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Of Celtic Cats and Consonants

What Do They Do With All Those Consonants?

What Do They Do With All Those Consonants?

The other day, I was browsing through Compton Mackenzie’s classic novel Whisky Galore when I ran into a passage that confused me mightily:

I remember my mother once sat down on the cat, because you’ll understand the plinds were pulled down in our house every Sabbath and she didn’t chust see where she was sitting. The cat let out a great sgiamh and I let out a huge laugh, and did my father take the skin off me next day? Man, I was sitting down on proken glass for a week afterwards. [No words have been misspelled: The novel is in Hebridean Scottish dialect]

What made me sit up is that cat cry: sgiamh. Can someone please pronounce that for me? I have never heard any creature, human or otherwise, make a sound like that; and, not being of the Celtic persuasion, I have not the slightest idea how that is sounded.

Incidentally, Mackenzie’s book was turned into a delightful film variously called Whisky Galore or Tight Little Island by Alexander Mackendrick in 1949. Starring were Basil Radford and the delightful Joan Greenwood. No cats were harmed in the making of that film, and none were coached into crying sgiamh!