It's always the same. Having a nervous breakdown. Drive me insane. Hmm, interesting. But, pray, do not fash yourselves. The words aren't mine. They're from the Led Zeppelin song, Communication Breakdown. As such, they carry little academic authority. However, at the same time, they imply that a failure to communicate can have deleterious consequences, ken?
Anticipating such problems deep in the Scottish Congo of Cumbernauld, the American producers of a new TV show provided staff with a list of phrases to deploy when communicating with the locals.
They're filming sci-fi series Outlander in the earthy Lanarkshire town, where anyone caught short among the bonny concrete glens is advised to buttonhole a native with the words: "Whaur's the cludgie?"
Now, while we're all familiar with these terms ("whaur" = where; "cludgie" = lavatorial suite), they're far from being common parlance outwith comedy sketches.
It's a bit like arriving in London and proclaiming: "I s … s … say, old bean, where's the jolly old loo?" Individually, all the words make sense. Put them together and utter them in reality, and your interlocutor is likely to summon a constable. Or psychiatrist.
That many Americans think all English people speak like this is evident from their TV series, where such characters are also likely to have a suit of armour in the office and wear gaudy waistcoats with pocket watches (see otherwise sophisticated shows such as Mad Men and Buffy the Vampire Slayer).
Scottish people these days are generally depicted Stateside as incomprehensible comic characters, indicating that the show's producers may have based their research on Live From Holyrood.
Accordingly, other conversational gems in the Outlander list include "sen' furra polis" — a fair rendition of how a West of Scotland citizen might say "summon a constable" (see above) — and "lae me alane", indicating that the actor would be alone. The list was leaked by lead man Sam Heughan, from Dumfriesshire, who plays Highland warrior Jamie Fraser, presumably in a Scottish accent but deploying less arcane terminology.
At least he's spared the embarrassment of having to put on an English accent for UK-wide shows, as David Tennant did for Dr Who. However, gossip on the grapevine is that Peter Capaldi, the latest Scot to take over the Tardis — whaur's the cludgie on that, by the way? — will speak in unashamed Glaswegian. Mind you, it's also rumoured that the new Doctor will be "fiercer", so look out for a violent drunk headbutting the Daleks.
Who knows, though, maybe the Scots accent is becoming acceptable and soon won't need subtitles in the US (a process that works both ways; I needed them for watching The Wire and, for a while, Firefly - until I realised the bits I couldn't understand were Chinese).
The Disney-Pixar movie Brave bravely featured Scottish accents, to little international protest, and the forthcoming must-see American TV series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. also has a supporting character with a Scottish accent. True, trailers indicate this chiel is a dweebie comic turn, in what is now the traditional manner, but, hey, we'll take it. You have to factor in the possibility that the Scottish accent in all its variants is, objectively speaking, "funny" to other people.
Funny, in this instance, could just mean different from the dominant accent of the British Isles, as would be Geordie or Welsh, often similarly the stock of comic characters.
In the US, southern accents often get the same treatment. American comedian Jeff Foxworthy reckoned that, whenever folk heard his southern accent, "they always wanted to deduct 100 IQ points".
At the same time, no-one could deny that Scots has some great words — trauchle, bauchle, puggle, cloot, stravaig, stramash, crabbit, dunderheid and, yes, even cludgie (all of them being underlined in red by my spellchecker as I write).
And what of our nuances? Yes, madam, consider how we can take two positives to make a negative: "Aye, right."
Och, see, we don't need to take it all so seriously. Last night, as it happened, I watched Star Trek IV, one of the delights being engineer Scotty's Scottish accent.
Though heavily inflected with Irish and Tibetan, it is clearly an authentic Scottish voice. Yes, correct.
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