1 year ago
Sunday, March 25, 2012
("K" is for "Knockout"}
What springs to mind as I gaze at this week’s prompt?
Why, the work of Roberrt Burrns, of course.
“O would some Pow'r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It would from many a blunder free us,
An' foolish notion.”
And that causes something else to spring to mind.
If you ever find yourself with a convivial group of Scotsmen knocking back a few at a local bar-room, and you’d like to win an easy bar bet, ask them – ask any patriotic Scot – “What does ‘Cutty Sark’ mean?”
You’ve got to establish ground rules, right off. No checking with Google. They’ve got to come up with the meaning by themselves. After all, it’s a remnant of Scottish history.
They’ll begin by saying it’s a brand of whisky, of course. (Maybe they’re even aware of the original Scotch name for the fragrant beverage: Whisky in Scottish Gaelic, "uisge beatha," literally means "water of life".)
All true, but that’s just a start.
Then they’ll mention the vessel on the bottle: “Cutty Sark” is the name of a ship, they’ll cry.
True again, but why is it the name of a ship? What does it mean?
Again, no checking with Google.
At this point you’re able to step in and dazzle everyone with the actual meaning.
Believe it or not, “Cutty Sark” means “mini-skirt.”
Here’s the story.
Surely you’ve heard of the tam o’shanter, the Scottish brimless cap. Well, that cap was named after a guy, Tam, who came from Shanter.
In a famous Robert Burns poem of the eighteenth century, Tam has had a few drinks at a local public house and he mounts his horse Meg to ride home.
On his way, he sees something astonishing. There’s a bizarre dance taking place on a local field, something involving witches and warlocks and other such types dancing about and jostling each other.
Tam is terrified; he knows they’ll kill him if they see him.
But he stays in place; he is beguiled by one beautiful young witch – as we might phrase it today, she was a knockout – who was dancing about in a skirt (a “sark”) that had been cut short – a “cutty sark,” in other words.
Suddenly the witches spot Tam on his horse Meg and come after him. He takes off as fast as he can go. He knows if he gets to the bridge over the local river he’ll be safe because witches, as everyone knows, cannot cross running water.
He just barely makes it. One of the witches grabs poor Meg’s tail and it comes off.
The poem ends like thusly:
“Now, who this tale o' truth shall read,
All man and mother's son, take heed:
Whene'er to Drink you are inclin'd,
Or Cutty-sarks run on your mind,
Think ye may buy the joys so dear;
Remember Tam o' Shanter's mare.”