Scotland the pawky….

I recently found this carefully written on the wall of a restaurant toilet in Dundee:

Brexit’ to be followed by Grexit. Departugal. Italeave. Fruckoff. Czechout. Oustria. Finish. Slovakout. Latervia. Byegium. Scotfree….

I’ve no idea where the wit originated but there’s something very Scottish about choosing this method of communication.

This other response to Brexit was sent me online by a Scotswoman:


referring to the Remain vote in Scotland and London. I’ve culled these flowers of wit for St. Andrew’s Day because I think they illustrate my notion that Scots are not especially brave or bright but they just may be the one of the funniest cultures in the world. Now let me qualify that a bit. Without doubt the Irish are the funniest at “laugh till the tears come” humour, just as the Russians are tops for the darkest humour in the world. But Scotland gets the gold for what we would call “pawky” humour, meaning humour that is sly, indirect, and subversive. I admit this claim has been bolstered by hearing a few days ago on the radio the sweet surrealist musings of Ivor Cutler, famous for his saying, “Imperfection is an end; perfection is only an aim.”

I’ve used the word “pawky” which may be unfamiliar to readers outwith (Scots for “outside” of an area) Scotland and Northern England. It derives from  a anglo- saxon word “pauk” meaning a trick or stratagem, and is used to describe a dry and dissident wit. There is also a tradition of savage wit in Scotland, but it is not pawky, which refers  to only to utterances which have a certain lightness and indirection. The pawky person does not charge at her target like a bull, but moves a little to the side, the better to find a weakpoint. When Billy Connolly wants to puncture a kind of pious pity of his Parkinsonism, he remembers his doctor’s advice that in public he could conceal his trembing hands by putting them in his pockets. “But then when I saw what this looked like on camera, I realised it wouldnae work……” The obvious vulgarity of much of Connolly’s wit dsguises its delicate fantasy, its pawkiness.

I grew up in Glasgow with many pawky people, not least the hero of my teenage years, Gibb Gillies, a friend of my family, whose capacity for the sideways look at people and events was a constant delight to me. He was the headmaster of Scotland Street Primary School, and ever ready to test my knowledge.

“Who discovered America?”

“Christopher Columbus,” I answered.

“Did all these Indians live there all that time without discovering it?”


“Was Jesus a Christian?”

“Of course,” I answered.

“You mean he believed in himself?”


“Is Jayne Mansfield a stoatir?” ( Well-built woman)

“Oh aye,” I answered.

“Exactly what is it about her that stoats?” (stots)

I knew the answer to that one but he knew I couldn’t manage the adult langauge to tell him.

The pawky Scot is a bit sceptical about the relics of St. Andrew. Knowing that the Scots  Crown and Clergy were anxious to get into the lucrative pilgrim trade, we realise the sooner or later some bits of some apostle were bound to end up here. We had plenty ordinary second string saints before that, Columba, Aidan, Mungo and the rest, but obviously their dessicated bits and bobs were not good enough to put us in the premier league for pilgrimage, and so they had to be relegated with Andrew’s arrival.

The Reformation Church may have made some mistakes – it wasn’t noted for its lightsome heart or pawky humour- but it surely did get right the notion that the biblical word “saints” meant the whole people of God, as a community and individually. My older friend Gibb who was utterly devoted to children throughout his life, and was prepared to educate me for life in his spare time, is a more relevant saint to me than the good Apostle, who as Simon Peter’s brother was doubtless experienced in shuffling out of the spotlight. Throughout some fifty years of ministry, I’ve served the saints, and although they have been often at odds with me, (and often rightly) I’ve never ceased to see them as holy and to marvel at their gifts. With their own pawky wit they have never ceased to demand that I recognise them, and myself, as ordinary grade sinners, whom only Jesus would recognise as anything else.

Aye, Jesus. That reminds me that I like to think of Jesus as having a Scottish side, and therefore a pawky sense of humour expressed perhaps in calling his flakiest disciple, “The Rock,” or in travestying the judgemental nonsense of Pharisees by a mime of writing in dust, or indeed by healing an apparently dead girl by saying, “Time to get up, my wee dove.”

His firm conviction that known sinners and the poor were the preferred subjects of God’s kingdom, may also be called pawky.



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