) but it's in conversations with them that I realize I'm bilingual. Before I feed further into a huge misconception (and because I've actually been asked), I just want to take this opportunity to state that people in Scotland do in fact speak English, do NOT walk around wearing kilts while playing the bagpipes and tossing cabers in between doing the Highland Fling and scarfing down a steaming helping of haggis. You're more inclined to find that on THIS side of the pond at a heritage festival. The only thing my parents fling about are phrases and expressions that confound most but make total sense to their Scottish brethren and offspring. Most of my friends are polite enough to vacantly smile and nod while the Parents speak. They wait until they're out of earshot before hitting me up for a translation.

I don't always have to translate for just my family though. I've swooped in and cleared up the language barrier several times outside of my home. I worked at an Italian restaurant in college. I answered the phone and worked the counter but one night a waitress approached me and asked me to take the order at Table 3 because she claimed she couldn't understand a word they were saying. Scottish accents can be rather tough especially when infused with a lot of slang so I didn't give her a hard time. These people had pretty clean accents but their attempt to pronounce words like "cavatelli" and "parmigiana" completely threw off the smoky-voiced waitress who grew up on the mean streets of Newark. I don't think she ever backed down from a fight in her life but upon hearing "parma-YAHNA," she just gave up and deferred to me. I even did an over-the-phone Scottish accent lesson for one of my actor friend's scene partner. I fully expect to be thanked in an acceptance speech one of these days.

I'm totally American (born in New Jersey for Christ's sake!) but the town I grew up in was settled by Irish and Scottish immigrants and the culture still pervades. There was also an influx of Portuguese and Spanish immigrants so I know from good paella and sangria. I grew up with mostly first-generation Americans and we embrace our heritage with a bear hug. The Portuguese Cultural Association is teeming with youth. Those in my ethnic group can be found at the Irish-American Association and the Scots-American Club toasting Guinness and Tennent's with a hearty "Slainte!" (that's Gaelic for cheers). I totally dig it.

What I really love about talking to my parents is their expressions. A party at their home is like a feast for my ears. Non-Scottish and -Irish friends clamor to attend these events to absorb the dialogue. Some phrases pop out at me and make me chuckle and others are actually a part of my vocabulary. I'm more aware of it now but for years, I used Scottish terms completely unaware that people had NO idea what I was talking about. This was mostly right after high school when I left the confines of my Scottish enclave.

I can't remember all of them but I thought I'd share a few expressions with you. These aren't actually in a dictionary (that I know of) so my spelling for some of these is strictly phonetic. I've also added sentences for a few of the more obscure ones:
fusty: stale
These scones are fusty.

peely-wally: pale
You're looking awfully peely-wally today. Are you feelin' okay?

bold: bratty
Ach, don't you be so bold, you cheeky wee devil! [I heard this one A LOT growing up]

snot box: one who is bratty [I also heard this one a lot too]

boot: trunk of a car
I need to get my gear out of the boot.

bed clothes: bedding (sheets, comforter, pillow cases); NOT pajamas

ta: thanks

house coat: a robe

tea towel: a dish towel

knackered: tired

washing-up liquid: dish soap (Dawn, Palmolive)

movie house: movie theater
I know I'm forgetting about a million so I invite you to add to this list. Don't limit yourself to Scottish and Irish though. My current vocabulary is loaded with Spanish, Yiddish and Italian phrases and I'm always looking to expand it. Slainte!