Signs of Scotland

You wouldn’t think it would be that hard.  You start in…oh…York, England and drive about 200 miles north and somewhere in there, before you get to Edinburgh, Scotland, you should see a sign that says “Welcome to Scotland” or some such thing.  But the signs of Scotland I am thinking about this morning are the ones I saw while I was there recently that just tickled me.

And that reminded me that I chose the name of this blog—the dilettante’s dilemma—when I discovered that our word “dilettante” is built up from the Latin delctare,” to allure, delight, charm, or please.”  So I decided to write a blog about the things that delight me. [1]

Today, I would like to share with you some signs I saw in Scotland.  I think this one might be my favorite. 


It was posted on the door of a public toilet and the idea that it might have been posted there by the Queen just tickled me.  It allured, delighted, charmed, and pleased me.  No standing on royal privilege here, I thought.  I think there is just a little extra snap in this for me by the distance the mind has to travel to get from Queen Elizabeth to this public toilet.

Nearly all the “signs” I write about are deliberate misunderstandings of some word or other.  This one is not.  English is constructed in such a way that the adjectives stack up before the noun and we are  supposed to tell which applies to which by their context.  Well…we call these birds woodpeckers because they peck wood.  If you found a woodpecker made of wood, would probably be forced to call it a wood woodpecker. [2]  I hope that the artist who did this smiled to himself all the while.


The best book I know about humor, Max Eastman’s The Enjoyment of Laughter, says that at the heart of it all, humor is a discrepancy taken playfully.  Human beings are discrepancy detectors.  That is why we  have lasted this long.  But discrepancies taken playfully might turn out to be every bit as important, if sociability really is our species’ ace in the hole, as many evolutionary studies have concluded. 

This next one I found on the bulletin board of a church in Dunkeld.  The thing that made it funny to me was, again, how far the mind has to travel from the obvious “carpenters and joiners”  According to Wikipedia, “the main trade union for American carpenters still calls itself the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America.” But when you specify Nazareth, it becomes clear that you are thinking about a particular carpenter and that makes “joiners” mean something different as well.


I want to use this last one to acknowledge my long debt to Richard Armour, author of a number of books, the titles of which begin, It All Started With…  This one comes from It All Started with Europa.  In that book, he invented a character named Sir Martin Fourflusher [3], a descendent, Armour says, of the early Saxons who, as a result, knew all the Angles. 

I read and enjoyed that line in the 1950s and ever since, when the context lends itself to the association, I hear Angles when someone says “angles.”  It  helps, of course, to know that before there was anything “Anglo-Saxon,” there were people called Angles and people called Saxons, but there is no relationship at all between “angles” as in “knows the angles” and Angles as in Anglo-Saxon.  None.IMG_0326.jpeg

Or, at least, there was none until I read in Armour about Sir Martin Fourflusher.  This sign, as you can see, makes only the very slightest bow in the direction I took it in after highjacking it.  Still, it allured, delighted, charmed, and pleased me, so here it is.

[1]  It hasn’t worked out entirely.  I have written a good bit, over the last nine years, about things that intrigue me, not always in a good way, or things that alarm me.  I started worrying about the Trump phenomenon, for instance, when he was just a gleam in the eye of the Tea Party.

[2]  Wood pecker wouldn’t do the job because of the other uses to which the word “pecker” has been put.

[3]  A helpful explanation from Wikipedia:  “A four flush… is a poker hand that is one card short of being a full flush. Four flushing refers to empty boasting or unsuccessful bluffing, and a four flusher is a person who makes empty boasts or bluffs when holding a four flush.”

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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