IN our Sunday edition last week, we ran a column by Rab McNeil headlined: “How did Scotland adopt a white horse with a big stick coming oot its heid as a national system?” It got us thinking about our use of Scots in The Herald.

Senior Assistant Editor Garry Scott, who wrote the headline, says: “I thought it was appropriate to use Scots in this headline as Rab uses Scots terms in his copy. It was also a lighter piece. Would I have headlined a piece by, say, Iain Macwhirter or Alison Rowat, using a Scots term? Perhaps not.
“But it’s an interesting area – why are some Scots terms more respectable than others? We would have no problem using carnaptious or dreich or indeed daft but would be unlikely to use a more modern term such as bawheid.”
Therein lies the crux. To some, using Scots words is akin to using slang. To others it means much more.
Here’s Pauline Cairns Speitel of Dictionaries of the Scots Language: “Down through the centuries the Scots language has had many labels. Most recently, it has unfortunately been labelled as slang, whereas in former times it was the language of the King’s court and the language of officialdom at all levels.
“After the Union of Parliaments Scots became the language of the people and was no longer written down in official circles. However, Scots was still maintained – as it is today – in specific formal areas, namely Scots law, education and, of course, the Kirk.
“Unfortunately, in the dark days of the past, educators did try to eradicate Scots from the speech of our children – many people still alive today will remember getting a taste of the tawse for speaking Scots in the classroom.
“Scots has survived mainly because English simply does not have an equivalent word for many Scots terms – try translating ‘dreich’ – there is just not a word that covers it in English.
“Scots is very definitely a language – and is recognised as such by Unesco – it is not slang nor just a quaint set of words or sayings quoted by one’s granny.”
At The Herald, we prize our Scots identity highly. We are the go-to quality broadsheet for Scotland. But our prime remit is to communicate, so we do ourselves an injustice if we use language some of our readership just don’t get.
Certainly, our Letters Pages are liberally sprinkled with words like bourach and scunnered, so we can be sure they’re terms readers are comfortable with. But look at our Scots Word of the Week column today. How would it be if our weather forecast warned of nip-nebs? The piece, then, would be failing in its purpose.
There’s a line to be drawn. Let us know where you think that should be at