Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Click here to learn more about MyHeritage and get free genealogy resources

Fraser's Scottish Annual
The Logic of Scottish Humor


"TICKETS, Tickets,- tickets please." This from the guard on a local train approaching Edinburgh, as he addressed the obfuscated members of a brass band returning from an engagement in an adjoining clachan. ir "Od, man!" said the pounder of parchment as he fumbled vainly in his vest pooch, ''I've lost ma ticket." ''That's nonsense," replied the guard, "You couldna lose your ticket." "Could I no?" said the other with a sneer, "Man, I lost the big drum," which was a fact! Mr. Steuart Ross, who tells the story in his book, regards this as an exemplification of the statement that a Scotsman is above all things logical-drunk or sober, but especially drunk. Without going quite so far there can be no doubt respecting the truth of the proposition in a general way, and it is owing to this quality that we are twitted so often anent the necessity of a "surgical operation." M. Paul Blouet (Max O'Rell) has assured the writer that for keen appreciation of his points, he would prefer an audience of Scottish crofters or fishermen to one of Oxford or of Cambridge dons, and as this gentleman (for a wonder) does not claim to be in any measure Scots, and is not of sufficient importance for us to claim that he is, his evidence may be regarded as totally unbiased.
Whether the logical quality be connected with climate, historic and domestic experiences, porridge, kail, haggis, the flavor of peat reek, or the shorter catechism, or all of these, there can be no doubt as to its existence.

Here and there you will find a Scot who appreciates a pun or some other play on words, but it is an acquired sense. Even when stern necessity drives him to perpetrate such a verbal crime it is the logic of circumstances that appeals to his mind, not merely the sound similarity, or the double entendre. When Captain Villiers Beauchamp, exercising his regimental horse in very awkward fashion, observed Airchie Drummock on the other side of a yett with a square foot of smiles under his bonnet, inquired angrily as he brought the animal to its haunches, "What are you laughing at me for, sir? Did you never see a var-horse before ?" Airchie, without a motion except that of his lips, replied, ''Oo ay, I've often seen a war-horse afore, but gin ye wad allow me to mak' a remark, I wad juist like to say I dinna think I e'er saw a waur rider." It was the bald fact that appealed to Airchie's eye, and he used the sameness of sound merely to aid him in making his point. He would have been affronted had he been charged with punning.

What is popularly known as a ''sell" is utterly thrown away on Sandy. He may ''drop into it," in fact, is almost certain to do so, for in such matters he is as guileless as a lamb; but when the great guffaw follows, accompanied with the exclamation ''Sold again," the would-be wit becomes painfully conscious that he himself has been badly ''sold," as his intended victim eyes him with a look of pity, saying "What did ye sell? When did ye sell't afore? Gin ye sauld it afore, what makes ye sell't ower again? an' hoo muckle got ye for't?" It is unfathomable to Sands- where the laugh comes in, for no bargain has been struck, and even if there had been, the occasion is not one for merriment. In any event, he can trace no se-uence between the premises and the conclusion, and his conclusion is that the other fellow is a haiveril.

Sandy has listened critically to too many sermons to be thrown off his balance by any such quip—he has carried on too many discussions with antinomian and other heterodox adversaries, and has pondered over too many Bostons and Bunyans, and Howies, and Robert Dicks and Hugh Millers to see any point where there is an absence of reasoning, and vet, when need be, he can wound an opponent with his opponent's own dirk. Witness the thousands of beadles who have slain ten thousand ministers ! When the Rev. Unes Dreich complained with much iteration to Tammas, on entering the vestry, that he was "wat through and through," the church officer consoled him with, "Dinna min' that, Maister Dreich, ye'll be dry aneuch as sune's ye gang intil the poopit," and when a certain Mess John on trial, following several candidates whom the people did not consider very I soun," asked the beadle what they thought about him, the information was anything but gratifying when Hughie told him they thought he was ' naething but soun' a' thegither."

These are old, old stories, but nothing can better illustrate the logical character of Scottish humor, for be it observed that the minister is the very last man with whom the beadle or anybody else would care to get off a joke as a joke, but in both instances candor demanded that the objectionable persons should know the truth purely as a natural consequence of their own remarks—and they got it. Yes, and it may be added that in all such instances the deliverances were made with visages as expressionless of levity as is the face of a boulder or of a tombstone. It is to this imperturbability of countenance that much of what is called the grimness of Scottish humor is due, but not seldom this same grimness is part and parcel of the fact that the sayings contain so much truth, and this is arrived at as a logical deduction from numerous observations, until at last the observer feels it his duty to relieve himself, or, as one said, "to trust."

Scottish humor, however, is not always grim, although it is almost invariably logical. "How are you to-day, David?' queried a five-foot nothing Free Kirk minister as he looked up at a six-foot-six drover, and the reply came, "Oo! I'm weel aneuch in pairts, ye ken, but there's owe muckle o' me to be a' weel at ae time," and the force of the answer rendered the F. K. M. speechless, for, as the drover knew, he was always boasting about his freedom from "towts."

As blood flowed (like the oil on Aaron's beard) from a gash made on a minister's face by the village barber who had been on a two days' fuddle, the victim, looking up reproachfully, said, ''Oh! John, John, it's a te-r-r-rible thing this drink." John felt guilty, but to acknowledge guilt was another matter. He knew that if "drink" made the hand unsteady, it produced other effects as well, and resolving not to be betrayed into a confession, he replied quite readily as if he fully agreed with the observation. "Deed aye, minister, ye may weel say that, for it maks the skin unco ten'er." The conclusion was logical, but the implication was a surprise to the divine.

Stories even about daft bodies show the bent of the national mind, as when it is recorded of a certain laird that on one occasion he passed a member of this class without noticing him, but the following day spoke to him as he sat not far from the "big hoose" "pykin' a bane."

Ay, ay, laird," said the silly man, "it's the auld story ower again —plenty o' friens whan ye hae ocht."

To illustrate further the logic of this subject, one need only quote nearly the whole body of printed and unprinted matter on Scottish humor. Cause and effect are traceable throughout. Our neighbors poke fun at us because of our metaphysical inclination. We hear of the milkmaid who avowed that she had "nae objection whatever to love i' the abtrack," and of the ploughman who assented that "in a meetapheesical sense there could be nae doobt that man was but a clod." We accept the imputation, and like the woman who confessed she was born in Paisley, we add, ''as sure's as daith we canna help it."

The characteristic in question may deprive many from indulgence in merriment over wretched puns, vile conundrums, pot-house jokes, and low wit of various types, but it has its compensations.

As the auld wife said to her French lodger when he refused oatmeal, "Wed, weel, tastes differ ye ken— some fowk like parritch, an' some like puddocks."

Return to Book Contents Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.