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Saturday, November 20, 2010


The following is the article I submitted for publication in the next issue of "AN CANACH", the quarterly newsletter of Clan Henderson.



By: John Robert Mallernee, Clan Bard

Dateline: Gulfport, Mississippi

This article was suggested as a response to questions about the languages of Scotland.

Scotland actually has three spoken languages, Gaelic, Scottish, and Profanity.

Gaelic is spoken by people residing in the Highlands and islands, who are only a small minority of Scotland's population.

It is with considerable difficulty that the language is currently being revived.

A high school teacher told me that the students in her Gaelic class refused to speak anything but English, because they thought speaking Gaelic wasn't "cool".

That problem may be due to the loss of native Scots, who leave Scotland in search of employment, while simultaneously, land in Scotland is purchased by wealthy retired Englishmen, who then impose English culture on their Scottish environment.

There is some hope of Gaelic revival though, as evidenced by a contemporary feature motion picture production, "SEACHD: THE INACCESSIBLE PINNACLE", which is a Gaelic movie.

You can find information about this movie on the Internet at this web site:

Also, there are "Mods", which are Gaelic speaking festivals that are held in Scotland, the United States, and Canada.

Many of us enjoy listening to songs being sung in the Gaelic language, and there's an abundance of material to choose from.

My personal favorite is Karen Matheson, the lead singer for the Scottish band, Capercaillie.

There's plenty of videos with her singing at the YOU TUBE web site.

Scottish, also called Lallans, is the language spoken by the majority of Scotland, and it is the official language of the Scottish Court.

It is the language of Scotland's revered bard, Robert Burns.

At the web site of Robert Burns, you'll find English translations of Scottish words.

That web site is at:

Have you ever been to a Kirkin' o' the Tartan?

"Kirk" is the Scottish word for "Church".

A "Kirkin' o' the Tartan" is a church service where the clans are blessed.

It's a ritual that actually originated in the United States, begun by Peter Marshall, Chaplain to the United States Senate.

Before I begin responding to questions regarding specific Gaelic or Scottish terms, I want to recommend another web site, The Blood Is Strong, a truly enlightening forum for discussing all things Scottish, which you'll find at:

Now, I'll try and address the specific words I've been asked about.

AN CANACH: Pronounced, "Ahn Khan-nock", it literally means, "The Cotton", and our clan's newsletter has this name because of the cottonseed grass, which grows wild in the area around our ancestral homelands in Glencoe, Scotland.

Originally, clans were NOT distinguished by the tartan, but by the plant they wore attached to their cap.

Thus, the manly men of Clan Henderson, which in the Highlands would have been called, Clann Mac Eanruig, wore a small sprig of cottonseed grass on their bonnet.

SGIAN DUBH: Pronounced, "Skeen Doo", it means, "Black Knife", because it normally is carried concealed, and it is a weapon of last resort.

But, when visiting a fellow clansman, courtesy required that swords, dirks, targes, and firearms be left outside.

Still, when sleeping at night, every man needed to be armed with SOMETHING, because the doors didn't have locks.

Thus, the small concealed knife, being a weapon of last resort, was then placed in the top of one's hose or boot, thus being in plain view for all to see.

FORDELL (or FORDEL): It means something?

I always thought it was somebody's name.

No, I don't have an answer for this one.

But, if you look it up on the Internet, you'll find Fordell Castle has an interesting history, including visits by Mary, Queen of Scots.

CEILIDH: Pronounced, "Kay-Lee", it means, "Social", and it's generally a hearty party, with music, dancing, joking, food, drink, fist fights, and broken windows.

(No, I'm joking, of course!)

But, seriously (can anyone REALLY be serious about a ceilidh?), it's a great opportunity for everybody to show off their amateur talents, and just plain have fun!

CEUD MILE FAILTE: Pronounced, "Kooud-Meal-lah-Fahl-cha", it means, "One Hundred Thousand Welcomes!" in the Gaelic language, and it's the same in both Scotland and Ireland.

FAILTE: Pronounced, "Fahl-cha", it means, "Welcome!", or "Greeting!"

SLAINTE: Pronounced, "Slawn-jah", it means, "Health", and is universally a favorite Gaelic toast in both Scotland and Ireland.

It is also used to bid farewell.

KILT: A Gaelic word meaning, "to tuck", which is derived from the Old Norse word, "Kjalta", due to Norse settlers who wore a similar garment, but without the tartan pattern.

BREACAN AN FHEILIDH: Pronounced, "Brick-ahn-Ahn-Fail-Ee", it means, "Belted Plaid".

FEILEADH MOR: Pronounced, "Fail-Ee-Moor", it means "Great Plaid".

FEILEADH BEAG: Pronounced, "Fill-Ah-Beck", it is the "small kilt", also known as a "walking kilt", which most of us wear today.

GHILLIE: Pronounced, "Gill-lee", it means "Lad" or "Servant".

The original ghillies were attendants for the chief of the clan, and later, the word referred to game wardens in hunting or fishing preserves.

Yes, "Ghillies" are a lace up Oxford style shoe, with holes to allow drainage when wading across streams.

Today, a Ghillie suit is a large leafy style camouflage cover worn by military sniper teams.

DERBHFINE: Pronounced, "Dur-vinn"(?), it is a special meeting of clan chieftains and leaders gathered to select a clan commander or a clan chief.

A search of the Internet reveals that the Lord Lyon has outlined specific guidelines for such meetings.

Many Gaelic words are now part of the English language, and you may be speaking Gaelic without even realizing it.

For instance, how often do you greet someone with, "Hello"?

That is from the Gaelic greeting, "Hallo".

Do you ever "glom" onto something?

That's the Gaelic word for "take" or "steal".

I found a whole list of Gaelic words being used in contemporary English language in an old issue of "READER'S DIGEST" magazine, but unfortunately, when I recently moved from Washington, D.C. to Gulfport, Mississippi, I lost that list.

So, now you have my expert opinion, even though I've never been to Scotland, and grew up with no knowledge of Scottish heritage.

But, if I don't know the answer to something, I'm happy to make up a lie or two!!!


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