‘They went absolutely mad for it’ - Scottish poet overwhelmed by online response to her latest Scots poem

A Scottish poet said she feels touched by an overwhelming response to a poem she wrote in Scots in a bid to keep the minority language alive.

Len Pennie, often referred to as Pennie, filmed herself reciting her poem ‘I’m no havin’ children’, which is half written in Scots, and posted it on Twitter before turning off her phone and going to bed.

After checking her post the next morning, the 21-year-old, from Airdrie, was amazed to find her poem had gone viral, and included a mention from renowned Scottish academic Billy Kay, an activist working to preserve the language.

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“I woke up and saw people went mad for it,” Pennie said, still sounding shocked by her burgeoning Twitter following.

“I had a few hundred followers before but they just shot up overnight.”

Pennie, known as PunnyPennie on Twitter, has been speaking Scots since the moment she could talk.

The young poet, who is studying Spanish at St Andrews University, grew up with her siblings, parents and grandparents all under one roof where the indigenous language was often spoken.

“There was never a dull moment for us,” she laughed, “which was mainly because there was never a moment where Scots wasn’t spoken.

Len Pennie aka Pennie and known as Miss PunnyPennie on Twitter @Lenniesaurus picture: Len Pennie
Len Pennie aka Pennie and known as Miss PunnyPennie on Twitter @Lenniesaurus picture: Len Pennie

"My grandparents, who have sadly passed away now and my mum and my dad all spoke slightly different dialects, so I was constantly learning new words.”

Inspiration for poem

When asked about what inspired her to write her hit poem she said it all stemmed from a conversation with her mother about their experiences speaking Scots.

"During a chat with mum, who is a teacher and from whom I have learned a lot of Scots words, she told me how she has to speak English in her school and keep the Scots at home because it’s not ‘professional.’

"It reminded me of how much I repress the language too, when I was at school or when I am at university.

"It made me think that if I don’t talk to my future weans like my mammy talks to me, and like her mammy talked to her, then all these wonderful words will be lost.

"So that’s what the poem is about really, it’s about passing on your mither’s tongue, staying proud of it, and keeping family together through language.”

Heartwarming response

Pennie said she and her mother have been moved by the heartwarming response to her poem.

"The fact that something so personal could go so public and resonate with so many people meant the world to me,” she added, emotion in her voice.

“I had grown men messaging me saying they were in tears seeing Scots still being spoken.

“There were so many words of encouragement like ‘gaun yersel’, it was incredible.”

Scots word of the day

The young poet’s journey with the language started from birth, and she went on to compete in various competitions up until the age of 17 where she would recite Scots poems.

But during lockdown, Pennie, who had been furloughed from her job in a Dundee restaurant, decided to start sharing her knowledge of the language by posting a Scots word each day with an example of how to use it in a sentence to teach others about her mother tongue.

“I am on about 110 posts now,” she said.

"From just a few hundred followers at the start it gathered momentum and that’s what encouraged me to share my poem.

"It’s been my followers’ real interest and questions about the language that kept me posting Scots each day.

"It’s made me realise how passionate I am about the language and how determined I am to keep it alive.”

Controversial language

Despite the nostalgia and interest Pennie’s Scots words of the day and poems have brought her followers, the minority language has proven to be controversial for some.

“Most messages have been heartwarming, but a few have been pretty nasty, and I’ve been shocked to find most of the haters are Scottish people who say ‘Scots is just English spelt wrong’, or ‘you make Scottish people sound stupid, it’s fake Scottishness.’

"It makes me sad because it’s a modern language and it’s part of our culture, so it’s not something that should be dismissed and left to die out.

"If a wean in the playground wants a piece and nay a sandwich, or to wear her bonnet instead of a cap then that should be okay.”

Pennie said speaking the language assumes political orientation for some which can put Scots in a more controversial light.

“If you speak Scots, you’re apparently a hardcore nationalist, which isn’t the case. People enjoy it for cultural, sentimental and heritage reasons. It’s been spoken through generations."

Activism

Not in a position to let a few negative comments put her off, Pennie said she’s determined to keep up an active role in teaching Scots.

“You have to take the rough with the smooth,” she said, “and there will be people who don’t like it along the way, but that’s too bad.

“Reviving Scots and teaching it myself has also helped me on a personal level with my mental health.

"In lockdown, it wasn’t easy getting up and out of bed when there was little to do and nowhere to be.

"But when I posted my Scots word of the day, recited my poem, and saw my followers response each day, it got me up, putting on make up and videoing myself teaching people about the language.”

Feeling more confident and impassioned, Pennie said she’s got a lot more words up her sleeve.

Here are two of her favourite Scots phrases to share during this time of uncertainty: lang may yer lum reek, which means, long may your chimney smoke, signifying may you live a long and happy life, and, it’s a lang road that’s nay got a turning, which means, things will turn around, things will get better, the sun will shine and you will be happy again (both translations given by Pennie).

Some of her favourite words:

Wabbit – exhausted, or slightly unwell

Weans – children, little ones

Crabbit – ill-tempered, grumpy

Peely-wally – pale in appearance, not well looking

Foostie – mouldy, musty

Pennie’s poem in full:

‘I’m no’ havin’ children, ‘am gonnae hae weans,

And ye can ask what a cry them, no ‘what are their names’

And they’ll be getting a piece, no a wee ‘packed lunch’

And they’ll be haein a scran, no ‘having a munch’

They’ll fanny aboot, they won’t waste time

When they write their wee poyums, I’ll make sure they rhyme.

I’m no ‘having children’, am gonna hae weans,

Who’ll be gowpin and bealin’ when they’ve goat aches and pains

And instead of ‘don’t worry’, a’ll say ‘dinnae fash’,

Instead of ‘stand your ground’, ‘dinnae take any snash’

Ma weans will be crabbit, no ‘in a bad mood'

And they’ll greet, no ‘cry’ when their day isnae good.

I’m no ‘having children’, am gonna hae weans,

With a proud ancient language crammed in their wee brains

An whenever life tells them their English is bad

I’ll tell them the hassles that their mammy had

And a’ll say ma maw’s words till the day that am deid

‘Ye’ll be alright hen, ye’ve a guid Scots tongue in yer heid.’

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