THE other day I was called a Nazi on Twitter. Hey, that is hardly newsworthy. To be honest, it is a rare week – day, really – that passes without being slagged like this. And much worse.

For we “journalists” – and, yes, the name of our trade routinely comes in speech marks – internet abuse is the soundtrack of our lives. It’s like low-volume elevator muzak. After a while you just don’t hear it anymore.

But sometimes it is worth tuning in, paying heed to the tunes being sung. There are insights to be had by understanding what triggers slurs and threats on the internet. And this is certainly true of toxic, visceral and, I fear, growing campaign of hate being waged against Britain’s second most spoken indigenous language on social media.

So why was I called a Nazi? Because I asked an anonymous hyper-partisan account to explain why he thought international linguists were wrong to recognise Scots as a language. What was it that he knew that Unesco, or the Council of Europe or all the various scholarly linguistic observatories, the world’s cataloguers of human speech, did not?

His response? That I was an ethno-nationalist who looked like Heinrich Himmler. Don't get me wrong: I am not remotely complaining about the abuse. After all, I have been bating bears. So it is not surprising they snarl back.

And, frankly, my questions were unfair: very online, scarily radicalised British nationalists are not the obvious place to go for arguments capable of turning linguistic science on its head.

Scots, for the avoidance of doubt, is an established and recognised distinct language variety. Its sounds have been recorded and catalogued by phonologists, its corpus of literature pored over by old-school philologists and lexicographers, its dialects and sociolects dissected by linguists.

Scholars, as I think most readers will know, sometimes represent the Indo-European family of languages as a tree. They place Scots, English and Frisian too as twigs on the west German branch.

How did this happen? History. Over a millennium, the tongues of the Anglo-Saxons diverged. Scots and English became different, but also similar, and continued, let us not forget, to co-exist, rubbing off on each other.

There is nothing unusual about this. Clamber from limb to limb on the language tree and you will find a good few boughs – take the Scandinavian one as a good example – where similar, even mutually intelligible varieties blossom. Language science is real.

So the angry men and women of, for want of a better term, Union Jack Twitter might as well be yelling into the ether that hydrogen is not an element or that whales are really fish. Reality, and scholarship, is not on their side. Anger, however, is.

I am afraid I have been conducting a little Twitter experiment, not an entirely scientific one, trying to get behind why so many very online pro-UK accounts become quite so animated by the existence – or perhaps status – of Scots. Of why they feel the need to demean the language and its speakers, many of whom, it has to be said, share their support of the Union.

It has been – goodness – seven years since I first wrote, on these very pages, about online Scots-denialism. (Back then never occurred to me it could get as bad, or as seemingly mainstreamed, as it has).

My unoriginal starting theory was that those who want to erase Scots – to deny its existence or status – were part of a new and more chauvinistic strain of British nationalism. Why? Minority languages – Scots, Gaelic, Welsh and others too – represented a threat to a vision of mono-cultural, mono-lingual British nation state. I still think this. But there is more to the sheer volume and ferocity of the rage. Much more.

First, in the heads of the Twitter warriors Scots has become a crude proxy for the SNP. It is true that some of the biggest champions of the language are independence supporters. Some are not. There should be no surprise there: our country is split on the issue.

Ironically, the main party of independence has shown scant interest in the language in 15 years in government. It is only now looking at reviewing the policies on Scots – and Gaelic – it inherited from its unionist predecessors. Even more ironically, some the densest concentrations of broad Scots speakers are in unionist heartlands.

But there is more still to explain the hate campaign: those behind it know it hurts, personally, deeply, viscerally. Scots deniers may *say* they think the language is not real; but they have intuited – if not understood – that it is very real for those who cherish it. And so attacking the language will get a rise out of people. Me, I suspect, included.

I would like to tell you that I am interested in the politics of Scots because I am a journeyman journalist and translator who likes to learn about words and sounds, the tools of my trades. There is truth in that, I guess. But not the whole truth.

As I have tried to understand the bigots, their motivations and tactics, I have also had to admit some things to myself. What they say stings me.

Scots vexes the deniers. It soothes me. Even a simple word – say, ‘thoo', the informal ‘you' of Orcadian – throws me back half a century in to my childhood, just like the smell of peat burning in a stove, or a bite of bere bannock or rock bun.

Being called ‘thoo’ is to told you are loved; even without being told you are loved. It is a pronoun which hugs. This will be true for many of us, that Scots was the language of home, the voice of our families, communities, not a political project.

And that is why the denialism stings; because it erases our loved ones and our collective stories. The haters sense this. They see the pain their linguistic lies cause. And double down.

Read more by David Leask:

Is Scotland ready for truth and reconciliation on empire and slavery?

Scotland’s Labour leaders shunned independence – but could Welsh Labour jump ship?