The GFG in Scots

Yes, before you raise your eyebrows at me, that is the famous children’s book by Roald Dahl book but translated into Scots it becomes the Guid Freendly Giant. As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Roald Dahl’s birth, there is renewed interest in his work and the GFG is the most recent of a series of Scots language books from the remarkable imprint that is Itchy Coo.

Founded in 2002 by James Robertson and Matthew Fitt, Itchy Coo, in partnership with Black & White Publishing specialises in ‘Lesser Used Language’ books in Scots and Scots dialects. It has also been an education project involving the promotion of these languages in appropriate schools, in other words, outwith the Gaeltach. It has sold almost a quarter of a million books as well as raising awareness of and confidence in using the Scots language.

But what, exactly, is Scots?  It is not, as some people suspect, just bad English. Scots is a West Germanic language, descended from Old Northern English with links to Danish, French, Gaelic and Latin. It was the language of the medieval Scottish court, spoken by Mary Queen of Scots and James VI. Today it is recognised by the Scottish Government, the UK Government and the European Union and there are approximately 1.6 million speakers of the language. Like any language, Scots has a number of different dialects, including Glaswegian, Doric, Ayrshire, Edinburgh Scots, Dundonian, Borders, Fife, Shetland, Orcadian and others.

And all credit to Itchy Coo, for they are publishing children’s books in all these dialects.

To a non Scots speaker, the book is not easy to read at first. There are many words that I didn’t know the meaning of.  Add to this Roald Dahl’s imaginative and inventive language and the GFG’s lack of education, which causes him to mix up words, and you have something that is bordering on incomprehensible! – and if I hadn’t been completely captivated by the language, I doubt I’d have persevered.

But that is the case for all children. As they read more and more by themselves, they come across words they don’t know but can work out by the context. That’s how they learn the meaning. Dahl also understood that children love words that are incomprehensible to adults. Once I had the hang of it, it was an absolute joy to read, even if my pronunciation probably left much to be desired.

Susan Rennie has no doubt had great fun with her translation. A lecturer in English and Scots language at Glasgow University and author of several books in Scots for children, she has been involved with the project from the early days.

It is interesting to note one or two changes she has made from Dahl’s original, some in the interests of political correctness, such as the description of Greeks and how they taste, and the substitution of some Scots places to acknowledge that this is a Scottish, not a British book. (That said, Sophy and the GFG still go to Lunnon to the Queen’s Pailace.) Some names that sound too English are changed, so the Fleshlumpeating Giant becomes the Girslegorbler, the Bonecruncher becomes the Banecrumper and so on. Dahl’s technique of combining words works just as well in any language.

Quentin Blake’s original illustrations are as perfect as ever.

Although the education project is now finished, Itchy Coo and Black and White remain committed to publishing Scots language and dialect books by the most popular authors. The GFG is sure to be a successful addition, helped by the new film, and with new editions of Roald Dahl’s The Eejits, The Sleekit Mr Tod, Chairlie and the Chocolate Works and Geordie’s Mingin Medicine also available.


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Suse Coon

Suse Coon started life training to be an architect but ended up as a fashion buyer then civil servant. After some time out to bring up her family of three, she returned to what had been a hobby and entered the field of freelance journalism. After becoming regional correspondent, then editor of the orienteering magazine CompassSport, she formed Pages Editorial & Publishing Services. In this guise, West Lothian Life was launched, while Suse maintained a level of freelancing and wrote the award winning children's novel Richard's Castle. In 1999, Suse bought over CompassSport and found her time taken up pretty well exclusively with the two magazines. In 2004, West Lothian Life was expanded to form Lothian Life, however, the workload was too great. In 2006, CompassSport was sold and Suse concentrated on the web version of Lothian Life. Her hobbies include gardening, orienteering, sea kayaking and Tai Chi.

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