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  • But I'm okay with hell being 3 miles from Aberdeen. That sounds about right.

    April 25, 2009

  • This," says Jamieson, "is a strange form of imprecation. The only account given of this place is that it is three miles beyond hell. In Aberdeen, if one says, ' go to the devil !' the other often replies, ' go you to Heckie-burnie ! " No etymology is given. Possibly it originated in the pulpit, when some Gaelic preacher had taken the story of Dives and Lazarus for his text; and the rich Dives, amid his torments in hell, asked in vain for a drop of water to cool his parched tongue. The intolerable thirst was his greatest punishment; and in Gaelic Aicheadh is refusal, and buirne, water from the burn or stream, whence the phrase would signify the refusal or denial of water. This is offered as a suggestion only, to account for an expression that has been hitherto given up as inexplicable.

    Throughout the dictionary, Mackay keeps offering these lame faux-etymologies, apparently in an effort to show that almost every English word in existence was derived from a better, Gaelic, one.

    The average Wordie faux etymology is infinitely more amusing than Mackay's tortured, inconsistent, highly selective approach. But then this is a man who swoons with excitement on being faced with a "poem" by Robbie Burns.

    April 25, 2009