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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

Fit Like Is't?

In Scotland today the name ‘Doric’ is sometimes claimed in the North East – centred on the city of Aberdeen – as the exclusive name for the North East dialect. And not only that, the name is also sometimes applied by extension to such concepts as ‘the Doric culture’ or ‘the North East culture’.  Much of this identity has been driven in recent years by the success of the Doric Festival which began in 1993. This is perfectly understandable in a region that was opened up, more than ever before, to outside influences, such as American and British oil development, from the 1970’s onwards. Since that time North East organisations have recognised the need to maintain the distinctiveness of the region in the face of global and other competing identities. And that is where the name Doric really came into its own.

North East Scotland has traditionally spoken a form of the Scots language, just like its neighbouring regions, and the dialect was often known as Scots and Scotch too. But the North East has very distinct features not present in other regions, features such as the classic foo, fit, far and fan, which in general Scots are hoo, whit, whaur and whan (English how, what, where, when), or forms like steen and been – general Scots stane and bane (English stone and bone). Also, in the North East, people don’t say thir and thae (English these and those) but rather this and that. In other respects much in the dialect is in common with other Scots-speaking areas, but features like those above made it stand out. This gave rise to such rhymes as:

Bi foo, fit, far an fan,

Ye can tell a Farfar man

which meant the border where hoo changed to foo, or whit to fit, etc, started around Forfar, in Angus, and ran northwards, though Northeasters today probably wouldn’t think of Forfar as ‘Doric’.

An illustration of the distinctness of the North East dialect, even 150 years ago, can be gleaned from the following little extract. In 1850 William J Milne, from Forfarshire (Angus), travelled through Formartine district, north of Aberdeen, and left his general impression of the language spoken there. He commented: “I also found myself among a people speaking a quaint-sounding and strange Scotch dialect, not exactly uncouth, rather musical, but much of it really silly in its idioms, and very redundant in its colloquialisms, where the Scotch adjective diminutive was used to almost everything, and everybody, large or small, and where in the case of a stranger asking his way on the country roads, and the distance to the place he wished to arrive at, he was told it might be a mile, or any number of miles, “an’ a bittie,” this gait, or that gait, while the distance undefined, but said to be “a bittie”, in the informant’s reply, was generally longer than the number of miles.”