Orkney, Orkney, Orkney. Try saying it with a “Swedish chef from the Muppets” accent. Fun, isn’t it?
Feel free to keep doing that while I talk to the people on these islands off the northeast coast of Scotland.
People of Orkney! Your islands are rich in interest and you Orcadians are lovely and cuddly and law-abiding. But why, in the name of all that is plainspoken, can’t you call a spade a spade?
Your farmers grow barley, which you call bere; potatoes, which you call tatties; and turnips, which you call neeps. Fair enough; you grow the stuff, you can call it whatever you want. But what about the names you call each other?
An auk by any other name would still be awkward
I’m referring to the nicknames your ancestors gave each other, based on island (or town or parish) of residence: nicknames that, in a cunning twist, are in themselves nicknames. So, for example, your ancestors didn’t just call the people of Eday “cormorants.” They created a nickname for “cormorants” and called the people of Eday “scarfs.” They even had a nickname for the nicknames: “teu-neems.”
In olden times, your pubs must have rung with cries of, “Hello, you old spicko!” and “Don’t look now, here comes a fleuk,” not to mention, “Is he an assie-pattie?” “No, he’s a gruelly-belkie.”
Here are some questions I’m burstin-lump to ask you.
Did your ancestors have a lot of time on their hands?
What were they drinking?
Would Kirn Lickers be a good name for a rock band?
How did they do it? Did everyone except the inhabitants of South Ronaldsay get together and decide to call them “skooties”? Were focus groups involved? Were the animals themselves consulted?
The “auks” of Westray, the “mares” of Rousay, the “sheep thieves” of Rendall: so straightforward! Were they named by someone not from Orkney?
Did fights ever break out over teu-neems? I don’t know about the folk of Burray, but I wouldn’t take lightly to being called an oily-bogie.
Is this for real, or is it something you made up to fool the tourists? For whom, of course, you also have a nickname: we’re “ferry-loupers.”
Answers, in plain English please, to this space. And while you’re at it: what do you call spades?
Hello, is that the time?
Sorry, dear readers – yes, you can stop saying “Orkney Orkney Orkney” now. I meant to tell you about the standing stones of Brodgar, the Neolithic village at Skara Brae, and the mysterious tomb called Maes Howe, which has Viking graffiti along the lines of “Leif had Sven’s wife, ha ha” and “Bjorn has a tiny penis.”’ Next blog post.
More daft and delightfully dissy teu-neems here.
Walls: lyars (shearwater birds)
Holm: hobblers (origin obscure; see link)
North Faray: spickos (big limpets)
Flotta: fleuks (flounders)
Sandwick: assie-patties (cakes baked in ashes)
Sanday: gruelly-belkies (porridge bellies)
Egilsay: burstin-lumps (dough balls)
Stenness: kirn lickers (people who lick out the butter kirn)
South Ronaldsay: skooties (Arctic skuas)
Burray: oily bogies (bags made from sheeps’ stomachs)
Many thanks to the Orkneyjar website, where much Orcadian goodness can be found.