Scots or Scotch: what does Robot Robert Burns say about this burning question? – Scotsman comment

Right now, you are reading The Scotsman. However, if someone were to call us “The Scotchman”, should we be offended?

As we ponder standing on our dignity, possibly with the help of a glass of Scotch, it’s worth considering the thoughts of Diana Gabaldon, author of Outlander fame. According to her “everyone (including all the Scots)” used “Scotch” until the rise of the SNP. “I see the linguistic change occurring roughly parallel with the emergence of the party,” she said. “Chance is that an underlying development of nationalistic feeling was driving both political and linguistic developments.”

However, while correllation suggests possible causation, it does not prove it. Gabaldon can, however, call on a powerful witness to testify that, of old, "Scotch” was indeed used. Robert Burns, no less, once wrote: “The appelation of a Scotch Bard, is by far my highest pride; to continue to deserve it is my most exalted ambition.”

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It appears the term emerged in 16th-century England, but started to be used in Scotland in the late 1700s, before falling out of fashion. Maybe it became so associated with whisky that using it to describe people felt odd. There’s certainly a feeling among some that it is derogatory or incorrect, but whether this is more common among nationalists or unionists, we could not say.

Fortunately, there is ‘someone’ who just might help to solve the mystery: “Robot Burns”, an AI program created by a PhD student to write verse in the style of the Bard. Will Robot Burns express its “highest pride” in being a “Scotch Bard” or condemn anyone suggesting such a thing as a “pickle-herring in the puppet-show of nonsense”?

Outlander author Diana Gabaldon has suggested the decline of 'Scotch' as an alternative to 'Scots' or 'Scottish' coincided with rising support for the SNP

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