Scottish fact of the day: Dundee United

Dundee United keeper Hamish McAlpine holds his head in his hands after conceding in a 1972 game against Hibs. Picture: TSPL
Dundee United keeper Hamish McAlpine holds his head in his hands after conceding in a 1972 game against Hibs. Picture: TSPL
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OUR recent series of articles on Scottish slang have shown that the meaning of a word or phrase can be fairly elastic. That may not be much consolation to fans of Dundee United, whose team name is Nigerian slang for ‘idiot’.

The unlikely turn of phrase comes from the Yoruba language of ethnic groups from Nigeria and Benin, but came to the attention of a Scottish audience thanks to a 2010 BBC documentary on the Nigerian capital Lagos.

In the film, a local man called ‘Chubby’ tells the filmmakers that life in Lagos requires intelligence, and that any ‘Dundee Uniteds’ will soon learn the error of their ways.

Chubby remarks: “Anybody who came to Lagos and he didn’t learn sense, he cannot get sense ever. Because here if you are a fool, they will learn you how to get sense.

“If you are a ‘Dundee United’, when they start to pour **** on you, you will get sense.”

The phrase is well-established in the Yoruba lexicon, but there is debate about its origins. The most likely explanation comes from United’s disastrous pre-season tour of Nigeria in 1972, in which Jim McLean’s side won just one of their five games.

There is also a theory that troublemaking Dundee fans may have spread the word about their local rivals while Nigeria were based at Dens Park for the 1989 under-16 World Championships, sending their new friends home with some extra vocabulary.

It may be that Dundee United fans have just been unlucky - the Yoruba word for a drum is ‘dundun’, and the onomatopoeic quality of the word might have inspired the phrase.

Whatever the origins, the phrase lives on in Lagos, so any Arabs heading to Nigeria should leave their orange tops at home if they want to avoid receiving a ribbing from the locals.

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