Writing Genealogy: Use Your Ancestor’s Idiom: If From Logging Camps, of West Central Scots, or Otherwise

TitleOnlyScrap bins and scrapbooks. Hmm. Words, like items can be scrapped. Or, they evolve. Heirlooms, they are!

Under this blogs’ button “Memories” is a discussion on the subset “From the logging camps.” There, one will find the steamer known as “Princess Maquinna”, the tugboat “Fairbanks”, several Shay steam locomotives, “Steam Donkey”, “Speeder” and logging train tracks. The discussion is still a work in progress, but many of those items reside in the scrap bin of history.  

As “From the logging camps” rolled out, it occurred to see what others were putting to print.  Up came Nicholas C Rossis’ treatment of “25 Words from the World of Logging”1 How strange it was to find that the “egghead” speech I am accused of, may have come from my simple logging camp upbringing. I saw in a flash, that, unwittingly, I speak niche idiom! HA!

I spent my childhood in logging camps and small towns, and my adulthood, living suburban while working Manhattan.  Over the years, many commented on my speech as being “different”, unable to specify any oddity. I thought they were referencing nuance concerning the words “about, dog, and coffee”.  Those words come forth from my mouth regularly. Coffee, every day, all day.

As I age, my dog is almost Northeast, and incorrect in my new home, Midwest. About, is about right everywhere, and everywhere, botched. So, it comes down to coffee. I have always pronounced coffee correctly, and anyone divergent of me, is simply wrong. The worst is the Northeast co-awfee, although brewed, about best.

To confuse the issue, those of  the Northwest, pronounce  consonants that others do not. The result of consonant precision, is that words are easily heard and understood. On the other hand, they can sound haughty, to some ears. An upside; they best reduce to correct spelling, by note takers.  I thought pronunciation the issue of my difference. Turns out, word selection confounds it all!

How does all this relate to Writing Genealogy? We all have our idiom. Attribute what you know to your ancestor!  My Scots Nana, Janet Gray McArthur, came to Canada at 16. She was readily understandable, in fairly fluent Canadian, by the time of my birth. Except on some issues, such as seemingly to refer to the mess of my teenage room as a dirty mitten. It resulted in a shrug of the shoulder then, and now, I know she said dirty midden. Nuance.  

Grandad, James Dickson, came from Scotland, near 30. His utterances at 80, probably closely approximated those at 30. He was most humble, and never took more than he needed. Thus, he was a man of few words. They were serious words, often hilariously delivered in uncommon dry wit. Laughter, though, was most often a delayed reaction, awaiting the comprehension of meaning.  I recounted in “Double Genealogy: the Adoption Witness” of our drive through fertilized farmland of Scotland, wherein he instructed me, I should pay attention to the lovely scenery alone, and not be stayed by the waft of the wind, for it was naught, but  exhausted hay.

Now I am struck to wonder, was that truly his quick turn of word to avoid the vulgar, or idiom of his West Central Scots? 2 Either way, when using your ancestor’s idiom, you will transport back to its delivery, and recall ever so much more exquisite detail. Your readers may recognize the idiom with great favor. These heirlooms travel in the heart, and are with us forever, our precious whispers of the past.

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Notes and Sources:

  1. The logging idioms were found at Nicholas C Rossis at https://nicholasrossis.wordpress.com .  It is a mirror site to his nicholasrossis.me concerning book marketing writing, his fantasy series Pearseus, his short stories collections and award-winning children’s books. Anyone writing genealogy will find his input most valuable.
  2. SCOTS LANGUAGE CENTRE / CENTRE for the SCOTS LEID: http://scotslanguage.com . This educational site support the use of “Scots” to describe the language used by our kin for West Central Scotland. This is a fascinating read of the Scots language and its dialects, and very much more.


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