The Gentleman's Magazine/Volume 6 New Series/December 1836/Letter in the Dialect of the Shetland Islands

The Gentleman's Magazine by Archibald Barclay, translated by J. H.
Letter in the Dialect of the Shetland Islands.

Letter published in the December 1836 edition of The Gentleman's Magazine. It is the earliest known published example of Shetland dialect, having been written in 1817.

Mr. Urban,Hartburn, Morpeth, Oct. 17.

AS you have not unfrequently admitted into your Miscellany curious pieces of composition in the dialects of our country, I have procured from the Shetland Islands a specimen of the language still spoken among the common people there, with the hope of seeing it perpetuated in your pages. I had endeavoured to procure in manuscript or print some glossary or list of words peculiar to that group of Islands; but, instead of such a work, received the following facetious letter, which was many years since sent by a gentleman of Shetland to his friend in Liverpool; several copies of it have been circulated in manuscript, but I am assured that it has never appeared in print. The narrative, it is plain, has been contrived to embody in it as many words and phrases peculiar to the vulgar language of the district as its compass would admit of. Though the translation with which I have accompanied it, has undergone the revisal both of scholars and a native of the country, it is still, I fear, not free from errors; for this is the only specimen of the Zetlandic tongue that I have seen; and my knowledge of the Anglo and Scoto-Northumbrian dialects does not furnish me with a key to some of its terms and phrases. I have, however, endeavoured to render it as easy and literal as I can. The words of the original should, I am told, be pronounced exactly as they are spelled. J. H.

Twartree deys sinsyne, wir Jonie wrett me tree or fower lynes wi Andru Hey, itt wiz kummin dis weigh whidder or no, an se he tuik hit wi him. Heez a fyne sheeld dat Andru, gude lukk sitt i his fes—an sek an a boorlie man az heez growan tù an wid be ower weel faard gin hitt wiz na fore yun busks o’ hare it he heaz apun his fes. O dwyne yun fasin, gin hit beena da vyldest itt ivvir dere faan apun yitt. I kenna whatt itts lek, bitt am shùre itts no lek nethin kirsint. Se mith I gitt helt az I tink hit wid gluff da ful teef himsell. What tinks du whinn Andru kam in, I wiz dat weigh drumfoondit, itt I kent him no for a sertan tyme. I nevvir gat sek an a flegg i ma lyfe insep e nycht kummin fre da ela, itt I mett Tammie o’ Skae (saal be in gloary) abùn Trullia watter, rydin apo Peter o’ Hundegird’s blessit hoarse, wi a sheep best a fore him. Or dan annidder tyme it I kam apo Jeemie Tamsin markin up wir pellat Rùll i da hùmin o’ da eenin aboot twa bocht lent abùn da krù dekk o’ Oxigill i da hill o’ Valafiel, bitt hit wiz na fur himm itt I glufft, bitt du kens I nevvir hedd ne gritt lekkin fur da hills, at datt partiquhalar tyme o’ nycht, an whinn I lichtit apo himm, hee wiz staandin wee hiz feet paald fornent a brugg, a lokkin da rùll aboot da kraig, wee a bluidie tnyfe atill hiz teeth an da rumple o’ da steag[1] wiz waadg’d up till a grett mukkle odias whyte stean, se itt da kretar kùd na hae ne pooster ta mùv neddir da te weigh or da tidder, mair iz ginn heed been shoarded in a noost;—an se du seez hiz fes wiz timmie, an da nukkie o’ hiz kepp bùre stracht owr da hedd o’ da rùll, an se mycht I dù weel az I tuik hit fur a trow, an ma hert tuik a flochtin an a whiskin hit wiz unmodarit, bit whan I kam atweest himm an da lycht, hee luikit upp, an whan hee saa mee hee whett da rùll, an aff hee gùd lekda ful o’ da ere. A’ll ashùre dee hiz feet wiz wirt twa pere o’ haands till him: fur gin I kùd a gotten had apun him, ill luk sit i’ ma haands gin I sùd na astud biz luggs , itt hee sùd a been kent fur a teef a da deys o’ hiz lyfe. An se du seez I giangs doon trou tidda steag, an hit wiz dat dark it I wid na a kent what hit wiz, bit dere I fins twa sukka-legs stikkit fù o’ whyte oo’ apun a tuag lyin benon a meashie o’ hedderkows itt heed been fetshin hemm ta soop da lumms o’ Skerpa, an I fan da tnyfe itt hee wiz haddin atill hiz sheeks, a prettie splunder niu joktalegg oot o’ da shopp o’ Bunis, itt heed koft da ook afoar frae Lowrie Bartlesin fur a pere o’ piltak waands itt he stùl oot anonder da boat o’ Hullan, apo da ere o’ Widweek, da dey it he gùd ta Hermaness wee da ouzen o’ Skerpa. An I fan da teef's snuffmill, itt heed wrocht oot o’ hiz pokkit, whinn hee wiz stryddin fornent da rùll. Bitt dis iz no a. Alto I gatt na menze apun him at dat meentyme, I mett him in a mistie moarnin fur a dat.

Two or three days since our John wrote me three or four lines by Andrew Hey, who was coming this way whether or not, and so he took it with him. He is a fine fellow that Andrew. Good luck sit on his face! And such a stately man as he is grown too: and would be over well looking if it was not for yon bushes of hair that he has upon his face. O confound yon fashion! if it be not the ugliest that they ever fell upon yet. I know not what it is like, but am sure it is not like any thing christened. So might I get health, as I think it would frighten the foul thief himself. What think you, when Andrew came in, I was that way stupefied, that I knew him not for a certain time I never gat such a fright in my life, except one night coming fra the market that I met Tommy of Skae (his soul be in glory!) above Trullia water, riding upon Peter of Hundegird’s blessed horse, with a sheep beast before him. Or than another time, that I came upon Jemmy Tamsin fastening our stallion colt in the dusk of the evening about two sheep folds in length above the sheep-cote dike of Oxigill, in the hill of Valafiel; but it was not of him that I was afraid; but you know I never had any great liking for the hills at that particular time of night. And when I lighted upon him, he was standing with his feet striding out before a brow, and holding the colt by the neck, with a bloody knife between his teeth, and the rump of the colt was wedged up to a very great, large, white stone, so that the creature could not have power to move either the one way or the other, more than if he had been fastened in a noose. And so you see his face was to me, and the corner of his cap lay straight over the head of the colt. And, so might I do well, as I took him for a boggle, and my heart took a flickering and a fluttering that was immoderate; but when I came betwixt him and the light, he looked up and when he saw me he quitted the colt and off he went like a fowl of the air. I will assure you that his feet were worth two pair of hands to him: for if I could have gotten hold of him, ill luck sit in my hands, if I should not have cropped his ears, that he should have been known for a thief all the days of his life. And so, you see, I goes down straight to the colt, and it was that dark that I would not have known what it was, but there I finds two little pokes filled full of white wool, upon a raw hide lying above a bundle of heather stalks, that he had been fetching home to sweep the chimneys of Skerpa. And I found the knife that he was holding against his chops—a pretty bright new jackalegs, out of the shop of Bunis, that he had bought the week before from Lowrie Bartlesin, for a pair of fishing rods that he stole from under the boat of Hullan, upon the shore of Widweek, the day that he went to Hermaness with the oxen of Skerpa. And I found the thief's snuff-mill, that had worked out of his pocket when he was striding before the colt. But this is not all. Although I got no satisfaction of him at that very time, I met him in a misty morning for all that.

I waarn hit wiz a gùde munt o deys efter dat, whinn hee wiz draan him weel up ta Ionsmis, itt I wiz kummin hemm frae Ska whaar I wiz rowin dat simmer, ee setterdey nycht wi a biudie o’ ling hedds an peerie brismaks, an bruk o’ dat kynd apo ma bak, nevvir tinkin o’ noathin insep da ùlie itt wiz rinnin oot o a liver hedd i ma biudie, an a ere o soor blaand itt wiz leakin oot o a botle it I hed, an rinnin doon apo ma bak wi a sweein an a yuke itt wiz undùmas, fur dae wirr a grett mukkle scab rycht anonder ma biudie, an whinn I kam upp trow fre da Santkluff, ti da toon o’ Norrook, I luiks behint mee, an wha tinks du seez I bitt Steaggie kummin sloomin himm upp efter mee, an se tinks I, bruee, du an I hez a kra ta pluk afoar wee pairt; an whinn I kam ti da yaard o’ Digran, I lint mee apo da yaard dek ta tak in da baand o’ ma biudie, an de wirr a hel boats-kru o’ Norruk men staandin anonder da stak, lipnin a tùlie atweest Meggie o’ Digran an Annie Sudderlan, itt wiz flytin wee a veelansie itt wiz unspeakable, kiz Annie hedd bund herr niu kallud ku upun a ley rigg o’ Meggie’s, it de’d no been a kliv apun i da sezin, an Meggie hed british’d Annie’s spleet niu herin teddir se sma itt de wirr no a krum atill’d itt kud a been a humb laband till a whillie. An a’ll ashure dee, du wid a geen a gùde pees o’ gett afoar du fan twa better flyters: nevvir mycht I sin ginn I dud na heer da galder o’ dere tungs az veevaly abùn da klifts az ginn I’d been apo da toonmills asyde dim. An nu du seez az I wiz tellin dee, bye kums Steaggie wi a pere o’ helltars in his haand—hee geez mee da tyme o’ da dey an akses fooz a wee mee. “Braalie, braalie, bruee,” sez I, “fooz a wi dee sell, I warn du hez no a smell i dee hoarn,—yaa whey hez du no?”—“Na, deevil a kūmm iz been i mye kustadee dis munt an mere, sinn I tint ma mill ee dey it I wiz i da elb strikkin twartree lempits ta so at da eela.” I maks apo mee ta tak oot ma box oot o’ ma weasket pokkit, an I seyz, “weel dan will du smell at my trash.” An wi dat I taks oot hiz nain mill an sneyts ma noze, an az shun az hee sett hiz glowriks apun’d, da fes o’ himm lep upp lek a kol, an I seyz till him, “Bridder, kens du dis snuff mill?” “Na, no I, lam, foo sud I ken, na gùde ken o’ mee az I ken no, a prettie mill it iz, whaar fell du in wee’d.” “Whaar I fell in wi dis tnyfe.” I entrappit him, an tuik oot da joktalegg. “Meabee du kens na himm neddarin; yea, du mey stumse du ill viandit teef it du iz, du tocht nethin ta pit dye mark (hiz mark wiz da left lugg getskor’d behint, an da rycht lugg shùild wi a hol) apo mye steag;—nu afoar du an I sinders, nevvir mycht mee haand help ma bodie, in I dùna sett mye mark apo dee” (Wir mark wiz bead da luggs aff, bit wee hed annidder een furbye dat.) An wi dat sam I grippit him be da trapple, an whatt tinks du’ Pettie, I wiz dat ill tafu itt am mear az sertan I widna a left da wratch da ormal o’ a lugg, gin Dunkin o’ Sandle hed na kum behint mee, an klikkit da skùnee oot o’ mee haand; weel, I wiz resoal’d ta he sum menze apun him, an whin I’d geen him a gùde trist o’ da kreag, an tree or four sonsee knubs aboot da shafts, wee breek-bandit hit, an I laandit him rycht apo da keel o’ hiz bak i da vennal itt ran oot anonder da kuddee doar o’ Andru o Digran’s byar, asyde Donal o Nius’ mukkle flekkit gaat, it wiz cùllin him dere i da runnik—an sek an a runnik—I nevvir saa da lek—what wi da swyne, an da fokk, an what ran oot fre da bes, an da goilgrùve o’ da middeen, du widna gùdablee a seen a prettiar konkurrans fre Ska ta Sumbrooch-hedd—an de wirr datt vyld a ere wee’d whin hee wiz onee ting o’ a glùd apun him, itt hit wiz anioch ta confees a dugg.

I warrant it was a good month of days after that, when he was drawing him well up to Ionsmis, that I was coming home from Ska, wheere I was fishing that summer, one Saturday night with a creil [or basket] of ling heads and small tusk-fish, and scraps of that kind upon my back, never thinking of nothing except the oil that was running out of a liver head in my pannier and a little sour buttermilk that was leaking out of a bottle that I had, and running down upon my back with a tickling[2] and an itching that was inconceivable, for there was a great large scab under my creil, and when I came up just from the sand cliff to the town of Norrook, I looks behind me and who, think you, saw I but Steaggie, coming slipping up after me; and so thinks I, brother, thou and I have a crow to pluck before we part. And when I came to the garden of Digran, I leant me upon the garden dyke to take-in the band of my pannier, and there were a whole boat’s crew of Norrook men standing under the stack, watching a quarrel between Meggy of Digran and Annie Sudderlan, that were scolding with a violence that was unspeakable: because Annie had tethered her new-calved cow upon a lea rig of Meggy’s, that there had not been a mouth upon in that season, and Meggy had cut Anney’s quite new hair tether so small, that it was not a bit too thick to have been a humbla band to a [spinning] wheel. And I will assure you, you would have gone a good piece of way before you found two better scolders. Never may I sin if I did not hear the clatter of their tongues as well above the cliffs, as if I had been upon the very rigs beside them. And now you see, as I was telling you, by comes Steaggie with a pair of halters in his hand. He gives me the time of the day, and asks how is all with me. “Bravely! bravely! good fellow,” says I, “how is all with your self: I warrant you have not a smell in your horn; but why have you not?” “No, devil a pinch has been in my custody this month and more, since I lost my mill one day that I was in the water striking-off two or three limpets to sell at the market.” I took upon me to take out my box out of my waistcoat pocket; and I says, “Well, then, will you smell at my trash:” and with that I takes out his own mill and blows my nose; and, as soon as he set his eyes upon it, the face of him lighted up like a coal, and I says to him, “Brother, know you this snuff-mill?” “No, not I, dear; how should I know! may no good know of me, as I know not. A pretty mill it is, where fell you in with it?” “Where I fell in with this knife.” I entrapped him and took out the jackalegs. “May be, you know not it neither: yes, thou may hesitate, thou ill-fed thief that thou art: you thought nothing of putting thy mark” (his mark was the left ear slit behind, and the right ear pierced with a hole) “upon my colt: now before thou and I part, never may my hand help my body, if I do not set my mark upon thee.” (Our mark was both the ears off; but we had another one besides that.) And with that same I gripped him by the throttle; and, what think you, Peter! I was that ill to satisfy, that I am more than certain I would not have left the wretch the shape of an ear, if Duncan of Sandle had not come behind me and snatched the knife out of my hand. Well, I was resolved to have some satisfaction on him, and when I had given him a good grip of the throat, and three or four weighty thumps about the chops, we parted, and I landed him right upon the keel of his back, in the kennel that ran under the short door of Andrew of Digran’s cow house, beside Donal of Nius’ great speckled goat, that was cooling himself there, in the puddle, and such an a puddle! I never saw the like! what with the swine, and the folk, and what ran out from the beasts, and a foul gutter of the dunghill, you would not possibly have seen a prettier concurrence from Ska to Sumbroock-head. And there was that vile smell with it, when there was any quantity of mire upon it, that itwas enough to suffocate a dog.

I row’d Steaggie bak an foar trow dis soss till I toucht he wiz mestlee smoar’d, an ta tell dee da trùthe, I sud a bùn shokkit meesell, fur ne modrat stamak kùd staand sek an a stink—an dan I whatt him an gùd ma weigh.

I rolled Steaggie back and forward through this puddle till I thought he was mostly smothered, and to tell you the truth, I should have been choked myself; for no moderate stomach could stand such an a smell: and then I left him and went my way.

Nu bridder, diss iz da end o’ ma stoarie, an I daar sey du tinks itts no afoar da tyme. A’ll ashùre dee I tink ne less meesell; bitt du kens whinn a boddie eens faaz tù, dey nevvir ken rycht whaar ta leve aff, an se feres wi mee—sae mycht I see a gùde sycht apo da ting it I wid see’d apun az whin I begūd ta tell dee aboot Andru Hey’s hearie fes, az I towcht ne mear o’ laandin dee i da runnik o’ Digran, az Wyllyam o’ Troal did o’ giaan ta Bellmunt atill hiz smuks ee nycht i voar, it hiz wyfe baad him skuyt i da doar gin da sholmit kū wiz kum hemm—fūrteen myle o’ gett wiz a braa stramp atween lychts, az lang az da nappee wiz boylin, an bearlee se lang—fur da watter wiz geen on whinn he gud ower guyt o’ da doar, an whinn he kam hemm, Osla wiz linkin up da krūk ta pitt on da layvreen—an alto hee head on a grey Joopee nevvir bùn i da watter, an a bliu kot an weskit oot o’ da litt, an a pere o’ skrottee breeks it wiz klampit till de wirr no a treed i dem bit what wiz treeplye, an a odia floamie o’ barkit skean benon apo da boddim, an bead da tneez o’ dem, an a sefeeshint pere o’ ribbit soks, an a smuk it wiz wirt twa an a baabee, yea tree stùres, az weel az hit wiz wirt a doyt, apo da te fitt, an a rivleen aff o’ a niu tarleddir oot o’ Virse apo da tidder—no furyattin it hiz feet wiz oot o’ koorse fur grittness,—da fleeter itt Saxie skoom’d his kettle wi whinn he boyl’d da fowr mastit ship wiz nethin ta dem—weel fur aa dat kleaz, itt wid a leepit a Sowdian aff o’ da benz, dwyne hiz boadie gin da sweat wiz louz’d apun him whinn hee kam till hiz nean. In de onie piogies a yun plannit whaar duz bydin itt kūd dù da lek o’ dat tinks du, billie? I rāiken hit widna tak mukkle normeattik ta koont dem.

Now, brother, this is the end of my story: and I dare say you think it is not before the time. I will assure you I think not less myself; but you know when a body once falls-to they never know rightly where to leave-off, and so fares [it] with me. So might I see a good sight upon the thing that I would see it upon, as when I began to tell you about Andrew Hey’s hairy face, as I thought no more of landing you in the runnel of Digran, than William of Troal did of going to Belmunt in his shirts one night in spring, that his wife bade him set a-jar the door [to see] if the speckled cow was come home. Fourteen mile of way was a brave journey between lights, as long as the nappie was boiling, and barely so long; for the water was going on when he went over the threshold of the door, and, when he came home, Osla was linking up the crook to put on the layvreen. And although he had on a grey great coat [that had] never been in the water, and a blue coat and waistcoat out of the dye, and a pair of short breeches that were patched till there was not a thread in them but what was treble, and a very large clout of tanned skin above upon the bottom, and both the knees of them, and a so-fashioned pair of ribbed stockings, and a shirt that was worth two and a halfpenny, aye three stivers, as well as it was worth a doit, upon the one foot, and a slice of a new tar-leather out of Virse upon the other, not forgetting that his feet were out of course for greatness—the skimmer that Saxie scummed his kettle with, when he boiled the four-masted ship, was nothing to them. Well! for all these clothes, that would have par-boiled a Southern off of the benz, take his body! if the sweat was stirred upon him when he came to his own [house]. Are there any folks in your country, where you are living, that could do the like of that, think you, comrade? I reckon it would not take much arithmetic to count them.

I manna furyatt ta tell dee ta hadd out o’ mee weigh, gin du beez dee nain freend, fur I he a flaa ta ryve wee dee, an gin I gētt haands apo’ dee, a’ll mebee gee dee a traa itt dūl no bee da better o’. I eenz towcht itt I wid tak ma fitt i mee haand an kum eenz a errint ta Liverpōōl ta tùm dee luggs, bitt duz no wirt mee whyle, or dan I wid du pushin ill faard. . . . . . . . . . itt du iz. Wiz da eevil man tempin dee ta sett apo prent a bitt o’ a letter, itt I wrett ta ma kummarad i da munt o’ Julie fearn year?—illsycht bee seen apo dat fes, du wiz na blett ta giāng an mak a fùl o’ onie onnist man’s bearn, duz no shure whaa meay mak a fùl o deesell yitt—duz dùn mee a boanie turn ta gaar aa da fokk i wirr ples ta tink it I wiz skimpin demm, kiz itt I wrett i mee nain kiuntree langeech, an yitt du kens moar az weel, itt I wid na dù da lek o’ datt fur giopens o’ yallu gowd. An dan effter aa du mistiukit hit, du leelerat brùtt—duz pitten in ee ples, “gude ta true,” in ples o’ “gùd ta tru,” an in annidder pert, duz sett doon “geegganin” in ples o’ “geegarin”—kens du no itt geegarin meenz shiftin aboot fre ples ta ples: an “da eage o’ a tyme,”—duz keepit oot “kan keep”—afoar “a man’s stamak”—deel rumble i dy stamak fur dee peans. Effter datt gin du tinks itt du kens veezable aboot grammer or properness o langeech, se mycht I tryve az duz az faar oot az Maggie Low, whinn shù klaad da stoop o’ da bēdd in ples o’ her nean rumple.

I must not forget to tell you to hold out of my way if you be your own friend, for I have a quarrel to settle with you, and if I get hands upon you, I will perhaps give you a twist that you will not be the better of. I once thought I would take my feet in my hand and come one’s own errand [on purpose] to Liverpool to cut your ears, but you are not worth my while or then I would, you poisoned ill-looking. . . . that you are. Was the evil man tempting you to set up in print a bit of a letter that I wrote to my comrade in the month of July gone a year? Ill looks be seen upon that face! you were not afraid to go and make a fool of any honest man’s child: you are not sure who may make a fool of yourself yet. You have done me a pretty turn, to make all the folks in our place to think that I was jeering them, because that I wrote in my own country language, and yet you know quite as well, that I would not do the like of that for both-open-handfulls of yellow gold. And then after all you mistook it, you illiterate brute. You have put in one place “gude ta true,” in place of “gùd ta tru;” and in another part you have set down “geegganin,” in place of “geegarin.” Know you not that geegarin means shifting about from place to place: and “da eage o’ a tyme,” you have kept out “kan keep” before “a man’s stomach”: Devil rumble in your stomach for your pains! After that, if you think you know rightly about grammar, or propriety of language, so may I thrive, but you are as far out as Meggy Low, when she scratched the post of the bed, instead of her own bottom.

Dere tellan mee itt duz giaan awa till a unkan ples whaar dere nethin bitt neggirs it giaangs midder nekit, filltie brùts, an dùdna beleeve i wir Byble, ill trifteen i dat pikters, dey want na impeedens. Nu dul need ta tak tent o’ deesell, fur de’ll no kear ta stik dee gin dey kùd he a keyshen. I need na aks dee gin dul tak a footh o’ ferdamett wi dee—duz da wrang haand ta furyatt datt. I daar sey dul tak fyve or sax biudies o’ sea biddies an tree or fowr taillies o’ saat beeff, an plentie o’ spaarls ta keetshin dee grual, no furyattin somtin ta swee i dee kreag. Se fear weel ta dee, an Gùd bliss dee, an tak a kear o’ dee a yun unkirsint plannit, an bring dee weel ta dee nean agen, an se remeans wi lovin affexion,
Dye Kummarad,

A———d B———y.

They are telling me that you are going away to an unknown place, where there are nothing but negroes, that go mother-naked, filthy brutes! and do not believe in our Bible: ill luck to their faces! they want no impudence. Now you will need to take care of yourself; for they will not care to stab you, if they could have an occasion. I need not ask you if you will take abundance of father-meat with you. You are the wrong hand to forget that. I dare say you will take five or six barrels of sea-biddies and three or four pieces of salt beef, and plenty of smelts to season your gruel, not forgetting something to tickle in your throat. So farewell to you, and God bless you, and take a care of you in yon unchristened country, and bring you well to your own again: and so remain, with loving affection,
Your Comrade,

A———d B———y.

P. S. Dey sey itt Andru Nizbet, da keeng o’ Burraness, is dead—a wirtie, onnist man az evvir pat a drap o’ key orù in a ùlie kig, or hùlkie eddiran.
Gent. Mag. Vol. VI.

P.S. They say that Andrew Nesbit, the king of Burraness, is dead; a worthy honest man, as ever put a drop of strong ale in a jolly cag or portly elder.

4 G


  1. A staig or stag in Zetland, is a young stallion: in the north of England, a colt of a year old.
  2. Swein means a disagreeably burning sensation.