To a Haggis on Burns Night

It’s Burns Night, the traditional celebration of the birth of Robert Burns, Scotland’s most iconic poet. Often with a traditional Scottish meal, songs, and poetry reading, Burns Night is celebrated across the Scottish diaspora every year on January 25th.

Although I won’t be partaking in a Scottish meal (though I do love me some haggis . . . not really; it’s okay, but I prefer black pudding), I celebrate by sharing with you excerpts from Burns’ poem “Address to a Haggis,” written in 1787.

Related posts on this blog involving Robert Burns’ poetry, language translation, and definitions include:

As with those posts, I have done my best to add word meanings below for the Scots terms. Again I used the Dictionary of the Scots Language as my source.

However, dear students and enthusiasts, I leave you to analyze the first section of this haggis poem to your hearts’ content. Enjoy its text in full through, for example, the link found in a 2017 article about Burns Night from International Business Times. My primary source for the text of the poem is The Complete Poems and Songs of Robert Burns, a gift I received last year.

Address to a Haggis

Opening 3 stanzas

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race!
Aboon them a’ yet tak your place,
                        Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o’ a grace
                        As lang’s my arm.

fa’ (v.) – fall
sonsie (adj.) – good, honest, lucky (said esp. of women)
Aboon (prep.) – above, higher than
a’ (pron.) – all
tak (v.) – take
painch (n.) – paunch, belly, stomach
tripe (n., adj.) – tall, thin, ungainly person; slovenly, gangling
thairm (n.) – gut or bowel
weel (adj.) – well
wordy (v.) – worthy
grace (n.) – grace-drink, taken at the end of a meal after grace is said
lang (adj.) – long

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
                       In time o’ need,
While thro’ your pores the dews distil
                       Like amber bead.

trencher (n.) – round or square plate or platter of wood or metal (i.e., flatware)
hurdies ( – buttocks, hips, haunches of humans and animals
wad (v.) – would

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An’ cut you up wi’ ready sleight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
                        Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
                        Warm-reekin’, rich!

dight (v.) – clothe, deck or adorn
onie (adj.) – any
reekin’ (adj.) – reeking

The next 3 stanzas share delicious language about competing for a portion of the food, defying foreigners to disdain their feast, and the unpleasant consequences after supper awaiting those who ate too well.

The last 2 stanzas frolic with the feaster as he makes his bloated way home until at last we see the final statement of haggis’s superiority to other refreshments, such as porridge and milk.

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
                         He’ll make it whissle;
An’ legs an’ arms, an’ hands will sned,
                         Like taps o’ thrissle.

walie (adj.) – fine, excellent; big, strong
nieve (n.) – fist, grip
whissle (v.) – spend? (as in explode?)
sned (v.) – chop (off)
taps ( – tufts, as of bird crest feathers
thrissle (n.) – thistle

Ye Pow’rs wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o’ fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
                        That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ prayer,
                        Gie her a haggis!

wha (pron.) – who
mak (v.) – make
auld (adj.) – old
nae (adj.) – no
skinking (adj.) – pouring, pitcher
jaups (v.) – dash, splash, ripple
luggies ( – small wooden dishes or vessels used in serving milk, porridge
gie (v.) – give
haggis (n.) – “A dish consisting of the pluck or heart, lungs and liver of a sheep minced and mixed with suet, oatmeal, onion and seasoning and boiled in a sheep’s maw or stomach.” (also used as an insult, a term of contempt for a person – blockhead, stupid)

And so, what is Burns Night to a haggis? Complete annihilation.

For a recipe and more information, see “What Is Haggis Made of?” at The Spruce Eats. Of course, Burns Night isn’t complete without bagpipes and whisky. Nae bother, we’ll be better organized by next January.

Happy Burns Night–and weekend. . . .

Speaking of weeks and ends, catch the Season 4 finale of Outlander, Sunday, January 27, at 8pm Eastern on STARZ. Episodes guide here.

Traditional haggis. Photo credit Reuters via International Business Times, UK, 2017.

Primary References

Dictionary of the Scots Language. / Dictionar o the Scots Leid. (n.d.). A database supported by the Scottish Government and hosted by the University of Glasgow. Retrieved from

Waverley Books. (2011). The Complete Poems and Songs of Robert Burns. Glasgow: The Gresham Publishing Company Ltd. pp. 194-195.

Five-Phrase Friday (10): Outlander Grammar

Welcome back to those of you who’ve been chomping at the bit all week to learn the answers to last week’s FPF Quiz! And welcome all to this weekly festival of phrase frolic I call Five-Phrase Friday.

Caution: This post is for mature (or extremely immature adult) readers only.

Last week, we galavanted through grammar, bawdy Shakespearean insults, and similar phrases from the Starz TV show Outlander. This week, you’ll see if your close attention during past weeks has paid off as you confirm your grammar knowledge with the answers to the two grammar questions I posed last Friday. And, maybe you Outlander fans will be able to gauge just how obsessed you are with the show by testing your thoughts as to which characters spoke which words in which scenes of the episodes referenced last time.

FPF 9‘s first grammar question was:

Grammar Alert! Hey, look at that. What’s the term for the omnipresent type of word highlighted in previous Five-Phrase Friday (FPF) posts? FPF 4 and FPF 6 use or mention it, and FPF 8 uses it in one of the featured phrases. I’ve mentioned before that I tend to use a lot of these in my writing, especially my poetry. Final hint: This grammatical element shows up every week in another way as well.

Answer: compound modifier, or compound adjective. Often hyphenated, it’s a two-word adjective placed before the noun it affects. For example, “Five-Phrase” in “Five-Phrase Friday.” How’d you do?

Grammar question #2 from FPF 9 was:

Grammar Note: You may notice in some of these [Shakespearean insults] a type of word similar to the one hinted at above in the “Grammar Alert!” These words from column or group 3 fall distinctly into the noun part-of-speech category. What is the name for this type of noun?

Answer: A compound noun, of course! Two words in one. For instance, “rats” + “bane” = “ratsbane.” Did you get that one?

Of course, both the compound noun and the compound adjective/modifier belong to the larger class of compound words. If you recall from your own grammar lessons, there are also such things as compound sentences–two independent clauses, or complete thoughts, in one, where each could stand alone.

Now for the main event!
Five Phrases from the Frasers
(and Mackenzies)

Featured this week are the answers to the question about the Outlander phrase that samples one word each, in order, from episode 112 “Lallybroch”/episode 114 “The Search,” episode 105 “Rent,” and episode 107 “The Wedding” of the show’s first season.

Do you Outlander fans know which character(s) spoke each word in the invented insult “You muckle whey-faced coof“?


Duncan LaCroix as Murtagh considers whether Jamie’s mom would like his bride. Image: Starz & Sony Pictures Television


The adjective “muckle,” meaning big, tall, or great, shows up in several episodes; we’ll focus on the main three. Not mentioned last week is its presence in ep107 in the stables. Murtagh Fraser worries aloud to his godson Jamie about his “red hair and muckle size, wearing Fraser colours” for the wedding–given that the lad has a price on his head.

Sam Heughan as Jamie: bashful with Jenny–and freezing–after the redcoats leave. Image by Starz & Sony Pictures Television

Jenny Fraser similarly criticizes her brother Jamie for diving into the mill-pond to try to fix the mill-wheel in ep112 “Lallybroch”: What the hell were ye doin’, you muckle great sumph (i.e., oaf)?! Have ye not grown up a bit?” And sure enough, it’s because he wandered off just when the redcoats were approaching the property of the laird who still has that price on his head.

Jenny at Lallybroch graveyard when she and Jamie make peace.

Laura Donnelly as Jenny makes peace with Jamie at the family graveyard. Image: Starz & Sony Pictures Television

But, I mean, look at that bod. There’s a wanted man if ever I saw one.

candid shot of Caitriona Balfe as Claire in ep114

Caitriona Balfe as Claire “posing as an itinerant performer.”  Image: Starz & Sony Pictures Television

Another prominent example using the word “muckle” in the sense of great comes when Claire Fraser dresses as a sassenach (i.e., outlander or Englishwoman, which she is) in drag and sings all around northern Scotland to summon her lost husband Jamie in ep114 “The Search.” Set to the tune of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” (Claire’s idea, which Murtagh brilliantly develops), the refrain substitutes “And there’s nane (none) as muckle as Strathbogie-wogie!” for “He’s the boogie-woogie bugle boy of Company B.”

For more about the original bawdy song “The Reels O Bogie” and the version of it she sings in the episode, see my detailed posts on the subject here and here.

Okay, so those are the muckles. Next, the compound modifier “whey-faced,” which means pale-faced like the color of whey, shows up in ep105 “Rent.” It’s when Torcal, the tenant who can’t pay the rent he owes the Laird of Clan Mackenzie (Colum Mackenzie), reacts in the tavern to Dougal Mackenzie’s display of Jamie’s scarred back from flogging by the British.


Jamie Fraser’s humiliation as Dougal uses him for the rebel cause. Image: Starz & Sony Pictures Television

Clearly, Dougal’s speech in Gaelic for the Jacobite rebellion and the visual aid (visuals are helpful, don’t you think?) has the intended effect on this man. Torcal mutters across the table to a neighbor that he’d rather die than “let that whey-faced sassenach use me so.” Oddly enough, Black Jack Randall is a bit swarthier than the stereotypical sassenach–maybe the “whey” of his complexion has black pepper or soot in it to match the color of his soul.

Last we have the slang noun “coof,” a Scots English word for a dolt, or stupid fellow. This one occurs in the wedding night scene of ep107 where Rupert Mackenzie and Angus Mhor burst into the honeymoon chamber to check on the newlyweds’, er, progress in consummating the marriage.

Claire's reaction when Rupert and Angus barge in on her and Jamie

Claire reacts to Rupert and Angus barging in. Image via People mag from Starz & Sony Pictures Television

The two Scotsmen insult each other in turn:

“I told ye to stand back, ye coof,” Rupert digs into Angus. Then, after a brief discussion in which Rupert explains their presence, Jamie throws them out.

On the way, Angus fires back at Rupert, “Now who’s the coof? They’ve still got their clothes on!” and then proceeds to confess that he just wanted to see Claire’s breasts.

Did you guess all five of those correctly?

Last week, I also said I would share more favorite Outlander lines for the phrase feature of the week, but we’ve got our five quotes for this week, so I’ll save more for another post. It requires some extra thought and careful selection, after all. As Jamie says in ep115 “Wentworth Prison,” “How will I ever choose?”

Perhaps I’ll pull from the book next time. But how about a hand for those show writers in their use of authentic Scots, Gaelic, and 18th-century English vernacular! Tapadh Leibh, I say!

What are some of your favorite lines from this show or others?

Ta-ta for now, wordsmiths, superfans, and readaholics (we’ll explore what kind of word that is next time)!

If you liked learning about Scots terms and their creative usage (or you have an interest in partial nudity, body parts, lewdness, or trippy poems about mammals and stones), you might also like: