Humor of Scottish Pronunciation

Humor of Scottish Pronunciation by Mark Twain is from his book ‘Following the Equator’:

In this world we often make mistakes of judgment.

We do not as a rule get out of them sound and whole, but sometimes we do.

At dinner yesterday evening-present, a mixture of Scotch, English, American, Canadian, and Australasian folk--a discussion broke out about the pronunciation of certain Scottish words.

This was private ground, and the non-Scotch nationalities, with one exception, discreetly kept still.

But I am not discreet, and I took a hand.

I didn't know anything about the subject, but I took a hand just to have something to do.

At that moment the word in dispute was the word three.

One Scotchman was claiming that the peasantry of Scotland pronounced it three, his adversaries claimed that they didn't--that they pronounced it 'thraw'.

The solitary Scot was having a sultry time of it, so I thought I would enrich him with my help.

In my position I was necessarily quite impartial, and was equally as well and as ill equipped to fight on the one side as on the other.

So I spoke up and said the peasantry pronounced the word three, not thraw.

It was an error of judgment.

There was a moment of astonished and ominous silence, then weather ensued. The storm rose and spread in a surprising way, and I was snowed under in a very few minutes. It was a bad defeat for me--a kind of Waterloo. It promised to remain so, and I wished I had had better sense than to enter upon such a forlorn enterprise.

But just then I had a saving thought--at least a thought that offered a chance.

While the storm was still raging, I made up a Scotch couplet, and then spoke up and said:

"Very well, don't say any more. I confess defeat. I thought I knew, but I see my mistake. I was deceived by one of your Scotch poets."

"A Scotch poet! O come! Name him."

"Robert Burns."

It is wonderful the power of that name. These men looked doubtful--but paralyzed, all the same. They were quite silent for a moment; then one of them said--with the reverence in his voice which is always present in a Scotchman's tone when he utters the name.

"Does Robbie Burns say--what does he say?"

"This is what he says:

'There were nae bairns (children) but only three--Ane (one) at the breast, twa (two) at the knee.'"

It ended the discussion. There was no man there profane enough, disloyal enough, to say any word against a thing which Robert Burns had settled. I shall always honor that great name for the salvation it brought me in this time of my sore need.

It is my belief that nearly any invented quotation, played with confidence, stands a good chance to deceive.

There are people who think that honesty is always the best policy. This is a superstition; there are times when the appearance of it is worth six of it.


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