Dr. Samuel Johnson, who was no fan of the Scots but who would be largely forgotten today if it hadn’t been for Boswell, his Scottish biographer, was born a couple of years after the Union. He compiled a dictionary of the English language. I wonder what he would have made of the OED, Google and online translation facilities.
But over the last few years, another language has sprung up in these islands, one that is likely to grow rapidly in the next few years, reaching its peak around 2014-2015, then dying, unmourned, its arcane cadences lost to all but academics and historians. The language is a variant of English, with occasional rather self-conscious borrowings from Scots.
Some argue that it is merely a dialect of English, or even a patois - a pidgin or a creole. It is to be found in Scotland mainly in the Letters columns of The Scotsman and The Herald, where it is written in its purest form, and in its spoken form, in the mouths of Unionist politicians. In its extreme gutter form, it can be heard on morning phone-ins to Radio Scotland, but often enunciated in the plummiest of Establishment tones.
This new, and very temporary language phenomenon is called Unionish.
A significant number of people have attained fluency, but for many, it is baffling, especially to those who expect it convey ideas and meaning. However, it can be deciphered without the aid of a Rosetta Stone, and since I have attained a modest understanding of it from close study of its most prolific users, I thought it might be useful to offer a kind of phrase book and translation of its most frequently used words. This, I feel, is especially necessary because the Unionish language uses identical words to standard English, but with different meanings. (There must be a Gaelic version of it, but I regret that I have no Gaelic, and even the thought of that magnificent ancient language being corrupted by Unionish revolts me.) Here are a few examples – I will offer more as I come to grips with this new tongue -
THE UNIONISH WORD AND PHRASE BOOK
Scotland Act shambles
triumphalist confident, articulate
pernicious creed Scottish nationalism
patriotism British nationalism
historical myth nationalist belief
historical fact unionist belief
democratic mandate unionist party won
no mandate nationalist party won
North Sea oil Westminster slush fund
oil is running out oil for another 40 years
loyalty fear of the powerful
essential services House of Lords
history British Empire history
the old and sick profit potential
patriotism dying for the UK
public services waste of money
I‘m Scots/British I don’t know what I am