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Caithness Field Club Bulletin
Miss H. Munro
This is not an authoritative article on Caithness dialect. The writer may be bilingual and speak it, but certainly would not claim to know all about it. However some of the phrases which are, or were, in use could be of Interest and, better still, could spark off some forgotten memory which could then add to those already known or used.
For example, "hoo are ye haddan' till'd 'e day" has nothing to do with tug of war. Literally it is, "how are you holding to it today", or "how's the world using you"'. "Hanteran" is a lovely word, so expressive as "ah'll be at yir han' in a hanteran", or "I'll be with you in a minute".
A cutty was a small round oatcake with a hole in the centre which small children used to take to school for their 'piece'. It is said of teenagers who try to be too grown up - "a cutty wi' a hol' in id wid be mair lek him". We are very good in Caithness at cutting folk down to size. Witness the classical "fa' diz he think he is; ah kent his father". That takes care of his airs and graces.
"Ah see ye've made 'e deid thraw". This was said to the writer only last year. It means that one has got through the dead part of the year, either the days between Christmas and New Year, or the couple of days or so after New Year, before work is resumed. As far as is known this is not used for ordinary dull days, but only those mentioned.
If a child is brought up to do something wrongly it is said "he's got a bad leir (or lair)". Strangely this is the latin word for 'furrow', and a bad leir is often used of a badly ploughed furrow. The writer asked an old lady last year if she knew the expression, and she at once said that her grandfather on the farm used to use it regularly when he was teaching his sons to plough.
Below are some phrases, with their translations. The reader may know many more. We should not let the dialect die. After all some of it is unique to this tiny corner of Scotland and everything today is so stereotyped and entirely without character, and that is one thing our dialect certainly has - character!
One can now see how very expressive the dialect is and how dull and ordinary the translations are. Anyway that is a taste to be going on with. It is now the reader's turn to collect more words - and to use them!