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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

Anither Shot at the Baw

The'r nae version o thir airticles in Soothron.

This puckle o airticles haes its oreeginal in speirings amang fitba clubs an bodies atween the years 1998 an 2001. Thay first kythed as a airticle bi Dr Dauvit Horsbroch in Lallans (the journal o the Scots Leid Associe) in 2002 but haes noo been redd-up an eikit til as a feature for the SLC. In raikin the auld registers or speirin at fowk it becam patent that the Scots leid is weel tochert o fitba vocabular, but acause o the pull o braidcasting throu the Soothron leid, maist fowk haes forgot – or tint awthegither – the words an saws we hae for the gemm. Whaur naebody is makkin programmes or report throu Scots it is faur easier jist tae chant whit we hear fae ootland grunds aff the TV an tak-on  fremmit vocabular liftit fae braidcasting, tentless o oor ain tradeetions. Back in 2002 a wheen o buikies, magazines, dictionars, an letters fae fowk, helpit bigg up a sma dictionar o fitba terms that wis eikit tae the airticle set furth in Lallans. Amang ither things, it wis weel seen that no that lang syne the follaers o fitba in the airts an pairts whaur Scots, in its sindry dialects, wis spoken, haed crackit aboot the gemm in this leid, while, for mony, speakin in onything ither wad’a seemed orra awthegither. But jist hoo faur the identity o its speakers haed been smored is illustrate wi ae letter that cam back efter speirin for information aff 56 clubs in the simmer o 1998. Ae Paisley buddie wrate back fae St Mirren Fitba Club:

“While your interest is in presenting a Doric/Scotch appreciation of all things football, I would venture to suggest that such phraseology is more likely to be found in the Highlands rather than with us sassenachs!” [1]

That ony cheil cuid jalouse the Scots leid belanged the Heilans (insteid o Gaelic), or think that fowk in his airt wis Sassenachs (the Gaelic for Inglis), is a dowie comment on scuilin, tho it maun be said thon wis back in 1998 afore Scots haed won a hame in the scuils an kythed on the 2011 census.[2]  In fact, a hantle clubs belanged til airts fouthie o terms, but didna ken it, sic as the secretar for Arbroath FC that wrate back: “This area has a strong dialect of its own but there are no words or phrases that relate to football.” [3]  Gin it is a strang dialect, it maun hae words sib tae fitba! On the ither haun, ae body that belanged Farfar did write back wi a hantle terms fae Angus in general.[4]  The langage wis – an is yet – pairt an paircel o the ordnar identity o hunners o thoosands o Scots fowk that follaes fitba, but the letters quotit abuin is guid instances o hoo inveesible the Scots unner the nebs o the auld men in blazers haes gotten. Back in 1998 it wisna muckle wunner that the feck o clubs either wrate tae say thay cuidna help, or maistly clappit thair thoums on letters, as the haunling o fitba clubs is fitba, an no the Scots leid. Still an aw, thir speirings shaws that thaim that governs the gemm is affen faur sindert fae the speak an tradeetions o the fowk.

The Word Fitba

In the Inglis or Soothron leid the gemm is cryed football, affen kent as ‘footy’, while in Frainch it is football or jist foot. Tae the Dutch it is voetbal while in German it is fußball. Til Italian fowk it is calcio an in Spenish fútbol. Here at hame we cry it ball-coise in Gaelic, an in Scots we cry it fitba. In Aulder Scots – the leid spoken afore 1700 – it wis kent as futebal(l) an fuitbal(l). The last letter, that lookit like an ‘l’ wis a character that langage scholars crys a ‘vowel length marker’. In thae days the readers o Scots kent that the ‘l’ marker meant that the ‘a’ afore it shuid be soondit as a lang ‘aw’, giein us the pronoonciation ‘fute-baw’. Bi the 16t century the shairper soond ‘fit’ haed stertit tae kythe giein us the mair modren ‘fit-baw’. Acause the word haed aye been soondit wi a ‘aw’ at the end, mony fowk jaloused efter the Treaty o Union (1707) – whan the Soothron leid stertit comin intae uiss - that the Scots maun be a wrang version o the Inglis ‘football’ an sae thay stertit eikin the ‘apologetic apostrophe’ an gied us fitba’. Nooadays, tho, the screivar tentie o Scots tradeetion wad aye write fitba. Whan the word stauns its lane, we write it either ba or baw, but whan it’s a plural the mak fitbaws seems wicelike.


[1] Letter fae A MacLachlan, editor, St Mirren FC, Paisley, 6 August 1998, tae D Horsbroch.

[2] Sassenach springs fae the Gaelic Sasunach meanin ‘Saxon” (Inglisman or wumman). The Concise Scots Dictionary haes statit: “...Saxon, English; a non-GAELIC-speaking Lowlander, the Scots and English languages not being differentiated in Gaelic.” In fact, this isna richt. Scots wis cryed Beurla Ghallda (‘speak o the ootlins’) while Inglis wis kent as Beurla Sassanich (‘Speak o the Saxons’). Sae Scots-speaking fowk wis distinguished in Gaelic fae Soothrons (Sassenachs). The uiss o the auld Gaelic word Beurla (‘speak’ or ‘speech’) tae noo mean ‘Inglis’ is modren an it isna weel seen hoo this cam aboot.

[3] Letter fae C Kinnear, secretar, Arbroath FC, 7 August 1998, tae D Horsbroch.

[4] Letter fae D W Potter, 19 August 1998, tae D Horsbroch.