09 December 2014

The Black Book, by Ian Rankin

An Inspector Rebus novel, (copyright 1993) in which Rebus becomes involved in several mysteries at once, which he, in his inimitable fashion, ties together, during which process he offends and alienates much of the Edinburgh police force.

This is a great book, a great mystery, and full of colorful language. While reading this book I decided to keep a list of what I imagine are "Scottish" words. Some of these I know the meaning of, some I guessed from context, some I need to look up. Page numbers are from my St. Martin's / Minotaur paperback edition, ISBN 0-312-97675-5.

  • harr, n. Scot. and North Eng., a thick, wet fog along the seacoast.
    [1665–75; north var. of HOAR]*
  • polis -- police
  • ca' canny -- be careful?
  • snell, adj. [Appears on p. 18 "weak sunshine and a snell wind" and 247.] Chiefly Scot. 1.    active; lively: a snell lad.
    2.    witty: a snell remark.
    3.    severe: snell weather. [bef. 900; ME, OE; c. OHG snel (G schnell) quick, ON snjallr excellent]*
  •  stews -- I lost the page number for this one, but here's the quote I wrote down: "The Edinburgh establishment has never bided too far from the stews." (brothels)
  • guttered -- "is he guttered?" [p.96]
  • tadger -- penis [p.115]
  • bunnet -- some kind of headgear [p.131]
  • gey -- extremely? "...guide dogs are gey expensive these days..." [p.160]
  • skited -- slipped, skidded? " ...nearly skited on wet linoleum..." [p.172]
  • gardyloo -- "stepped under a gardyloo bucket..." [p.180] gardyloo, interj.
    (a cry formerly used in Scotland to warn pedestrians when slops were about to be thrown from an upstairs window.)
    [1760–70; Anglicized form of F gare (de) l'eau beware of the water]*
  • heid-the-ba -- henchman? [p.189]
  • keech -- shit? "They used to chuck all their keech out of the windows and onto the street ... the locals called it the Flowers of Edinburgh..." [p.190]
  • blether -- talk, conversation [p.193]
  • pulses -- beans? [p.241]
  • fly-halfs [p.251]
  • scoor-oot [p.263] -- a scattering, like throwing a handful of coins on the ground for children to scramble after -- search this page for "scoor-oot." Also, there's a rather expensive dictionary of Scottish words and phrases on Amazon.com with this word as its title.
  • thrawn [p.321]
  • teuchters [p.322]
  • donnert [p.325]
  • glaur -- mud? shit? [p. 333] 
*Thanks to my friend R.S. for these definitions

Another wonderful bit of color from the book: at one point, Rebus visits an elderly aunt that he hasn't seen since he was a child. She surprises him by grabbing his wrists and reciting the following grace before they eat:

     Some hae meat and cannae eat
     and some hae none that want it
     but we hae meat and we can eat
     so let the Lord be thankit

The Black Book is violent, funny, and beautifully written.

Rankin's favorite moments from his books, in The Guardian

Summary of The Black Book on Ian Rankin's website

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