Whisky and Haggis

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January 25th marks Burns Night, an event celebrates the life and work of the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns. It has been celebrated on the poet’s birthday every year since the eighteenth century. Even if you haven’t heard of Robert Burns, you may be familiar with his poem Auld Lang Syne which is often sung at New Year’s and translates to ‘old long since’ (i.e. ‘long long ago) – why not click here to read more about the poet and his life? You can also read about how a typical Burns Night celebration might go here.

This week we’re going to take a look at two very important components of a Burns Night celebration: food and drink. Or more specifically: haggis and whisky.

On Burns Night, haggis is served with neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes) as the main course of the supper. The starter course is traditionally cock-a-leekie soup (chicken and leek), and the sweet course is clootie dumpling (cloot being a Scottish word for cloth, which is used in the recipe to wrap around the dough before boiling it) or Tipsy Laird (sherry trifle). Haggis is a famous Scottish dish made from the internal organs of a sheep or calf, which are then mixed with suet and oatmeal, seasoned, and boiled in a bag made from the animal’s stomach. The word dates back to the fifteenth century and although it is now primarily a Scottish word, it was commonly used in Middle English, and possibly originates from the Old English ‘hag’ which means ‘to hack’, and in turn comes from the Old Norse ‘hoggva’. Another theory is that ‘haggis’ comes from the Old French ‘agace’ which means ‘magpie’ alluding to dish being made up of bits and pieces like those that the bird might collect.

The word ‘whisky’ is spelt with the letter ‘e’ (i.e. ‘whiskey’) in Ireland and USA, and this spelling has been used to differentiate these whiskeys from Scotch whiskies since the nineteenth century. ‘Whisky’ came into circulation in 1715, and originates from the Gaelic ‘uisge beatha’ (meaning ‘water of life’) which in turn comes from the Old Irish ‘uisce’ meaning ‘water’. It is possible that the Gaelic ‘uisge beatha’ is a loan-translation from the Medieval Latin ‘aqua vitae’ which was used to describe alcoholic drinks from the fourteen century. While American whiskey is usually made from corn and rye, Irish whiskey and Scotch are usually made using malt.

Here is a list of Burns Night vocabulary. You can practise using them by clicking on the eye icon at the top of the list to take a ‘Look, Say, Cover, Write, Check’ test; the ear icon to take a ‘Listen and Spell’ test; and the football icon to play games using these words). Don’t forget to let us know how you get on using #Spellzone2015.

If you enjoyed this post – why not check out our article 20 Words from Scotland? Have a good week!

Sources: Oxford English Dictionary, Online Etymology Dictionary, and BBC Arts.

25 Jan 2015
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