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Articles from Catherine Wilson
Language


I've been doing some serious research on the language of "our" family and I suppose it would apply to other ScotAms, too.  For example, as a slim child and very slim teen, my grandfather was always warning me that he'd have to tie me down before I blew away.  This past trip to Caithness (where his family is from), I spent some time over on the coast climbing through the gorse (AAAACCCK!), weeds, and heather, to located the foundational rocks of the last crofter's cottages in Caithness when the walls were built to keep the sheep in and the residents out.  Except for about 12 families totalling about 50-80 people, everyone else was cleared.  The cliffs of Caithness suffer quite blustery weather and the winds are extreme.  The Clan Gunn residents who were allowed to remain as wall-tenders and sheep-tenders found out the hard way that if you do not tie the children down, they indeed blow away.  Those who were small or light weight were tied down for safety purposes.

I have wondered from this discovery if they may also have put rocks in their pockets.  When my grandfather (whose mother was from the auld country) would pick me up after not seeing me for a while, he always remarked on my growth by asking if I had rocks in my pocket or had I just grown some more. 

Gives one pause when we discover these things.  I have no doubt in my family that the practicalities of language in Scotland changed to fit the situation as it became part of our American family.  The words were phrases stuck on the tips of greatgrandparent's tongues, and do not so easily leave the brain when one is old.  It's the recent memory that goes first.  (Ever hear someone say, I can't tell you what I ate for breakfast, but I can tell you what dress I wore to the first day of school when I was 5?)

I'm interested in connecting other phrases which may seem odd in American language to phrases that seem all so normal to our historical family roots.  The problem I found is that I never knew "tie you down so you won't blow away" was an odd phrase until it really clicked as I visualized the children being tied down.  I guess the best way to find these phrases is to continue to travel, listen, read about our histories and share them when we make such discoveries.

This is how our Highland Games came to be -- by turning into sport what our ancestors did/do as labor.  While we aren't tossing to many trees around by hand anymore, we all know that's where the caber toss originated.  As a psychologist, I can just see competitive brothers trying to toss trees around to prove who is greater than the other.  And I can see it traveling to their friends.  Teen boys even today do the most ridiculous things to prove they are MEN.  That's the joy of having boys.


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