Search topics on this blog

Monday, 24 October 2011

Translating Union-speak–a Unionish phrase book

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 -


UNIONISH                     ENGLISH

separation                        independence

Scotland Act                     shambles

triumphalist                      confident, articulate

enemy                                 SNP

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


  1. Brilliant, and true. The Brit nats with their bluster will find that this time their words don't hold the attention.

    Salmond speaks the people's voice, sometimes deliberately but that's his job.

    The British nationalists speak a foreign tongue.

  2. Thank you, kind sir... the veil is lifted from my eyes... lol!

  3. Hi Peter,

    Laughed out loud. Trust you to come up with a respectable term "Unionish" for what I had always considered was just "Rubbish".


  4. Superb.

    Some suggestions

    Tartan Tories SNP (for left wingers).

    Albanianesque Socialists SNP (for right wingers)

    Paranoid No refutation for argument.

    Union Dividend Mind your manners while you pay.

  5. An excellent list. Here's a few more.

    Internationalist - British nationalist
    British History - The Magna Carta, Agincourt, Henry the VIII and Drake
    British Culture - English Culture
    British Law - English Law
    Island Nation - English Nation
    Celtic Fringe - Not English
    Punching above our weight - No representation
    Scottish Labour Party - Labour Party
    Scottish Conservative Party - Conservative Party
    Scottish Lib-Dems - Lib-Dems
    Respect Agenda - Do as you're told
    Nationalism in Schools - Scottish History
    Scottish History - Benighted until 1707
    William Wallace - Rebel against his rightful King
    Robert the Bruce - Successful secessionist
    Braveheart - False historical film that caused the SNP

  6. A superb addition to my little glossary, DougtheDug - clearly you are well on your way to fluency in this fascinating new language.

    But be careful you don't forget the mither tongue - this kind of thing has an insidious quality to it ...

  7. Readers might like to know that what you are defining is the outline of two mindsets. From two paradigms, Unionist and Independent Scot.

    In brief, a rough working definition of a paradigm is: "an all encompassing view of reality, based on one or more core assumptions" The paradigm view sees and interprets all information and new knowledge in terms of its own reality - until such time as the central assumption collapses. Eg. USSR central assumption: "We the state, control you the people". Yeltsin and people: "We the people, control you the state" Collapse of USSR. Warning. A new paradigm may persist, or erode back into the old paradigm.

    I suggest that the central assumption of the Independent Scot paradigm is: The Scottish people are sovereign"

  8. Ah, paradigms!

    They talk of little else in Glasgow East, Maryhill and West Pilton, m'lud

    The word takes me back to my management consultant days ...

    Thanks for posting, RolftheGanger

  9. Here's a deal.
    If you collect approximately 150 paired Unionish opposites, I will have them classified and make the two mindsets clearly visible in ways that will help the independence cause. Including the missing bits of the hidden assumptions that will otherwise represent problems or opportunities.