Yer da sells Avon: how the Scots lan­guage found a new home on Twitter

Young Scots have spoken in their own languages for decades. Now they’re finding an authentic voice online, thanks to social media. And blowing yersel up tae fuck in a microwave.

Ye ever wan­ty just wrap yersel up in tin foil nice and cosy and then just fuck­ing get right inty the microwave and blow yersel up tae fuck” 

Much like fel­low Scots word­smiths Robert Burns and Irvine Welsh before him, Twit­ter user @cannyswim induct­ed him­self into the Scot­tish cul­ture hall of fame when he post­ed the above on 22nd June 2015. With 65.5k retweets since then, the tweet has earned its place amongst the best of Scot­tish Twit­ter, along­side oth­er clas­sic con­tri­bu­tions includ­ing Kings­ley the Partick This­tle mas­cot; yer maw’ jokes; yer da sells Avon’ jokes; any­thing Lewis Capal­di tweets, and maw bought aldi show­er gel that smells like fairy liq­uid so I’ve been cut­ting about all day smelling like a fuck­ing plate” (@adamfraser14, August 2015). 

For many peo­ple both out­side Scot­land and with­in, Twit­ter has pro­vid­ed a brand new view into the Scots lan­guage and its vari­eties in all their sweary, hys­ter­i­cal, some­times incom­pre­hen­si­ble glo­ry. Has the plat­form spear­head­ed a resur­gence amongst its young users or is this some­thing more pro­found altogether?

The Scots lan­guage has been spo­ken in Scot­land for cen­turies and still exists across the coun­try today. It’s com­prised of numer­ous dif­fer­ent dialects – which can dif­fer from each oth­er quite dra­mat­i­cal­ly – and is one of three offi­cial lan­guages in Scot­land, along­side Eng­lish and Gael­ic. In 2001 it was offi­cial­ly recog­nised under the Euro­pean Char­ter for Minor­i­ty Languages. 

Scots was the nation­al lan­guage of a coun­try that doesn’t exist any­more,” explains writer and pre­sen­ter Alis­tair Heather, who writes a Scots col­umn in Scotland’s The Nation­al news­pa­per. As Scot­land was amal­ga­mat­ed into Great Britain, Scots fell away from being a nation­al lan­guage because it didn’t have a nation anymore.

And until rel­a­tive­ly recent­ly Scot­tish opin­ion-for­m­ers in news and media were [most­ly] based in Eng­land and not plugged into work­ing-class or rur­al Scot­land at all, so didn’t see Scots lan­guage as a con­tem­po­rary issue in Scot­land,” he con­tin­ues. “[But] it’s gain­ing a lot of legit­i­ma­cy and valid­i­ty through social media as a pri­vate expres­sion [while] find­ing a pub­lic sphere.”

The unique sta­tus of Scots means that gen­er­a­tions of Scot­tish chil­dren have been brought up to use for­mal Eng­lish in school and pub­lic life, even though it might not be their first lan­guage, or the one spo­ken at home. The result is a dis­con­nect between spo­ken and writ­ten lan­guage, and a dimin­ished record of writ­ten Scots as it is spo­ken infor­mal­ly, rather than in lit­er­a­ture or poet­ry. For many young Scots, social media might be a new and unique oppor­tu­ni­ty to write in the same way as they speak.

It’s the first time ever where there’s been an infor­mal pub­lic-fac­ing writ­ing plat­form. So it’s not for edu­ca­tion, or a let­ter to your doc­tor,” points out Dr. E Jamieson, who spe­cialis­es in Scots syn­tax at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Glas­gow. There’s some­thing impor­tant about hav­ing the free­dom and space to be able to use your native vari­ety and spo­ken lan­guage in a writ­ten form with­out any­one cor­rect­ing you.”

This was also part of the appeal for 25-year-old Glaswe­gian @Butsay, who boasts 20.9k fol­low­ers and reg­u­lar­ly finds him­self going viral as part of Scot­tish Twitter. 

It’s how I talk in real life and Twit­ter is a pret­ty casu­al site, so I guess that’s how it came about so nat­u­ral­ly for most peo­ple,” he says. It gives it more of a per­son­al feel, as if oth­er Scot­tish folk can read it and relate, or hear the accent, which usu­al­ly makes it fun­nier. Plus, the over­all brief, con­ver­sa­tion­al tone just adds more empha­sis. It’s as if you’re just talk­ing loads of shite with your pals.”

As with oth­er social media, the role Twit­ter can play in con­struct­ing and com­mu­ni­cat­ing iden­ti­ty might also be cen­tral to Scot­tish Twit­ter, par­tic­u­lar­ly for a coun­try with a strong sense of col­lec­tive cul­ture but a com­plex and some­what unique posi­tion as a nation with­in a nation – and one still grap­pling with exis­ten­tial ques­tions about its own place and identity.

Twitter’s all about iden­ti­ty and build­ing a per­sona, a pub­lic face,” points out Dr. Sadie Ryan, an Eng­lish Lan­guage and Lin­guis­tics aca­d­e­m­ic at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Glas­gow and pre­sen­ter of the Accen­tric­i­ty pod­cast. When we’re writ­ing on Twit­ter we’re think­ing quite a lot about how we present our­selves and how peo­ple see us. Peo­ple want to be able to say: this is who I am and where I am, and this is my identity”. 

Her col­league Dr. Jamieson agrees, point­ing out that the major­i­ty of viral Scot­tish tweets tend to use Scots from the Cen­tral Belt (encom­pass­ing the cities of Glas­gow, Stir­ling, and Edin­burgh and their sur­round­ing areas). You can look for fea­tures in tweets and pin­point where they’re from, so we know that peo­ple tend to use their own local vari­eties. There’s def­i­nite­ly an iden­ti­ty aspect to that.” 

And if Scots lan­guage allows peo­ple to com­mu­ni­cate their local or region­al iden­ti­ty, Twit­ter also allows for the con­struc­tion of a gen­er­al Scot­tish­ness” in which humour is a key com­po­nent. This, says Michael Demp­ster, Scots Scriev­er and Direc­tor of the Scots Lan­guage Cen­tre, is a rad­i­cal shift from old­er humour in which Scot­tish peo­ple and their lan­guages were the butt of jokes rather than their archi­tects – some­thing which has had an impact far beyond Twitter.

There’s a sort of cool­ness to it now, and the humour is inter­na­tion­al­is­ing,” he con­tin­ues. Pre­vi­ous humour was laugh­ing at how stu­pid­ly Scot­tish peo­ple speak; now we’re mak­ing the jokes and peo­ple are laugh­ing with us and tak­ing a moment to fig­ure out what it means”.

I do think it’s great how Scot­tish peo­ple carved out their own niche and quick­ly pushed it to being one of the most promi­nent, albeit infa­mous, col­lec­tives on the plat­form,” agrees Twit­ter user But­say. It’s a high­ly effi­cient place for cre­ators to get their work out to a lot of peo­ple. So in that respect it’s done a fair bit to spread a wide vari­ety of Scot­tish com­e­dy around the world.”

While But­say reg­u­lar­ly finds him­self amongst lists of Scot­tish Twitter’s fun­ni­est tweets, he and oth­ers also use the plat­form to dis­cuss seri­ous and some­times con­tentious issues in the Scots lan­guage, exact­ly as they might over a drink or in a casu­al con­ver­sa­tion. The phe­nom­e­non of Scot­tish Twit­ter high­lights what might be a par­tic­u­lar­ly Scot­tish brand of humour: obser­va­tion­al, self-dep­re­cat­ing, play­ful with lan­guage. But away from the viral hits, Scots is also being used much more wide­ly on the platform. 

For those involved in lan­guage activism, for exam­ple, Twit­ter has been an impor­tant tool in ele­vat­ing the sta­tus of Scots and bring­ing it to new audi­ences. Michael Demp­ster tweets exclu­sive­ly in Scots and sees the self-pub­lish­ing nature of Twit­ter as key to widen­ing its usage and increas­ing its accessibility.

If you’re being brief you don’t have to have a great lit­er­a­cy in Scots,” he points out. And a lot of jokes that you’ll find on Scot­tish Twit­ter wouldn’t func­tion in stan­dard Eng­lish – rhymes and puns and things like that. So it’s a neces­si­ty. There’s an absolute need for it.” 

It may also be that Scots has allowed Twit­ter users to also find a polit­i­cal voice. It was around 2015 that Scot­tish Twit­ter” began being recog­nised as a par­tic­u­lar com­mu­ni­ty and named in Buz­zfeed-style roundups around the world. Its growth and recog­ni­tion echoes the devel­op­ment of meme cul­ture in gen­er­al, but also a resur­gence in nation­al­ism and dis­cus­sion of Scotland’s his­to­ry and cul­ture in the after­math of the 2014 inde­pen­dence referendum. 

An Edin­burgh Uni­ver­si­ty study con­duct­ed in 2017 used com­put­er pro­grammes to analyse whether tweet­ers in favour of Scot­tish inde­pen­dence were more like­ly to use Scots words such as oor”, yersel” or bairns”, and found that they were – but not nec­es­sar­i­ly in tweets relat­ing to the inde­pen­dence dis­cus­sion. Their find­ings sug­gest­ed this was because tweets with hash­tags were intend­ed to be seen by a broad­er audi­ence, point­ing again to the infor­mal and famil­ial nature of Scots usage. 

When an image of Mer­ri­da from the Dis­ney film Brave went viral in 2018, with Twit­ter users all over the world writ­ing their own Scot­tish” cap­tions, it wasn’t long before bat­tles over authen­tic­i­ty began to emerge. 

The phe­nom­e­non of Scots Twit­ter is large­ly an expres­sion of urban work­ing class Scots cul­ture, and has lay­ers of cel­e­bra­tion, anger and self-par­o­dy large­ly invis­i­ble to peo­ple who aren’t close to it,” tweet­ed @HarryJosieGiles as part of a thread which used the meme to exam­ine the Scots lan­guage with­in the con­text of colo­nial­ism.

If the self-pub­lish­ing and infor­mal nature of Twit­ter has allowed peo­ple to find an authen­tic writ­ten expres­sion of their spo­ken voice, the iden­ti­ty-form­ing nature of it may also have allowed oth­ers to find an inau­then­tic one. It’s actu­al­ly annoy­ing when you see peo­ple typ­ing Scot­tish’ online and then meet them and they sound com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent,” says 22-year-old Phoebe from Bell­shill in North Lanarkshire. 

You’ve got peo­ple tweet­ing a cer­tain way to get retweets and then you meet them and, to be frank, they’re posh,” she con­tin­ues. It’s the same kind of thing as posh peo­ple pre­tend­ing to be work­ing class to be more liked or what­ev­er, and then return­ing back to their nor­mal lives at the end of their phase.”

It’s an authen­tic­i­ty that brands have also attempt­ed to cap­i­talise on to lim­it­ed suc­cess. While Scot­land-based com­pa­nies like Tennent’s and Irn-Bru have been able to tap into the com­mu­ni­ty, those out­side have strug­gled. Alis­tair Heather recalls a Lon­don-based mar­ket­ing agency ask­ing him for con­sul­ta­tion on mar­ket­ing a par­tic­u­lar prod­uct in the style of Scot­tish Twit­ter. It just wouldn’t work,” he explains. There’s way too much depth and knowl­edge you need to make it funny.”

Where Twit­ter has pro­vid­ed a space for every­day young Scots to express them­selves more freely, it’s also pro­vid­ed an invalu­able plat­form for the lan­guage itself to devel­op and evolve – and for lin­guists and oth­er experts to track it as it does so. 

There’s a real­ly rich and long poet­ry tra­di­tion in Scots dat­ing back 600 years,” Heather points out. But there’s not a huge prose tra­di­tion. There aren’t that many arti­cles or let­ters just talk­ing about nor­mal things. In a way social media is help­ing to estab­lish a whole new Scots prose tradition.” 

Dr. Ryan has stud­ied the use of Scots on Face­book by pre-teen girls and sees par­al­lels with its usage on Twit­ter. What was real­ly strik­ing is the cre­ativ­i­ty in how these kids were using Scots,” she notes. They weren’t using Scots dic­tio­nar­ies, they didn’t know about Scots spelling con­ven­tions. They were just look­ing for ways to rep­re­sent their speech.” 

She points to the recur­ring use of mean­ty” rather than meant to” – a word which has no basis in tra­di­tion­al writ­ten Scots but which entire­ly reflect­ed the Scots spo­ken by those who used it. Sim­i­lar­ly, the use of wan­ty” for want to” is wide­spread across Scot­tish Twit­ter, sug­gest­ing a shared stan­dard of writ­ten Scots that had no home before the advent of social media. 

And Twit­ter is increas­ing­ly a tool for lin­guists and oth­er experts to draw on when map­ping lan­guage and its evo­lu­tion. You can see real­ly fine grain change hap­pen­ing amongst younger peo­ple,” explains Dr Jamieson. You can just look on Twit­ter and see new [lan­guage] fea­tures inno­vat­ing in the Cen­tral Belt and spread­ing out across the country.” 

Some­times a fun­ny tweet is just a fun­ny tweet. But more often in the case of Scot­tish Twit­ter it seems part of some­thing much big­ger, whether its cre­ators are aware of it or not. Com­plex issues of class, iden­ti­ty, nation and belong­ing find them­selves play­ing out through lan­guage on Twit­ter as they have done in Edin­burgh pub cor­ners or round Glaswe­gian din­ner tables in gen­er­a­tions before. It’s a unique­ly Scot­tish phe­nom­e­non, but one which is proud­ly export­ed to the rest of the world.

And if lan­guage is a way for Scot­tish peo­ple to express their iden­ti­ties, its man­i­fes­ta­tions seem to be a way for oth­ers to express their feel­ings. Much like pan-lan­guage phras­es Schaden­freude and déjà vu before it, some­thing about the Scots lan­guage seems to res­onate beyond its bor­ders, allow­ing for expres­sion of sen­ti­ments that are relat­able but incom­mu­ni­ca­ble in oth­er languages.

In oth­er (Scots) words: per­haps the true take­away from Scot­tish Twitter’s unique suc­cess is that some­times we all just wan­ty wrap oursels up in tin foil nice and cosy and then just fuck­ing get right inty the microwave and blow oursels up tae fuck. Ye ken?

The 10 best Scottish tweets according to Actual Scottish Person Eve Livingston

I deh trust the den­tist when they start talk­ing in code about your teeth to their wee pal, you got suhin to say say it to ma face prick –– @matthewlenniex

In McDonald’s and the girl shout­ed to the back need a spicy leg­end’ and a wee guy shout­ed back I’m right here doll’ 😂 – – @plouise16

A boy at avicii telt me his dad died cos of MDMA and when the beat dropped he was prop­er cry­ing his eyes out shoutin ma dad died for this” ––@nathanhend_97

Mad how yer taste­buds change as ye get old­er. Would nev­er have even thought aboot touch­ing a mush­room when a was younger n noo am basi­cal­ly oot for­ag­ing in the woods tae find the elu­sive scar­let elf­cap tae fling in ma car­bonara for a more earthy flavour –– @sdel6795

Just got 4 drinks at the dri­ve thru n that guy asked do ye want a cuphold­er’. Obvi­ous­ly a do ya fuck­ing repro­bate am no a fuck­ing octo­pus –– @CallumMcNab93

My maw gets so jel when I do any­thing fun like no my fault I’m oot snort­ing lines n shag­gin nines and you have to stay home n bake a lasagne –– @sal28_

Just realised that my club stamp says yer da sells avon, ffs scot­land –– @srahelizabth

burd in the pub kept tellin everycunt her cat had thumbs n then we end­ed up in her gaff and shit u not that wee hing could beat u at Fifa –– @Bethanyreid__

Just seen a bird shoutin at her bairn to put his pants on then point­ed at me sayin look the mans gonna steal ur willy’. Wtf no am no –– @ryankingg

baby cough­in on a bus right as a need­ed tae cough so a near­ly explod­ed hawdin it in cos a did­ny wan­ty look like the guy who copies babies –– @butsay_

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