Haggis

If you mention to anyone, at all, that you’re going to visit Scotland, you’re bound to be warned about Scotland’s national dish; haggis. Haggis is, according to the AHD “A Scottish dish consisting of a mixture of the minced heart, lungs, and liver of a sheep or calf mixed with suet, onions, oatmeal, and seasonings and boiled in the stomach of the slaughtered animal.” The closest thing I can compare with haggis to in terms of standard American dishes is stuffing, made with giblets.

People tend to think of haggis around the 25th of January, the date reserved to celebrate the birth of Scottish poet Robert Burns. All over the world Scots are celebrating Burns Night with a meal that includes toasts to Burns, his poetry, a ceremonial presentation of the haggis, and naturally, a reading of Burns’ poem “Address to a Haggis.”

Haggis was not always thought of as a Scottish dish; indeed it was quite popular in the Middle Ages as this English haggis recipe from c. 1430 implies.

Etymologically, the ancestry of haggis is French; The Random House Dictionary, unlike the OED or AHD, properly attributes English haggis to Anglo-Norman French, via late Middle English (c. 1375–1425) hageys, from Anglo-Norman French *hageis, the equivalent of the verb hag-, the root of haguer, to chop, hash. They then follow haguer back to Middle Dutch hacken “to hack,” with the addition of the -eis noun suffix frequently used for cookery terms. Language blogger Language Hat beat Random House to the chase to point out in this entry that there are several clear cognates in Anglo-Norman French.

Should you be so inclined, you can make your own haggis following Alton Brown’s recipe. Haggis is often served with neeps and tatties, or turnips and potatoes, as in the image above. Alternatively, the less intrepid can order their haggis in a can here.

Scots wha’ Hae

Dave Winer points to a BBC story: “A new dictionary is being compiled which will put tens of thousands of Scots words dating back as far as 800 years on the Internet.” Sponsored by the University of Dundee, the project will created a web site for the online dictionary that will contain illustrative quotations for each word, necessitating at text archive. The acronym for the text archive (all such dictionaries must have acronyms!) will be (SCOTS)—the Scottish Corpus of Texts and Speech.

The resulting dictionary is a Scots version of things like the Oxford English Dictionary, the OED, or Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru, GPC, the Dictionary of the Welsh Language. These dictionaries trace words as they are used through time, with illustrative extracts showing the word as is was really used at various dates.

Scots, by the way, is a separate language, or at least a dialect. It is not English. It is sometimes called Lallans, or Traditional Scots, often called Braid Scots, the Doric, the Buchan Claik or the Moray Claik. It is not Scottish Standard English. Scots is sometimes referred to as a dialect of English, with ancestry in Old English, but given that there are distinct dialects within it, and distinct differences in syntax and vocabulary, I tend to think it’s closer to being a language than a dialect. It dates back to the middles ages as well, with poets like Robert Henryson, William Dunbar, and other so-called “Scottish Chaucerians“.