Alison Miller


The Point o Tinsal  – Alison Miller

The Mirry Dancers skyran high abune
the fields an hills, the lochs, glims i the land,
aer ferly owerpooered the skelf o moon,
thir curteens trimsan fae an unkan hand.
A cattyface sits waatchan on the fence,
as moose an shrew, aal fleggid, rin tae hide.
No wan o them the chuffsy widna flense,
he tirls his heid tae fix them, beady-eyed.
In the faer haaf a wave maks for the geo,
whaar a fisheen bott stotters in the swaa.
The tide will ebb afore shae’ll can tae go
tae sea again – shae’ll no resist the draa.
In the hoose up by, lamp slockid, mirk is deep;
the fokk lie moored tae thir baeds, wuppid in sleep.

Sittan in the waarmth o central-haeteen,
keepan oot the cowld an the howlan gale
air-source haet pump an double glazeen
I mind on a yarn me mither’s brither telt –
Hid wis a story fae me grandfeyther,
thir feyther, handed tae him, or
rether, he wid moothed hid, lovan the soond
o the owld wirds, hoo they wir delivered.

His neebour fae the next ferm ower,
stannan drookid be the fire, sirpan weet,
on a day o hellyeifers an skrekan skreever,
sayan: Whit waether, min, whit waether!
(his kep in a kruil in his hans, wae jalouse),
Rashy bulder efter rashy bulder
an no a dry paet in the hoose.


The Orkney lexicographer, Hugh Marwick, travels tae the North Isles in search o wirds for his dictionary o The Orkney Norn.

Tinsal – noun
“Wance I geed tae Sanday whaar I heard this wird.
Hid wis an owld Sanday wife that telt me
o an Eday buddy that shae haed heard
usan the word, and as hid wis strange
tae her she haed remembered hid.
The Eday buddy spaekan o a coo
aboot tae calf, said the baest wis
–  at the point o tinsal
that is, delivery, givan birth. Compare
Owld Norse: Number Wan – a burden; Twa –
haevy affliction. The Scots wird is a
derivative o tyna, verb, tae lose,

Settan doon a burden,
sufferan loss… Aer they the sam thing?
Furtivver, hid’s fine tae hear twathree owld tongues
at the back o wan wird, aal addan
heft tae the meaneen.



Recently appointed the ‘Orkney Scriever’ by the National Library of Scotland, Alison Miller is working to raise the profile, understanding and appreciation of Orcadian and Scots by producing original work and working with local communities in Orkney.

A writer in both Orcadian and English, Alison is a published author and has written short stories, essays and poetry reflecting on life in Orkney, island life, language and literature.

Orkney Scots is often grouped together with Shetland Scots under the umbrella term ‘Insular Scots‘. Certainly, both are differentiated from other regional varieties by their degree of Norse influence, but they differ from each other in a number of ways, not least in their intonation.



>> Rab Wilson