I love the Scottish language because it’s almost English. I can understand just enough to get the gist of what’s being said. This is also, by the way, how I’ve lived my life in French Quebec for the last 26 years.
This past Monday was Robbie Burns Day, which is a celebration of the great Scottish poet and pretending to know what he’s on about. But again there’s enough English mixed in with the obviously made up words to allow you to give it a go. One of Burns’ most famous poems, for example, is “Address to a Haggis,” which begins as follows:
Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin’-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.
You don’t have to overstrain your sporran to figure it out. As one might do with a haggis, let’s take a stab at it:
You’re surprisingly not appalling,
You sausage king, you!
Truly, even better than
This gross stuff, that other gross stuff, and who knows what that stuff is.
This grace is so long that by the end
We’ll be just famished enough to eat the bloody thing.
Coincidentally, on Monday, my Grade 9 daughter had an assignment due in which she had to describe the meaning behind her family’s crest. Family? We don’t have a family. We’re Scottish. We have a clan! What’s a clan? It’s like a family but with more violence.
It’s believed the Murrays were originally Flemish, which explains all the linguistic throat-clearing. In this case, a knight named Freskin came to Scotland in the 12th century as part of the Norman Conquest to keep the local savages under control, including the ancient Pictish house of Moray. To help speed along the peace process, Freskin wed into the Moray family, because if you can’t beat ’em, marry ’em.
Learning about this helps me understand both my attitude towards romance and why I’m so good at Pict-tionary. (I said “PICT-tionary”…)
“Moray” eventually became “Murray,” and the rest, as they say, is kilt-raisin’. But before I leave the family history, I’d like to point out that in the late 1600s there was one Lord Mungo Murray. While it’s too late for my own children, I’d just like to say, “Come on, grandbaby Mungo!”
It’s also important to point out that my clan is specifically Murray of Atholl. Did I just say, “Atholl”? Yeth, I did.
Which brings us back to the crest. The Murray of Atholl crest depicts a brawny, shirtless wild man wearing laurels on his head. I feel I’ve let the clan down in the brawny and shirtless department but do know a thing or two about laurels, having rested on mine for so many years. In one hand, the wild man holds a knife (the importance of strength), in the other a key (the importance of hotel rooms).
Emblazoned on the crest is the clan motto, “Furth Fortune and Fill the Fetters,” which is really fun to say. If you say it in the voice of Sylvester the Cat, it’s even more fun.
Again, you can sense what the motto means, especially if you know that “fetters” are “shackles” and not, as I suspected, “coffee filters,” although never underestimate the importance of filling the coffee filter before you go to bed.
Essentially, the motto is a rallying cry: “Go forth, good fortune attend you, and may you fill the fetters with captives.”
It’s a fine motto, though there’s not much call these days for fetter-filling, captive-wise. Modern Murrays tend to fight their blood feuds with strongly worded letters to the editor. In conflict, we disarm with a song and a joke. This is true; during World War I, my grandfather Harry Murray enlisted with the Nova Scotia Highlanders, serving at home and overseas playing drums in the battalion’s regimental band. It worked, because he survived and here I am.
There’s more of us, too, and still more on the way; my nephew and his wife are expecting next month, my parents’ first great-grandchild, as good a time as any to revise the family motto. And so, my wish to this impending Murray: “Furth Fortune and Fill the Diapers, little Mungo.”