Scotland’s Burns and Outlander rival Shakespeare’s bawdy

Caution: Post contains old-time, though no less explicit, lyrics.

As a demonstration of the extent of my obsession with Outlander these days (largely what has been keeping me from blogging), here is an in-depth look at the words and music re-purposed for the most recent episode of the Starz TV adaptation.

Just as the main characters Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) of author Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander book series are both funnier and (he) more brutish than their TV series counterparts, the real Scottish bawdy song upon which the song used in the most recent episode, “The Search,” was based is both longer and raunchier. And yet, ramping up the humor this time, Caitriona Balfe’s and Duncan LaCroix’s (Murtagh Fraser) performances evoked guffahs galore from this avid viewer.

“It’s a bonny tune, but you need a Scottish song,” says Murtagh to Claire’s attempt to help him improve his show by singing to him her own century’s “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” I loved the screenwriters’ innovation of using the tune as the anachronistic foundation for Claire’s provocative, though reluctant, cross-dressing performance meant to summon her missing husband Jamie. Oh, the things we do for love. I would be equally interested to hear the tune of the original Scottish folk song (still looking for a recording with words). If you find that, let me know.

Caitriona Balfe as Claire Fraser playing

Actor Caitriona Balfe as Claire Fraser in drag, Outlander Starz TV episode 114, “The Search.” Image credit Sony Pictures Television

Before you bugger off to the link of the song lyrics farther down the page, here’s a quick glossary of Scottish dialect and slang terms to help you enjoy their full effect. This list draws upon both the Scots Glossary at The Mudcat Cafe and the Dictionary of the Scots Language (DSL), as well as Wikipedia and Dictionary.com. The rest of the commentary is my interpretive opinion.

abootadv., about

baithadj, both

bogien., can mean outhouse, or boogie man, or cooking galley of a fishing boat (among other meanings), but is more likely a reference to the River Bogie (from Wikipedia): Note: Mention of Aberdeen in the tune helps to confirm this interpretation, though it’s possible there is double meaning intended in the song.

“The River Bogie (Scottish Gaelic: Balgaidh), also known as the Water of Bogie, is a river in NW Aberdeenshire in the north east of Scotland. Starting with the confluence of the Craig and Corchinan burns (57.2943°N 2.8910°W), near the parish of Auchindoir and Kearn, the River Bogie flows northeast for about 11 miles through Strathbogie (see entries for strath and Strathbogie below) to Rhynie and Huntly.” – Wikipedia

The TV episode’s rendition of the song refers to “the wanton toun (pron. toon) of Strathbogie,” and the Burns collection’s version refers to both the “reels of Bogie” and the “toun of Strathbogie.”

cluen., a ball of wool; fig., property, wealth, prize. In context, a sewing euphemism for sex: “bobbin on my wanton clue.” See entry for reel below.

coggien., diminutive of “cog,” meaning cup, vessel (according to the Scots dictionary). Also, a cog as “a gearwheel, esp a small one” or “any of the teeth or projections on the rim of a gearwheel or sprocket– from Dictionary.com’s listing of British Dictionary definitions. The association with spinning wheels matches the other metaphors in the song.

Its use in the TV version of the tune, “tip yer coggie,” suggests the male’s sexual agency. This imagery is similar to that used in the film Shakespeare in Love when Viola dressed as a man finds herself in a brothel being urged to “dip your wick” (as of a candle) into the “flame” of a prostitute’s loins. The wording in the online song lyrics, “tip her coggie,” however, suggests accessing the woman’s sex; thus, the notion of a woman’s vagina as “cup” or “vessel,” tipped to whichever parts of the male he chooses. Ahem….

daev., do

eenn., pl., eyes

langadj., adv., long

mairadj., adv., more

muckleadj., great, huge, tall; good (the word appears in the episode only)

pintlen., “a pin or bolt, especially one on which something turns, as the gudgeon of a hinge.” – Dictionary.com. Metaphor for penis. See entries for clue and reel.

reeln., “a cylinder, frame, or other device that turns on an axis and is used to wind up or pay out something.” In the song, a type of dance, associated with weaving and spinning, emphasizing this kind of pattern and movement (i.e., “dance the reel”). “Chiefly British. a spool of sewing thread; a roller or bobbin of sewing thread.” See entry for clue above. A metaphor for the sex act. Quoted definitions come from Dictionary.com.

rowev., to roll

snawn., snow

sochtv., sought

spreidv., spread

Strathbogien., “the old name of Huntly, Scotland, and the strath to the south of it” – Wikipedia

strath – n., “A strath is a large valley, typically a river valley that is wide and shallow (as opposed to a glen which is typically narrower and deep).[1]  An anglicisation of the Gaelic word srath, it is one of many that have been absorbed into common use in the English language. It is commonly used in rural Scotland to describe a wide valley, even by non-Gaelic speakers.” – Wikipedia

For the song’s purposes, the name of the town itself may also serve as a sexual metaphor, in the sense of its wideness and openness, i.e., lasciviousness or moral looseness.

thiesn., pl., thighs

tounn., town

I think the rest is reasonably discernible from context.

The atmosphere created by the sum of the lyrics is one of wild, whirling entertainment featuring drink, dance, the overt mechanisms of the sexual act, and a lust insatiable beyond “staying power.” The song relates the town of Strathbogie as a notorious den of reckless, extravagant (“wanton”) pleasure taking.

And without further delay, the Scottish bawdy folk song “The Reels of Bogie,” as retrieved online from pages 2 and 3 in the collection titled Merry Muses of Caledonia by famous Scots poet Robert Burns. Note that “The Reel of Bogie” is also claimed and played as an Irish folk song.

Actor Caitriona Balfe as Claire Fraser in drag singing

Caitriona Balfe as Claire Fraser in drag singing “The Reels o Bogie,” image credit Sony Pictures Television

To read the version of the song lyrics adapted for the episode, see my other post on this topic: Adapted Bawdy Lyrics: Outlander TV Series, Episode 114, “The Search.”

To locate the whole region that was once a town in Scotland, see Strathbogie on a map in the district of Aberdeenshire.

For a comprehensive look at Scots music and cultural tradition, visit Scots Language Centre.

Catch the next and likely so-far darkest episode of Outlander on Starz this Saturday at 9pm EDT. Brace yourself, though. The omnipresence of the sex motif, so playfully explored in “The Search,” takes a turn into the disturbingly perverse in “Wentworth Prison.” #BlackJackIsBack


As of October 2016, my new post excerpts and analyzes an original poem by Robert Burns: Famous Poets’ Nature Poetry, 5: Of Mice, Men and Rabbie Burns

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