Updating the Dictionary: New Edition of Ian Crofton’s A Dictionary of Scottish Phrase and Fable

  21 Oct '21   |  Posted by: Birlinn

From ‘Aald Rock’ to ‘Zeenty-teenty’, author Ian Crofton has cast his eye across Scottish life, history, language and culture to produce a unique compendium of all things Scottish. His gloriously idiosyncratic work, A Dictionary of Scottish Phrase and Fable was first published in 2014, but just as language and culture never stop evolving, the work has not stopped. A new, updated edition is published this week includes such gems as the headline from the local newspaper that reported ‘South Ayrshire Golf Club Owner Loses 2020 Presidential Election’ and the story behind the increasingly popular ‘loony dook’.

‘Wilfully idiosyncratic yet curiously useful . . . A lightly erudite and well-informed work of eclectic scholarship’

– Times Literary Supplement

There are more than 4,500 authoritative entries on matters that you might have puzzled over without a clue where to find information. Crofton, a contributor to the renowned Brewer’s Dictionary of Modern Phrase and Fable, has imagined the questions of curious minds and provides the answers. How does he do it?

Back in the early Noughties, when I was working on a number of the Brewer’s dictionaries of phrase and fable, it occurred to me that there was a big gap as far as Scotland was concerned. Scotland, I knew well, had a lexical fecundity, a folkloric and literary richness, a diversity of histories and local cultures, that were undreamt of by the Reverend E. Cobham Brewer and his largely English successors. So during my researches I started gathering specifically Scottish fragments of phrase and fable that I came across. Initially it was mostly a matter of serendipity, but as my baby began to grow and take shape, I realized what a wealth of expressions and cultural memes Scotland has produced over the centuries, and embarked on a more systematic approach to collection. And so I began to ransack dictionaries, anthologies, compilations and reference books, both ancient and modern, as well as shelves of works of literature and history.

The process of collecting could have gone on indefinitely, but in the end I realized that if I was to produce the book at all I would have to call a temporary halt. The first edition came out nearly ten years ago, but the collecting continued, and this second edition contains a considerable amount of new material. And even though this edition is now published, I am ever alert to fresh items. It is a matter of some regret, for example, that Edinburgh’s infamous Golden Turd only rose above the city’s skyline after the present volume had gone to press.

A Dictionary of Scottish Phrase and Fable is an unputdownable gallimaufry of curious items, embracing sayings, put-downs, insults, mottos, traditions, legends, folklore, customs, festivals, games, songs, dances, nicknames. One entry leads to another, sending readers criss-crossing through the book in search of nuggets of knowledge.

A Sampler –

Third Forth Bridge, The A potentially confusing designation for the Queensferry Crossing, the second road bridge over the Firth of Forth between North and South Queensferry (the first opened in 1964), and the third here after the original rail bridge (completed 1890). The Queensferry Crossing was opened in 2017. See also BRIGGERS, THE; PAINTING THE FORTH BRIDGE; EAST FIFE FOUR, FORFAR FIVE.

‘Ye cannae shove yer granny aff a bus’ A playground song, sung to the tune of ‘She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain’:

O, ye cannae shove yer granny aff a bus

Ye cannae shove yer granny aff a bus

Ye cannae shove yer granny

Fur she’s yer mammy’s mammy

Ye cannae shove yer granny aff a bus.

An alternative reason for not shoving your granny off a bus is because ‘she makes your mince an tatties’. See also YER GRANNY!

Krankies, The A comedy duo comprising Janette Tough (b.1947) in the role of schoolboy Wee Jimmy Krankie, and Janette’s husband Ian (b.1947) as Wee Jimmy’s father. They worked the club circuit in the 1970s and emerged into the limelight in 1979 with a slot at the Royal Variety Performance. The Krankies had a number of TV shows in the 1980s, and still make appearances on stage in variety and panto, and on TV. In 2003 a readers’ poll in the Herald voted Wee Jimmy Krankie ‘The Most Scottish Person in the World’.

In February 2020, a spokesperson for 10 Downing Street was obliged to issue a denial that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson had described Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon as ‘that bloody Wee Jimmy Krankie woman’. The alleged remark was in response to a suggestion that Ms Sturgeon have a formal role in an international climate conference to be held in Glasgow. ‘Over my fucking dead body,’ the prime minister was reported to have said.

Books by Ian Crofton

  • Hardback | Pub: 21 Oct 2021

    INCLUDES HUNDREDS OF NEW AND EXPANDED ENTRIES From ‘Aald Rock’ to ‘Zeenty-teenty’, A Dictionary of Scottish Phrase and Fable is an unputdownable gallimaufry of curious items embracing sayings, put-downs, insults, mottos, traditions, legends,…

  • Hardback | Pub: 06 Jun 2019

    This is the story of Scotland as it’s never been told before. From the 4th millennium BC, when the first Scot was expelled from Eden, right up to the 21st century, when US intelligence identified a distillery on Islay as a possible threat to…

  • Share: