This is the second excerpt from Robert Kemp’s 1950 series of radio broadcasts about the Scots language. At a school, our scholar of Scots – Jean – converses with a retired dominie or schoolmaster.
She hears the original version of Wee Willie Winkie – the dominie scorns the watered- down version rendered into English in the nursery rhyme books as “Are all the children in their bed? For its past eight o clock.
Wee Willie Winkie was a poem by working-class poet William Miller who died in poverty in 1820.
”The original he recites:
Wee Willie Winkie
Rins through the toun
Up the stair and doon the stair,
In his nicht goun,
Tirlin at the window
Crying at the lock,
‘Are the weans in their bed,
For it’s noo ten o clock.
And reveals a second verse:
Hey, Willie Winkie
Are you comin ben?
The cat’s singin grey thrums
To the sleepin hen,
The dog’s speldered on the floor,
And disna gie a cheep,
But here’s the waukrife laddie
That winna faa asleep.
“Wee Willie Winkie is…the eternal sandman, Morpheus himself hoveran abune the tiled ruifs and craw-stepped gables o an auld Scots burgh…Thrums – the ends of a weaver’s yarn – I think it means the cat was purring.”
And a third verse
Onything but sleep, ye rogue
Glowein like the mune,
Rattlin in an airn jug
Wi an airn spoon –
Rumblan, tumblin roonaboot
Crawan like a cock,
Skirlan like a kennawhat
Waukenan sleepan fouk
“A kennawhat – je ne sais quoi – I know not what’
And the final verse:
Hey Willie Winkie
The wean’s in a creel
Wamblin aff a body’s knee
Like a very eel,
Ruggin at the cat’s lug
Ravellin aa her thrums,
Hey Willie Winkie!…
See, here he comes!
“And the wean’s asleep. Wamblin off a body’s knee – fidgeting on a lap, ‘Ruggin at the cat’s lug – pullin at the cat’s ear” – rug is to pull, as rax is to reach.’
The wean was ‘in a creel’ – a creel can be a basket but the expression ‘in a creel’ can also mean in a state of confusion, or even out of your senses.
In the script, the dominie also denounces the growing habit of Scots weans celebrating Guy Fawkes night on November 5.
“Guy Fawkes tried to blaw up the House O Commons mair that a hunder years afore the Union o the Parliaments. I whiles think they wad shaw mair sense a history if they crouned hm wi roses!
“‘’’It’s a changed. We kent our history frae the stories o Wallace and Bruce and the Covenant. We didna tak it frae the papers and the cinema. And when we thocht lang, we didna run down to the paper shoppie for a comic, we got some o the aulder bodies to sing us a sang.”
Some other vocabulary covered in this episode:
Sclate and skally – slate and pencil.
A lad o pairts – talented boy
The tawse – a pandy wi the tag, or a ‘caker’ – a slap on the hand with the leather strap.
Deave – to bother
Buik-lear – book learning
The schule skailed – the children spilled out of it.
Bejant or bajan – a first year at Aberdeen or St Andrews – “he’s an interesting chap the bajan, for he reminds us that our auld Scottish universities owe naething to Oxford and Cambridge, but aathing to Paris and Bologna – the twa great mediaeval universities. And when St Andrews, Glasgow and Aberdeen were founded in the fifteenth century by papal bull, it was laid down that it was to be “as at Paris and Bologna”. Of course, that was whaur maist o the Scottish scholars had their lear”.,, They say a bejant’s really the French bec jaune – yellow beak – and that means a young bird.”
“When you nickel a bool, ye gar it skite wi the knuckle o your thoom. Ye maun nickel when ye aim at the kypie. But I shold na say aim. In the game o bools , ye maun aye speak o dabbin at anither bool.”
Bools – taws and jauries and glessers.
Top – a peerie
Peever – the wee round thing ye kick when playing hoppin-beddies or hopscotch.
Tig – takkie owre the tailor’s grun – alevoy or relevoy – that’s a kind of prisoner’s base, like barley door.
Barley – is like parley – “ he’s no the man to cry barley in a fecht’
Chaps me – chaps me the last cookie.