Being Outwith

Laura Cameron Lewis has penned a splendid article over at Bella CaledoniaOotland describes an incident during her dissertation tutorial:

The offending word was circled in red pen: ‘outwith’
The note in the margin read ‘Do you mean, WITHOUT?’

She defends her perfectly valid use of a perfectly valid word but is rebuffed.

‘Maybe it’s a Scottish word?’ He shrugged.
I wasn’t expecting that, and I was shocked at how much it stung.

It reminded me of my own experience back at the age of 17 when I was attending university interviews.  At Brunel the course leader was making small talk and introductions.  Turning to me he announced to the group, “Well, we all know where you’re from”.  I was stunned, I’d never encountered this before.  Did I have a big sign above my head saying “Northern Oik”?  Of course it was my accent which singled me out for his scorn.    He was shaming me for the way I sounded, for where I was from, and ultimately for who I was.  He succeed, for a moment I was ashamed.

Unlike Laura I did not argue my case. I took it meekly and seethed inside.  Needless to say I did not accept Brunel’s offer of a place to study Engineering.

Incidents like this have cropped up from time to time over the last 20-odd years and they still shock me.  I’m baffled by the hostility.  How poorly must these people have been raised to think it is acceptable to be so rude?  How limited must their world-view be?  When I hear a word or phrase I don’t recognise I want to know what it means, not bask in my own ignorance and patronise the speaker.

Seventeen year-old me was shamed by the put down but the novelty has long since worn off. “Do people struggle with your accent?”,  “No, do they struggle with yours?”, normally makes the point.

I relish using Northern dialect words in conversation and I delight in hearing accents and dialects from the tongues of others. Bairn, gadgie, spelk, mam, haddaway are my gifts to those of you hamstrung by Standard English and Received Pronunciation.  You’ll be richer for them.




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