Tag Archives: crime fiction

Translating From the Scottish

(A subcategory of Reading With Fakename.)

I’ve recently finished all five novels by a Scottish crime writer named Craig Robertson, who is from Glasgow. Just to start with, that makes him a Glaswegian. What??? Shouldn’t that be Glasgowan?

There’s a saying, attributed to various Brits, that the British and the Americans are two peoples divided by a common language. The closest actual quote is from Oscar Wilde, who said, “We have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, language”.

Reading British writers, you get used to certain common terms, such as the fact that the trunk of a car is called a boot and the hood is called a bonnet. A multi-level parking structure is called a car park, not a garage. A garage is a place you go to get your car repaired. And so on.

Reading something by a Scottish writer adds a whole other level of separation. I’ve read all five of these books on Kindle. One of the things I like best about Kindle is that you can highlight passages you want to return to. And it has a built-in dictionary, so if you highlight only one word, it will bring up the definition. I absolutely adore this feature. While reading a book, you don’t have stop and interrupt your train of thought by going to the dictionary or online to look up an unfamiliar word; it’s right there at your fingertips. You don’t have to write it down to look up later, by which time you will have forgotten the context it was used in.

Except. The built-in dictionary is the Oxford American Dictionary. I’m sure you can see the problem here. If the dictionary doesn’t know the word, it pops up with a message, “No definition found”. I see that a lot. So I’m going to give you just a few “No definition found” words from Robertson’s 4th novel and let you try your hand at them. In the next paragraph, I’ll tell you the definition (because you can find the definitions online).

Gallus. (He uses this one a lot.)
Carnaptious.
Lairy.
Blootered.

There are other turns of phrase, such as this one: “Where were you, Stevo?” Answer: “I don’t know. I was drunk. I was out my face.” In another case, detectives wanted to know the answer to something, not from the outset or the get-go, but from the off.

And now our definitions:
Gallus. Gallus is a term for a rooster. In Scottish usage, it means daring, confident, cheeky…in other words, cocksure.
Carnaptious. Bad-tempered, quarrelsome, snappy. This one I could have guessed from its similarity to “fractious”.
Lairy. Behaving in a loud, excited manner.
Blootered. This is probably the easiest one to guess. It means very drunk. Obviously related to the American “blotto”.

Thanks to Craig Robertson for this trip down Vocabulary Lane. As for a quick review, his first book (“Random”) is excellent, as is his last book (“The Last Refuge”). The ones in between are decent. The first four books take place in Glasgow; “The Last Refuge” takes place in the Faroe Islands, making it a fascinating virtual journey into a part of the world few people venture into (or want to). Speaking of definitions, it’s pretty much the definition of “desolate”.