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Word for 06th September 2011

“ TAMMIE NORRIE n puffin”

TAMMIE NORRIE

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This is just one example of the many interesting names that Scots has for seabirds. Bird Watching (Jan 1992) tells us “The Puffin, called the ‘tammie norrie’ in Shetland, is renowned for its colourful beak and black and white plumage”. The name is sometimes shortened to Tommy or Tammie as in Patrick Neill’s Tour through some of the Islands of Orkney and Shetland (1806): “This bird is very common in the Orkney seas: it is there frequently named the Tommy”. Many of the dictionary quotations featuring the tammie norrie come from the Northern Isles but the word, like the bird, is more widespread. Indeed, the New Statistical Account (1845) assures us “Inchkeith is a favourite residence of the Tommy-norrie” and the Earl of Haddington in Select Poems (1824) writes of “Yere seamaws and tamie nories”. The Kircudbright writer S. R. Crockett describes in The Grey Man (1896) “Solan geese and the fowl called the Foolish Cock of the Rock, together with half-a-dozen Tammy Nories.” One of the earliest references we have dates from 1701 when J. Brand in A Brief Description of Orkney, Zetland, Pightland-Firth & Caithness observed “Each kind or sort do Nestle by themselves; as the Scarfs (cormorants) by themselves, so the Cetywaicks (kittiwakes), Tominories, Mawes (gulls) &c”. This iconic bird has even entered folk culture. Robert Chambers records and explains a saying in The Popular Rhymes of Scotland (1870): “Tammie Norie o’ the Bass Canna kiss a bonny lass. This is said jocularly, when a young man refuses to salute a rustic coquette. The puffin, which builds in great numbers on the Bass Rock is a very shy bird, with a long deep bill, giving him an air of stupidity, and from these two things together the saying probably has arisen. It is also customary to call a stupid-looking man a Tammie Norie”.

Scots Word of the Week is written by Chris Robinson of Scottish Language Dictionaries.


This week's Word is spoken by Dr Dauvit Horsbroch.