My husband laughs at a story I’ve just told, then pauses and says in his Canadian accent:
“Wait — what’s a ‘roaster’?”
I think about it. What is a roaster? It’s one of those words that has been ingrained in my memory for so long that whatever formal definition it once had — “noun (singular): person who is somewhat idiotic, normally in a loud and obnoxious fashion” — completely escapes me. “Roaster,” means “roaster,” and that’s that.
How do I explain what a roaster is to someone who didn’t grow up in Scotland? My first instinct is to define it using other Scottish words (“well, it’s kind of like a mix between a dobber and a wanker,”) but that seems foolish (“adjective: stupit”).
That’s the thing that makes Scottish slang so magic. It’s often irreverent, sometimes inexplicable, and always unmistakably ours — you won’t catch an American walking around using the term “bawhair,” as a unit of measurement. And, if you used the term “fanny,” and pointed to where a fanny actually is, they’d tell you your arse was on backwards.
Our dazzling dialect is the bubbling lifeblood that runs through the veins of Scottish culture, the local spice we season our conversations with. It’s inextricably linked to our candidly dark, occasionally surreal collective sense of humour. It shapes the way we communicate with our friends, the way we bond with our families. It’s a common thread that runs through the intricate patchworks of our lives.
And it’s not just the words, it’s the way we say them. “Bastart” sounds better than “bastard,” “bawbag” sounds better than “ballbag,” and “DISGUSTAN” sounds better than “disgusting,” especially when shouted at high volume in a public place.
I still haven’t quite managed to communicate the meaning of the word “roaster” to my husband to a degree that I think does it justice. Recently, I introduced him to “Still Game,” which definitely helped somewhat. As we sat there sipping cans of beer while the opening sequence unfolded on the screen, I found myself weirdly nervous. Would he understand it? Would he like it?
The way we speak is something about Scotland that I so deeply and closely cherish. The grit of an “r” rolling off someone’s tongue for a wee bit too long, the cadence of a “g” dropping off into nowhere at the end of a word.
Watching the fictional but often realistic conversations in and about Scottish life play out through Jack and Victor on a screen from our home in Atlantic Canada seemed to me like I was indoctrinating my husband into some sort of underground society, a secret club. “This is who we are, this is how we speak, this is what makes us laugh, these are our lives.”
We are a nation of storytellers, lovers of communication and speech. The stories that we tell in anger, in sadness, in fear, in hope, in laughter, in love — these are the stories that shape our lives and our relationships. And the only way we can tell them is in words that belong to us.
Now, thousands of miles away and surrounded by accents that are not mine, I smile when I hear a familiar word from home in a Snapchat from one of my friends or by chance in a bar in downtown Halifax. I laugh when my husband makes a “Still Game,” reference or looks at me when I’ve had a few too many pints and says, “you’re giving me the fear.”
For everything our words have been and are to me, I am grateful. So here’s tae our secret language, our treasured slang — and here’s tae every roaster, dobber, and wanker that reads this piece a pish. Sláinte!