Ever needed a word for the little bits of dust you see in a ray of sunlight? For squeezing a big thing into a small hole? For the noise made by women when they get together? Sly Cooking revives 42 weird and wonderful Gaelic words collected by 19th century priest, poet and folklorist, Fr Allan, in South Uist and Eriskay.
The project kept growing, and as well as a book, it became an art exhibition and a TV programme. And now it’s a website too! This is where you’ll find more detailed information on each of the words featured in Sly Cooking, and you are very welcome to add your own information too.
The book and the original artworks are available to buy in my Etsy shop, and you can find out more about my work as a printmaker on www.black-prints.com. Enjoy!
During his time as priest in South Uist and Eriskay (1884-1905), Fr Allan filled ten large notebooks with words, folklore and song from the area. In 1958, John Lorne Campbell organised 2,900 of those words and published them as an intriguing dictionary, Gaelic Words and Expressions from South Uist and Eriskay.
The words listed below are my favourites: the 42 which made it into Sly Cooking. I chose them because they made me laugh, or they made me stop and think. I was particularly taken with those which referred to women, whether complimentary or less so.
I love the humour which runs through the dictionary. There’s a real sense of human interaction and an ever-present gentle mockery; both of which I got used to when in South Uist and Eriskay doing my research. I love the attention to small things and to tiny nuances, and the imaginative, but very concrete, interaction with the otherworld.
When preparing the Sly Cooking book, I edited the definitions to keep them short and sweet, but the academic side of me won’t let that rest, so this website is my remedy. At the top of the page for each of the words, I supply the full definition, as given in Gaelic Words and Expressions.
After the definition, I give what further information I can find, including one or more sound files I have recorded of native speakers from South Uist or Eriskay. Where they don’t know the word, they pronounce it on the basis of its spelling.
These speakers include: Màiri Thormoid (NicAonghais), Eriskay; Catrìona Walker, Eriskay; Dòmhnall Ruaraidh Caimbeul, South Uist; Coinneach Manson, South Uist; Iain Eàirdsidh Mac a’ Mhaoilein, South Uist; and one more from Eriskay who was too modest to be named. I am indebted to them, and to Liam Crouse of Ceòlas, for their input.
And then it’s your turn: I have only scratched the surface of what there is to know about these words. If you know anything more, I’d love to hear from you in the comments sections under the words.
Lastly, if, like me, you would like to learn the words off by heart, I have made a course in Memrise where you can do just that.
Linocut is a relief printmaking technique like woodcut, where you remove areas of lino from a block with a gouge, and then roll ink onto the remaining raised parts before pressing the paper on top to create the print. Picasso and Escher were two famous exponents of the technique, which originated in Germany at the start of the 20th century.
I turned to linocut in 2013 under the name Black Prints, and since then I have produced the images for Sly Cooking as well as many canal scenes of Amsterdam and surrounding areas, where I live. These prints have proved very popular and I often receive personal commissions too.
If you’re curious about the day to day realities of making prints in my shed, you can “like” my Black Prints Facebook page. If you’d like to learn more about linocut techniques, the Linocut Friends Facebook group is an inspiring and supportive group with members of all abilities. And if you’d like to see more of my work, take a look at my Black Prints website.
I am very proud to be part of Ceòlas’s activities in South Uist this December, and not for the first time. I premiered my animation, Pìobairean Bhòrnais, at Ceòlas in 2003. The Stornoway Gazette puts my book launch into context here.
My book will be launched in South Uist as part of Ceòlas’s brand new literary festival, Às an Tobar, on 1 and 2 December 2017. On Friday 1 December, I’ll give a presentation in Kildonan Museum at 7.30pm, followed by a screening of MacTV’s beautiful documentary about my project, Mgr Ailein agus na Faclan, at …