23 Jul

To a Bucket A very special bucket!

Wee roosty, battered bucket seat, 
Sma' wonder that ye're far frae neat.
Ye've sat around in cault, in heat, 
An' stuck it.
Bilstered wi' sun, or soakin weet. 
Ye poor wee bucket!
But frae ye, Wullie widna part,
Ye've been his chum right frae the start,
Wi' a special corner in his heart, 
Ye ken fu' well.
He likes ye mucky, messed – no' smart! 
Just like himsel'!

This is a poem by the character Oor Wullie who features in a comic called Oor Wullie (go figure). Wullie owns said poetry bucket and every strip (as far as I know) begins and ends in a single panel with him he sitting on it. ‘To a Bucket’ is written in the Scottish vernacular (you probably noticed) and so is the comic. And so is Oor Wullie’s companion comic The Broons. 

The Broons and Oor Wullie were created in 1937 by R. D. Low and Dudley D. Watkins and both strips are still trucking along. Dudley Watkins drew them until he died in 1969 and subsequent artists have been faithful to his comics-stylings. They’re in The Sunday Post (obviously the Scottish version duh) and are collected into annuals. In Scotland The Broons and Oor Wullie are supreme ruler national icons.

Both comics are my usual thing – short, funny, scatterlogical, cartoony and character-driven but in none of my other go-to strips do the characters speak in a broad Scottish Lowlands dialect. This part is intense and truly breath-taking. 

Some of my favourite nouns and adjectives from Oor Wullie and The Broons are:

  • Keek (glance)
  • Oxters (armpits)
  • Pawkies (mittens)
  • Sair (distress)
  • Drookit (drenched)
  • Fantoosh (flashy)

Then there are all the prepositions and conjunctions:

tae, ye, an’, o’, whit, a’, ma, oot, aye, no’, hae, ye, jist, dinnae, ken, wis, aff, aboo

And some spectacular names: 

  • Wee Eck
  • Soapy Joe
  • Fat Boab
  • The Bairn

I mostly understand it all, perhaps it’s a cellular memory - my Gran spoke with a distinctive brogue despite living in Panmure for 40 years - or perhaps I’ve just read the comics enough to have figured it out. Many people outside of Scotland do find it incomprehensible. But no one associated with making The Broons or Oor Wullie cares about this one bit. 

According to the (reputable) stuff I’ve read, the use of the dialect reflected the publisher D. C. Thomson’s ‘realist’ editorial policy and focus on authenticity. It was intended to attract a large Scottish urban audience (at the time the ‘international market’ was irrelevant)* and in this was really successful. Both strips were massive hits and at their peak had an estimated readership of three million (79% of the adult population of Scotland!) 

One of the most interesting aspects of Oor Wullie and The Broons is that for most Scots they were/are the only mainstream, regularly available written representation of their spoken language. In being this they have an increased relevance within the current Scottish language revival (it’s the usual story where generations were discouraged from using their native tongue because colonialism…grr…) The National Library of Scotland is even using Oor Wullie as a means to introduce and engage children in the richness of the lexicon. It has a website that’s a "a guid fun wey tae lairn oor language".

I am going to end by saying that an Oor Wullie and The Broons annual is responsible for the best free gift a comic has ever given me (even beating out the stickers that came with an issue of Meatcake). These are a Broons songbook and a comb on which to play the songs. So good.

This is a nice wee documentary about The Broons turning 70

And this is about Oor Wullie turning 80

P.S. Spell-checking this post was a nightmare. Microsoft Word does not have a Lowland Scottish option.

*Not so for The Proclaimers who were told they’d never be successful in America if they kept singing in their Scottish accents. About this they made the awesome song ‘Throw the R Away’.  My favourite line - “Perhaps for some money, I could talk like a bee dripping honey”.

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