Belfast Telegraph

Why this cutty was shocked by hamely tongue

By Clare Harrison

In my younger days, my friends and I had a colourful dictionary to describe various stages of each other's drunken antics. We were sometimes hammered, plastered or pole-axed. There were nights someone was tipsy, air locked, wrote off, wasted, trollied, steaming, stocious or paralytic.

But there was one word that was only wheeled out when someone really went to town. That word was blootered and could only to be used on genuine merit and if pronounced with great exaggeration. If you were truly blootered, well you'd really pay for it the next day.

I recently found myself listening to A Kist o Wurds for the first time, a radio programme dedicated to Ulster Scots.

Now, I confess there was a time I wrongly thought Ulster Scots was just country folk from Antrim putting on a funny accent.

And as a Catholic who grew up in south Derry, it's not a background I thought I was linked to.

But the programme really caught my attention with a discussion of the origin of a good auld Ulster Scots word – blootered. I hadn't used the word in years (having reached an age at which I condemn all binge drinking) so it brought back all sorts of nostalgia.

But I was most riveted by the fact that I hadn't known it was Ulster Scots yet it was once part of my everyday vocabulary. Then I got another jolt with a discussion about the origins of to 'red out' (clear out) a phrase I still use regularly despite years of living in Belfast diluting some favourite culchie colloquialisms.

Because that's what I thought they were, country sayings particular to my south Derry roots, or perhaps derivatives from Irish (like the word culchie).

I knew they weren't in the Oxford English Dictionary, but it had never occurred to me some might be rooted in the hamely tongue.

So have I been an Ulster Scot my entire life and just not known it? I decided to have a footer on the internet to find out.

I managed to hoke out an Ulster Scots dictionary and I was fascinated to find so many words ringing familiar.

Words like eejit, blether, dander, cutty (girl) and thran (hard to please) are all well-used by me. Another word reminded me of the time Liam Neeson was interviewed by an American presenter about how many Oscars a film he was starring in might win.

"Ach, a wheen," he replied with a smile knowing she hadn't the gumption to know the movie was going to do well.

Other words and phrases I have used are 'aw naw' and 'ach aye', sleekit (not to be trusted), footer, hoke and, the Stephen Nolan favourite, boke.

The Department of Culture – which has responsibility for enhancing both Irish and Ulster Scots – this month published statistics on how many adults here engage with either culture. On Irish, it found that 40% of Catholics do compared to 10% of Protestants.

On Ulster Scots, it was 22% of Protestants compared to just 4% of Catholics. It struck me as so very Northern Ireland that the stats had to be broken down by religion.

It was also sad that they showed one religion generally leaning towards one culture, and vice versa. It got me wondering how many others are there whose everyday words have been influenced strongly by both cultures but just didn't know it?

Many of us grew up with English as our mother tongue but there's no doubt that in Northern Ireland we have our own version of the language, enhanced by our accents and words full of character that you won't hear elsewhere.

Our language has been forged over countless years to develop a rich vocabulary – influenced by Irish, Ulster Scots and many others – that we share regardless of where we go to church. Our catchy sayings and quirky wee words are unique to the rich tapestry of what it means to be from Northern Ireland. I think it's wheeker.

'I THOUGHT ULSTER SCOTS WAS JUST ANTRIM FOLK PUTTING ON AN ACCENT'

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