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Putting the accent on Scots

YOU may read in today's paper the story about Billy McCulloch, Chelsea FC's Springburn-born masseur, whose team talk did much to inspire the players to their win over Manchester City on Monday night.

To quote Chelsea's boss, Jose Mourinho: "[Billy] was screaming so much in Scottish - grrr, grrr, grrr - that I didn't understand him … But the players were clapping. It was Billy's team talk and he was fantastic. I didn't understand but it looks like the players understood."

You'd think from this that Billy's Scottish accent is magnificently dense and impenetrable, full of growled idioms and burly vowel sounds. Far from it: look Billy up online and you'll see him clowning around in videos in which his accent reflects his upbringing in the south-east of England.

Maybe it's a sports thing, this view of the Scottish accent. One of my favourite short stories by John Updike is Farrell's Caddie, in which a wealthy American is accompanied round Scotland's "Royal Caledonian Links" (the location isn't specified but there is a reference to wine-red commuter trains gliding up to Glasgow) by his "darkly muttering" caddie, a "prematurely wizened Pict" named Sandy.

Sandy turns out not just to be supernaturally omniscient but also to have a distinctive way of speaking, full of "those hiccups or glottal stops the Scots accent inserts". (There's also a line about the "clicks and clips of windblown Scots".)

"Ye want now tae geh oover th' second boosh fra' th' laift," runs a typical, semi-intelligible, piece of advice from the caddie.

In real life, The Herald's chief sportswriter, Hugh MacDonald, once attended a press conference at the US Open with the Swiss-born tennis star, Stanislas Wawrinka.

Wawrinka is multilingual. He has Polish ancestors. His mother is Swiss, his father German. His grandparents were Czech. His first language is French. Thus he was able to field, with consummate ease, the journalists' questions. French, German, Polish, English, even: no problem.

Then up stood Hugh - a man, it must be said, with the gentlest of Scottish accents. He put his question. Wawrinka looked confused. Hugh tried again. I'm sorry, came the answer. I don't understand.

Cue lots of laughter, in a riot of different tongues.

It makes you wonder how Wawrinka would possibly have fared in conversation with Updike's Sandy.

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