THE title for this chapter I got fae a doacter cried Jimmy Begg fae New Cumnock, ane o the hertlands o spoken Scots the day, an ane wi a thrivin Burns tradeition. I wis aince spiered gin I wad dae the Immortal Memorie at the New Cumnock Burns Club an I regairdit it as as muckle an honour as addressin the Burns at 250 Symposium at the Library o Congress in Washington DC in 2009. Airts like ma ain wee toon o Gawston an former minin veillages like New Cumnock an Auchinleck are whaur the Scots leid survives an thrives in the 21st century, sae for yer wark tae be valued in thir kinna airts amang fowk that belangs the tradeition gies ye muckle confidence that ye’re daein richt!

The full sentence that Jimmy Begg gied me cam fae a gey auld bodie in the Sooth o Ayrshire wha had duin hairm tae her richt shank and cuit when she fell her length on a rymie road ae cauld winter’s mornin lang syne. She managed tae hirple tae the doacter’s surgery an spiered at the doacter: “Dae ye hae ye a saw for ma sair leg, doacter?” Noo the auld bodie wis a local wumman, but the young doacter had jist raicently come in tae the area fae England, an had nae knawledge o the local leid. The thocht o a patient askin for him tae tak a saw tae remove her bad leg obviously severely bumbazed him. Fortunately there wis anither doacter like Jimmy neist door, that cuid owerset whit the auld leddy wantit intae English: Do you have ointment you can give me for my sore leg, doctor? Saw in Scots is a salve, or a balm or a medicinal ointment for smoorin on bruised skin.

But it has anither meanin as weel, as a saw can also mean a sayin, proverbial or itherwise. Sae, ye wad hear the auld fowk o Kyle refer tae the auld Scots saws they grew up wi an survived acause o the wice thochts an wisdom they hained. I yaise thaim aften masel, sae here’s a wheen ensamples o anes I wis brocht up hearin, an hoo they were yaised:

“Thaim that haes, aye gets.” Ane popular amang warkin fowk luikin at the walth enjoyed by the middle and upper clesses. Nae maitter hoo weel-aff they are, they aye seem tae get haud o mair, mair easily than a puir bodie can get haud o a bawbee!

“A gaun fuit’s aye gettin.” In a wey this is a coonter-saw tae the ane afore. Gin ye hae smeddum an virr an energy, ye micht be able tae owercome no haein muckle by yer ain deeds an yer ain wark.

“Big money’ll no hide.” A saw agin grippie fowk that ettle tae hide their siller, but it aye comes oot. Ma Fife grandmither yaised this a lot – usually wi heavy irony – ony wee totie manifestation o haein ony siller ava cuid be commented upon wi her sayin “Big money’ll no hide.”

“They wad tak the een oot yer heid, an come back for the winkers.” (They would take the eyes out of your head then come back for the eyelashes.) Yaised mainly against fowk that are comfortably aff theirsels yet wha lue tae exploit as monie puir bodies as they can get their haunds on – Tories, Labour hereditary peers in the Hoose o Lords, high-heid yins in muckle organisations that pey their workers minimum wages wi nae contracks – thir kinna fowk.

“Whit’s for ye, will no gae by ye.” This is a dreich expression o Scots fatalism – that nae maitter whit ye dae, nae maitter hoo guid ye are, nae maitter hoo muckle ye prepare tae mak siccar somethin bad disnae happen, if ye’re fated tae thole somethin happenin tae ye, weel, ye jist hae tae accept it and haud gaun. Ma mither yaised it an when ma Portuguese wife João heard her guidmither say it, she spiered naively: “if it could also refer to a good thing not going by you, Mummy Kay?” Mammy Kay’s repone wis short and tae the pynt. “Naw”, she said. An even mair dowie ensample o this wis “Ye maun dree yer weird” – owerset intae English: “You must suffer your fate.”

“Ye cannae dae ocht, gin ye’ve nocht tae dae ocht wi.” Owerset intae English, it’s no as alliterative and poetic: “You cannot do anything, if you’ve nothing to do anything with”. This wis mair aboot haein tae admit that yer options for chynge are sairly leimitit gin ye dinnae hae the graith or the resoorces or even the pouer in yer harrigals tae mak a difference. No as fatal as the previous saw, but still admittin that there’s only sae muckle a bodie can dae afore the weary widdle o this wild warld!

“She’s made her bed, noo she’ll hae tae lie on it.” I think this ane wis anely yaised regairdin weemen. I mind hearin it said in the hoose when a teenage lass in ma big sister’s cless at schuil got pregnant, an in thae days o the late 50s and early 60’s, that meant she had tae get mairrit tae.

“Ye need a stoot hert for a stey brae,” or jist “A stoot hert for a stey brae,” – you need a strong heart for a steep hill. This ane wis popular amang the Kyle colliers, wha aften had tae howk coal oot o nairrae seams on a sair dook or a stey brae. Afore the muckle industrial pits were sunk – an ma granfaither wis a skeely pit sinker by profession – there yaised tae be a wheen wee local mines that were accessible via an ingaunee – leiterally an ingaun ee, in English an “in-going eye” – an access tunnel that wis dug oot a field on the surface and then there wis a stey brae slope gaein doon faur eneuch tae rax the coal seams nearer the surface.

“A bonnie bride is suin buskit, or a bonnie bride is easy buskit”. Whit this meant wis that there were a wheen things that were easy tae dae, while ithers were mair demandin. Buskin a braw lassie on her waddin day wad be gey easy. The exception tae this wis in Gawston on ma sister Janette’s waddin day – see the bit aboot Johnny Crombie elsewhaur in ma quair.

“Brunt bairns aye dreid the fire,” A cruel ane – burned children are always afraid of fire. The English equivalent wad be “once bitten, twice shy.”

“Facks are chiels that winna ding.” Aye the concludin words in a guid gaun rammy or argie bargie – I ken the facks o the maitter, sae there’s nocht ye can dae tae beat me.

“Guid gear comes in sma bouk.” Mainly yaised by wee bodies aboot thaimsels. Never yaised by muckle hulliket bruits aboot thaimsels or onybody else … unless they maybe fancy a lassie wha’s wee.

“Hunger is aye guid kitchen.” Puirtith an hunger gars aw scran taste weel, nae maitter hoo boggin it actually is.

“It gaes in ae lug, and oot the ither.” Said aboot a thrawn craitur that wullnae listen tae wice words o advice. Mainly said by aulder fowk aboot younger fowk.

“It taks a lang spuin tae sup wi a Fifer.” Ma faither wad yaise this tae wind up his Fife inlaws, especially his guidmither, ma Gran Carruthers, wha steyed in Bowhill an favoured the Fife bairns afore the Ayrshire weans in her faimily. It basically jalouses that Fifers are fly, an mebbe even sleekit, sae ye hae tae tak tent in their companie an no get ower close tae thaim. Yaise a lang spuin in ither words, or they micht weel diddle ye. The term “fly Fifer” wis aye yaised tae descrieve the Fife fowk, an I think the Fifers were quite vauntie aboot this reputation they had. The poet David Rorie wis a doctor in the pairish whaur ma Fife friens steyed an he collectit a nummer o saws there at the turn o the 20th century. Ane o them wis “She’s as fly as Fife kye, an they can knit stockins wi their horns!” Ane o ma wee grandweans, Caterina, is sae gleg an fou o mischief that this saw descrieves her perfeckly.

A variation on needin a lang spuin tae sup wi a Fifer, significantly, is: “It taks a lang spuin tae sup wi the Deil” (the Devil).

Whether the Deil wis ever resident in Fife is open tae debate, but there is a Scots sang tae the tune o The High Road Tae Linton that gaes:

Some say the Deil’s deid, the Deil’s deid, the Deil’s deid,

Some say the Deil’s deid, and buried in Kirkcaldy,

Some say the Deil’s deid, the Deil’s deid, the Deil’s deid,

Some say the Deil’s deid, and buried in Kirkcaldy

Ithers say he rose again, he rose again, he rose again,

Ithers say he rose again an jyned the English airmy.

Ithers say he rose again, he rose again, he rose again,

Ithers say he rose again an jyned the English airmy.

Anither sayin yaisin the Deil wis “better the Deil ye ken,” – better stick wi whit ye’re fameiliar wi raither than getting exposed tae somethin fremmit an unco strange. Ma final Deil saw is “The Deil’s aye guid til his ain,” – the Deil luiks efter his ain kind – yaised ironically tae describe a bodie that’s no weel-liked, or daein a guid turn for anither bodie that’s no weel-liked tae!

“If ye flee wi the craws, ye’ll get shot wi the craws.” A strang mindin fae mammies tae young boays parteicularly tae tak tent o wha ye run aboot wi an the companie ye keep. I’ve also heard variations like “If ye flee wi the craws, ye hing wi the craws,” or “Gin ye flee wi the craws, ye dee wi the craws”. Craws and corbies obviously are ruited deep in the psyche o fowk fae Kyle – the roch squawk fae their thrapple an their “sympathy wi the Deil”. Daurk appearance maun haunt the imagination since the days of the ballad aboot twa corbies makin main an pykin oot the een o a slayn knight dernin ahint an auld fail dyke!

That maister o the macabre, Edgar Allan Poe, steyed alang the Irvine Watter fae Gawston when he wis a boay, in an eldritch Irvine thrang wi body snatchers, an airmed men watchin ower the cadavers o the raicently deid. He wad hae heard the raucle caw o the Kyle craws as a bairn an mindit thaim again in his heid when he wis a man, an scrievit thon ferlie o a poem The Raven … tap-tappin on the windae o the imagination an openin the steikit yetts o the mind, an the fey border atween the quick an the deid.

I never heard this neist ane in Ayrshire growin up in the 1950’s but cam across it years later researchin the history o medicine in Scotland and lued it for its direck nae-nonsense finality that the Scots leid is weel-kent for: “There’s nae remeid for stark deid”. Cuttie, an straicht tae the pynt, in English it wad be “there is a solution for everything except death”.

On a cheerier note but still gey different fae the doucer, safter English equivalent o “gather ye rosebuds while you may” wis ane ma mither aye yaised: “Ye’re a lang time deid.” Whit it wis tho wis life-affirmin – we aw had tae mak shuir we leived life tae the full while we were here on the yird. And jist tae reinforce the “wale-life” message wis anither common Scots saw: “There’s nae pooches in a shroud.” In ither words, it’s nae yuiss hoardin an haudin ontae yer siller as ye get aulder an ye shuid yaise it weel while ye can … for there’s nae pockets in yer daith shroud!

“Ne’er cast a cloot till Mey’s oot.” Ma Portuguese wife Maria João got this ane fae her Guidmither, Annie Kay, an comes oot wi it ilka Mey when there’s a cauld snap or a snell wind that gaes for yer thrapple. Noo I think maist fowk sayin it, includin ma mither, thocht they were referrin tae the month o Mey – dinnae discard yer warm cloots or claes until the end o Mey … but sinsyne I’ve learnit that the saw referred tae the blossomin o the Mey – the hawthorn bush or tree that flouers roon aboot the same time.

“Aye, ye’ll aye gang yer ain gait.” This wis yaised tae refer tae a character that did his or her ain thing nae maitter hoo faur it gaed against the grain o whit wis ettled or expectit. It cuid imply a thrawn bodie tae, but no ane that wis thrawn for thrawn’s sake like auld crabbit men sometimes are, but mair a bodie wi the quiet confidence tae gang their ain gait for the guid o thaimsels or their faimilies.

“It’s a sair fecht for a hauf loaf … but aye better than nae breid!” This wis maist commonly yaised in its shortened form o “It’s a sair fecht,” referrin tae life’s chavin needcessities, or “it’s a gey sair fecht,” which wad be yaised tae be mair sympathetic tae the individual tholin the haurdship … “Aye, it’s a gey sair fecht, hen.” The full version “It’s a sair fecht for a hauf loaf … but aye better than nae breid!” has a wee tate o ironic humour aboot it – life’s a chave an a struggle even tae earn a hauf loaf, but even that’s better than nae breid ava!

“If ye gie, ye get.” Gey short an wice-like. Gin ye luik efter fowk roon aboot ye, then you an yours will be luikit efter gin ye’re ever in need yersels. Daein wark on the historie o Scots ayont Scotland whit’s noticeable is the self-help organisations they set up in ilka kintrae they gaed til. Aw ower the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth an German provinces like Prussia, they set up branches o the Scottish Britherhood in the 17th century an local historians aye remairk on the siller they raised for the puir, the seik, the orphans an wedos o the community – “if ye gie, ye get.” Anither ane similar tae this is “whit’s guid tae gie, is guid tae tak.”

“Here’s tae us, wha’s like us! Damned few, an they’re aw deid.” A proverbial sayin and a toast rowed thegither. Aften heard on Hogmanay an Ne’erday when toasts were made tae friens and faimily and tae brither an sister Scots fae Maidenkirk tae Johnnie Groats!

“We’re aw Jock Tamson’s bairns” wis anither ane wi national an community signeificance. It meant we aw belanged, naebody wis bettter than onybody and it stated pride in the community. It says tae that aw Scots are Jock Tamson’s Bairns – we’re aw in it thegither. When I got mairrit in Portugal in 1979, ane o the telegrams that wis read oot came fae my pals in the great tradeitional music baund, Jock Tamson’s Bairns. The telegram weished us lang life, health an happiness an endit “may aw yer bairns be Jock Tamson’s”.

“Lang may yer lum reik (wi ither fowk’s coal).” The langer version o this scrievit there is thrang wi irony an humour an plays on the mean an grippy Scot stereotype o a bodie happy tae thrive at the expense o ither fowk. The mair commonly yaised shorter version, “lang may yer lum reik,” – long may your chimney smoke – is ane that ye find yaised as a sayin aw ower Scotland an in ilka pairt o the warld the Scots hae settled.

A PUCKLE year syne, I gaed tae America tae mak a programme aboot the gowfin pioneers that gaed fae toons that had links coorses on the East coast o Scotland, like Carnoustie and St Aundraes tae yaise their skills as club makars, repairers and gowf teachers in the brent new kintrae clubs that opened up in the States in the early decades o the 20th century. Ae kenspeckle faimily I spak tae wis that o a chiel wha had won the heichest honours o American gowf, Fred Brand Junior, winner o the Bob Jones Award, whaise previous winners included Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. When Fred won the award, and at ilkae faimily gaitherin his dochter Beverly McTurk could remember, the toast wis aye “lang may yer lum reik.”

“There’s aye a muckle slippery stane at ilka body’s door.” Naebody gaes through life withoot setbacks an dolour, sae be ready tae fecht against adversary when it comes yer wey.

“Aye, he’d drink it through a dirty cloot.” Said aboot a chiel wi an alcohol problem that bad, that he’d drink ony alcohol he could get a haud o “through a dirty cloot”.

“It’s nae loss whit a frien gets.” This is an expression o community and the ethos o sharin that puit doon ruits especially in aulder minin communities, whaur whiles ye had tae rely on friens tae get by.

“Fur coat an nae knickers.” There probably werenae eneuch weemen ettlin tae be posh in Gawston tae be descievit in this wey. Ye maistly heard it referrin tae weemen in the cities that were aspirin tae be middle cless but no quite haein the means. “She’s aw fur coats an nae knickers, that ane.”

“He (or she) wad cause bother in an empty hoose” wis a saw aboot fowk that were easily roozed.

“Dinnae spend it aw in the wan shop” wis aye yaised ironically. When a wean got a bawbee for runnin a message for an auld bodie, their mither wad say “dinnae spend it aw in the wan shop, hen.” It wis her wey o sayin the wean shuid hae gotten mair bawbees fae the auld bodie for the darg she’d duin.

“Monie a mickle maks a muckle.” George Washington referred tae it in 1793 as “a Scotch adage, than which nothing in nature is more true: ‘that many mickles make a muckle.’” Sae this is a gey weel-kent saw, but monie feel that it’s meanin haes gaen agley an squeejee ower the years, for baith mickle and muckle mean big or great in Scots. I’m shuir at ae time it wad hae been, “Monie a puckle maks a muckle.” In English, “many little things can add up and become a great amount.” It micht hae been “monie littles mak muckle” at ae time as weel.

“Oot amang the whaups.” (Out among the curlews). I love this ane as I can see ma faither sayin it clearly in ma mind’s ee an associate it wi his douce wey o bein. I had been makin a televeision series on the historie o the Scottish miners for the BBC, and I veisited Dad in Gawston efter filmin at a ruined Miner’s Raw cried Benwhat that wis up on a heich muirlan hill abuin Patna an Dalmellington. Faither had a guid frien doon that wey, Hughie Johnston – wha played in the brass baund in Dalmellington, an shared ma faither’s love o that kinna music – sae he kent the area weel. Sae when he heard whaur I’d been, he said: “By ye’ve been oot amang the whaups the day, son!” I hae a tear in ma ee jist thinkin aboot it.