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Dinna Fash Yerself Lassie (and Other Dialect Crimes)

Here at Dear Author, we have a widely known animus toward random dialect in books. Jayne is a particularly vehement protestor of the use of the dialect. What do I mean by dialect? I’ve seen it most often in Scottish romances where authors try to interject authenticity through the use of dialect.

From Thirty Nights with a Highland Husband by Melissa Mayhue:

“Dinna fash yerself, lassie.” He spoke softly, as he might to a frightened animal. “Dinna I tell you I’d no let anything harm you? You’ll ride here with me. I’ll no let you fall. You can trust me.”

and “Verra weel, Fergus. Lead on.”

In other areas of the book, however, Connor, the hero, uses the word “well” in his internal monologue.

Or in Karyn Monk’s Every Whispered Word:

“Dinna fash yerself, lassie,” Oliver said, sensing Camelia didn’t like the idea that her animals might not be welcome.

Shouldn’t that be “sensing Camelia dinna like the idea her animals might not be welcome”?

Sabrina Jeffries’ Beware of the Scot’s Revenge:

“Oh yes we can.” He approached her slowly, favoring his right leg. “But dinna fash yerself, lassie–after sleeping half the day away, I won’t need much sleep.”

From Anne Gracie’s The Perfect Stranger:

“Now, let us try that again. Dinna fash yerself, lass, I’ll no do anything ye dinna want, just try–“

Maybe everyone has copied Gabaldon (Drums of Autumn):

Jenny and Ian exchanged a quick glance, then Ian stood up, moving awkwardly to bring his leg under him.

“She’s with your Da,” he said quietly, touching Brianna’s arm. “Dinna fash yourself, lassie; they’re both safe.”

The problem is that authors insert dialect only selectively. The entire book isn’t written in Scottish dialect with words like “auld” or “ower” or “nae doot” or “gude”. Further, there is little distinction in the dialect to make up for regional differences between Caith, North-Eastern Scotland, the Isles, etc.

I find selective dialect used in contemporary southern books as well from the well placed, “cherie” to the use of “whatchu” in Nancy Gideon’s books:

“Whatchu mean pulling me off an interrogation?" He started to get up into her face, but caught himself just in time as her eyes narrowed. "You know he'll be lawyered up the minute Legere knows he's here. He was about to break.

I liked the way that the dialect was handled in Willing Victim by Cara McKenna:

"So can you tell me anything about your mysterious new conquest?" Anne asked.

"He's tall."


"And he's from here," Laurel said. "And he's kind of a meathead."

"Wow, sounds savory."

Laurel nodded. "He's gawt a wicked heavy accent."

Anne pulled the pot out before it was done brewing, drops of coffee hitting the burner with a sizzle, another offense Christie would surely want to make note of. "Pissah."

Everytime Flynn had dialogue, I tried to transform his language and “hear” him speak with his “wicked heavy accent.”   But generally, dialect and accented words rarely sell me on the authenticity of the world and most of the time, well, all of the time when I read “dinna fash yerself, lassie” I start giggling. Do you like dialect in your books? Why or why not?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Laura Vivanco
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 04:30:16

    “Dinna I tell you” is the wrong tense. It should be something like “Did I no tell ye.”

    Shouldn't that be “sensing Camelia dinna like the idea her animals might not be welcome”?

    “Dinna” (don’t) is present tense, whereas “Didnae” (didn’t) would be past tense. So I think that would have to be “sensing Camelia didnae like the idea her animals michtnae be welcome.”

    If you’d like to read some Scots in use in a modern context, you can find some on the Scottish Parliament’s website.

  2. Katrina
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 04:33:27

    Generally, no. This is why I really struggle to read Scottish-set novels. I live in London and have lots of Scottish friends (from all over the country) and NONE of them speak like this.

    The only time I think it can be effective is if you’re using dialect that other authors haven’t used, or don’t generally use. As far as I can see, if you’ve seen it 100 times in other novels, that probably means it’s wrong.

    There are lots of other ways to show a character’s accent, but showing accent should be about helping the reader and other characters understand that character’s culture, and how that culture jars with other characters’ cultures. An accent does not a character make.

  3. Nifty
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 04:39:04

    I don’t mind it when a dialect is applied selectively, because I think that’s natural, and I like — and even prefer — a writing style that mimics real speech. At the same time, too much dialect, militantly applied, can be difficult to read. I still haven’t recovered from my 11th-grade attempt to read Poe’s The Gold Bug.

    In the case of Jamie Fraser, for example, I have noticed that his speech varies depending on a number of factors: his audience, his emotions, the topic of conversation. Sometimes the dialect and Scottishness is strong; sometimes it isn’t. But to me that seems natural. I’m Southern, and I’ve noticed that with my family and fellow Southerners, I use more of a regional dialect and more Southern idioms than I do at work, for example. And I certainly regularly could pronounce “you” and “ya” in the same sentence. Or I may carefully pronounce “didn’t” in one case and then use the more Southern “di’n’t” in another. I think the placement of the word in the sentence has some influence on the pronunciation. Speech is very rhythmic, and sometimes “ya” just works better than “you,” depending on where it falls in the rhythm of the sentence.

    Also, since I love words — obsolete and otherwise — I enjoy it when authors introduce new-to-me words like “fash.” I’ll admit that after 20 years of reading the Outlander series, I even use “fash” myself from time to time, although I never say “dinna fash.” I may, however, say something like “Don’t fash about it” to my friends.

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  5. KMont
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 05:39:51

    *…and most of the time, well, all of the time when I read “dinna fash yerself, lassie” I start giggling.*

    This made me all-out laugh because about halfway through all the “fashes” here I was already giggling. I haven’t read a historical romance with random dialect in so long because I’ve barely read any historical anything these last several months, but I remember chucking a Hannah Howell Scottish romance at the wall once for some really annoying “weel” usage. The dialect in that one was so heavy, actually, that the dialogue may well have been the most painful – yes, actual pain – I’d ever seen. In fact, that Howell was the beginning of my demise with the Scottish romance reading.

  6. KMont
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 05:42:23

    Actually, now I’m sitting here realizing I didn’t finish my review for today, but that’s OK. I ought not fash myself about it, eh?

  7. Angela
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 06:17:54

    I was laughing by the time I hit the third quote block here! “Dinna fash yerself lassie…” Now that’s going to be stuck in my head all day!

    I’m with Nifty though – I don’t mind dialect in books applied selectively. I don’t want it all over the place, but I want it to sound like normal speech too. And where you’re from, or even who you tend to be around, affects how you speak. I’m from up north, but I’ve had a lot of very southern friends over the years and y’all has worked itself into my vocabulary naturally (as an example).

    So I don’t mind it in speech, but I don’t want it to be overdone either LOL. If you just tell me where the person is from, and throw in occasional regional-isms, I’ll imagine their accent/dialect all by myself.

  8. Anne Douglas
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 06:21:46

    I dare you all to go out today and use the phrase ‘dinna fash yourself lassie’ to some poor unsuspecting victim!

    It could be a lot of fun if you choose the moment right

  9. Jessie
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 06:23:53

    I don’t like reading dialect because it takes me out of the story–I have to concentrate too hard on how things are said as opposed to what’s being said. And often the way dialect is written makes the characters sound silly–there was one Native American romance I read where the heroine was from somewhere in Appalachia and the author had her speaking in all of these crazy metaphorical sayings every two sentences (“Well, bust my buns, that thar looks like a rattler got itself all prettied up with some gewgaws” (not an actual quote)). Every now and then would have been ok, but the entire book? It was too much.

    I also am not very fond of authors who attempt to write Southern dialect by dropping all the g’s on words, etc. I was really kind of offended by the YA book Beautiful Creatures because not once did one of the characters in the town say the word “of” but instead say “a.” Only the morally and educationally “superior” characters spoke correctly. I’ve lived in the deep south all my life until recently, and I’ve said the word “of” plenty of times.

    So, after this long comment, all I’m really trying to say is, I think it’s better to suggest an accent with an occasional sentence structure change or a comment on the accent, not really with apostrophes and funny spellings.

  10. Katrina
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 06:30:07


    I’m with you, Jessie. Reading these words makes my brain stumble and actually makes it *more* difficult for me to imagine what the character sounds like.

    And I can’t help but think “dialecty” words are mostly used by writers who don’t live in the area they’re writing about. This could just be my perception, but if you read Transpotting and compare it to, say, most American writers who try to write a Scottish accent, there’s a huge difference. It’s about rhythm and syntax as much as about word choice, but these are things that are much more difficult to get across, especially if you don’t hear the accent every day.

  11. Katrina
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 06:50:25

    @Katrina: Meant to write Trainspotting, not Transpotting. Whoops.

  12. Taryn Kincaid
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 06:54:37

    Interesting (to me) tidbit that a friend’s friend pointed out:
    “braes,” which we sometimes find in romance novels, purportedly meaning breeches or (whatever goes under breeches) actually means “hill” in Scottish and has nothing to do with men’s apparel. One long ago romance author misused the word and down through the years many others picked it up!

  13. Jayne
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 06:57:25


    It's about rhythm and syntax as much as about word choice,

    Dear God yes! If done well (which is rare) it can truly add to a book. If it’s done poorly (the vast majority) I’d rather author hadn’t bothered at all since I also agree with Jessie that I have to concentrate too hard to enjoy the book.

  14. Noelle Pierce
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 07:30:19

    I have to laugh as I’m struggling with this issue in my MS right now. My hero normally talks in Queen’s English (mother was English, but he was raised in Aberdeen with Scottish family), but when he’s aroused, he slips into a Scots accent. In addition, his grandfather uses the dialect in speech. Now I have to go through the MS to see if I use “Dinna fash yerself”…

    Thanks for the post!

  15. Jane O
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 07:41:18

    Perhaps everyone who wants to use Scottish dialect should spend a good long time, preferably several years, immersed in Sir Walter Scott’s Scottish novels.

    Maybe then they would get it right.

  16. Jane Lovering
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 08:02:25

    My husband is a Scot, I’m from Devon and all my children have grown up in Yorkshire, so I am almost deaf to all those accents. Hearing an accent over and over again makes it become commonplace and the ear slides over it – surely this should happen in books? Maybe a few dialect words to start with, to establish the character’s background, but then all other characters would ‘get their ear in’ as we say, and cease hearing the accent.

    And I wouldn’t dream of attempting to render it in writing, but to hear my DH saying the word ‘boat’ with his West Scots burr is a thing of beauty.

  17. DS
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 08:10:20

    I agree with the rhythm and syntex statement.

    However there are some cases where dialect can be affective. A Clockwork Orange comes to mind. And although a some people complained about it, I think Stacia Kane did a good job with her Downsider cant. I listened to it rather than read it, though and her narrator did a pretty good job of rendering it.

  18. Carole & Chewy
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 08:12:28

    I have to agree with Nifty – being a southern hybrid myself (both parents Appalachian, but raised all over as a govt brat, then home in the summers) my accent ranges all over the place plus I have an annoying habit of pickingup the accent of whomever I’m talking with. So I’m never entirely sure what accent will come out of my mouth. Any sentence could conceivably contain ya’ll, you all, and you guys, deivered with a Virginia/New Orleans/Minnesota inflection. And no one who knows me would blink. Or fash themselves.

  19. DS
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 08:13:13

    I should mention that both A Clockwork Orange and Stacia Kane’s books use dialects that are essentially created for their books.

  20. Jody W.
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 08:28:48

    I don’t mind a little bit of dialect accent, but word choice and syntax are more important. As for words coming out of the character’s mouth not matching interior monologue or POV scenes, I’m from the South. Sometimes stuff comes out of my mouth that sounds like a Duke from Hazzard, but I can assure you, in my head and internal thoughts I sound like a trained stage actor :). I also sound awesome to myself when I sing but to others I sound oddly like a goat, so there you have it. No issues with that as long as there’s not a huge disconnect, like a character who speaks in total slang but thinks in academic prose (but isn’t faking it).

  21. Estara
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 08:36:43

    A little judicious dialect can add to the experience for me (Gambit in the X-Men Comic books, for example) but too much and too artificial and it gets to be funny.

    I was a beta reader for a book that will come out in the UK next summer where you had a girl from the North of England and a girl from Scotland becoming friends. I thought the dialect worked well for both (the author has been living in Perth for quite a few years now).

    A pet peeve which hits a similar bone of contention in my mind is using languages without using the correct grammar. The internet is big, and authors can have fans almost anywhere – if they start on the German, Japanese or French, PLEASE have a native speaker reading over those particular phrases.

    In the book I mentioned above I was able to correct a very few German mistakes. Of course the annoying bit only happens if you actually know the language quoted, heh.

  22. cead
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 08:39:01

    @Nifty: I love your point about how people style-shift depending on whom they’re talking to. So true!

    I’m a linguistics grad student, so I’m as inclined to be critical of how authors make use of linguistic devices as doctors are to the representation of the medical world. I’m not a dialectologist, but I do notice when something is really wrong, particularly when a major plot point revolves around it. (There are various common misconceptions of this sort that pop up; some of them amuse me and some of them really irritate me.)

    An author’s use of dialect isn’t usually something that makes me howl in frustration (unlike dialogue in a lot of mediaevals – please, authors, just use contemporary syntax!), but it is one of the rare things that I’d rather be told about than shown. Tell me a character has a particular accent, but don’t feel the urge to remind me every time he speaks. If the author has the character use regional vocabulary now and again, I’m not bothered, but I get tired of attempts at phonetic representation very quickly, especially if I suspect they’re doing it wrong.

  23. Joy
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 09:09:55

    I don’t mind dialect if it’s well-done, that is, if the author’s steeped in it. I’ve read George MacDonald and Mark Twain and Richard Llewellyn and Thomas Hardy and it can certainly be done wonderfully.

    It’s also really, really easy to do badly. I have certainly heard Scottish people speaking and I don’t even know how I’d transcribe it or if I could do so accurately. (Scots is another matter; it’s actually a language and would take as much trouble as French to write correctly).

  24. mdegraffen
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 09:22:56

    I find it irritating, sometimes so much so that upon reading the first “dinna” I want to throw the book at the nearest wall. It makes me think that the author is trying too hard abd I don’t like it.

  25. Rose Fox
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 09:54:24

    I’m reading Grace Burrowes’s The Heir right now (due out in December) and LOVING the dialogue because it is so wonderfully evocative of the period. Mind you, I’ve no idea whether it’s accurate–but the people talk like people. And Burrowes knows how to get the exposition out of the way of the dialogue; there’s no explanation of how cribbage is played, for example, just statements of “Cut for deal” and “My crib” interspersed with the rest of the conversation. One of the biggest problems with period/accented dialogue is the way it contrasts with expositional text written in 21st-century American idiom. It’s nice to see an author being aware of that.

  26. Ridley
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 10:04:46

    I’ll have to second Willing Victim on the “good job with an accent” front. I particularly liked

    …You must be from here.”


    “Yup.” She decided to flirt, even if it was doomed to be one-sided. “Say my name.”

    “What, Laurel?” Larrul.

    She smiled.

    He smiled back, tight but genuine. “Fine, busted.”

    The Boston accent is routinely butchered in print and film (Julianne Moore in 30 Rock immediately comes to mind) so I was thrilled to be spared an attempt at transcribing it. The author noted how he pronounces his vowels and eats his R’s, then moved on. His penchant for calling Laurel “kiddo” and “sub shop girl” were also nice, unobtrusive reminders of his working-class elan.

    The attempts at transcribing accents that I’ve read are usually pretty distracting. I like when a southern character uses “y’all,” a westerner eats the odd -g or the like, but dislike a constant stream of novelty words. All that does is hammer home how different that character is, preventing me from identifying with them.

    As an aside, I have a funny Scottish accent on American ears story. Back in college, I spent a summer working as a camp counselor at a Girl Scout camp near Boston along with a handful of counselors from the UK. One day after swimming ended, a camper ran up to me with tears in her eyes, telling me that Lousia – the Scottish lifeguard – had called her “ghetto.” Knowing Lousia would never do such a thing, I had to think a bit before it came to me. “Oh, hun, that’s just how it sounds when she says ‘girls.’ She’s from Scotland, and they talk funny.”

    Wicked nice girl from Glasgow, but I could barely understand a thing she said.

  27. kaigou
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 10:27:47

    While I dislike intensely mispelling to create dialect — look, you’re not helping unfamiliar readers, slower readers, and non-native language readers by making words even more unfamiliar — I’d have to say I equally dislike checkbox-dialect. That’s what I call it when you get the sense the author has said, “okay, now, I need to work in a dinna fash yeself, lassie so you know he’s Scottish! or a taint that just precious, bless her heart so you know she’s Southern! and then I can just ignore dialect after that, until I hit another checkbox…”

    A’course, that’s if I can even make it past the use of “lassie”. Yes, I know it’s an actual word — though not one I ever heard used in Scotland and I was of the age for my visit that would’ve been rife for lassie-use — but still. I hear the word, and my USian upbringing comes out. I find myself telling the book, “But Timmie’s fallen down the well! Send help! He’s down the well and he can’t get up because I HAVE NO OPPOSABLE THUMBS!”

    …and that obviously just ruins any mood the author’s worked so hard to create, because I am too busy cackling at the mashup of bad literary dialect and mid-century pop culture.

    Wait, no one else does that? Just me? Uh. In that case, disregard!

  28. Lynne Connolly
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 10:31:30

    I’m British, from the North-West of England, where the Oasis boys and the Beatles came from. More Manc than Scouse, though I think I lost the real Manc years ago. Whenever I’m in the States people assume that’s Australian. On one memorable occasion in New York, I was with some Aussies and they thought I was the Aussie and they weren’t!
    I’ve met Jane L’s husband. Mmm!
    I can tell most American accents apart, so why can’t they distinguish between ours?
    And Scottish, lol. I can’t read the books with all the “ye’s” (which read to someone from my part of the world as “yee” because of all the Bible readings we were subjected to at school) and the “dinnas.” I’ve taken to calling them “dinnacanna” books. Honestly, I can’t read them without laughing, which isn’t always what the writer wants. Give me Rab C Nesbitt every time!
    Yes syntax, pretty please, syntax.
    And although I’m English, I don’t talk like a Cockney!
    I’m living near Wales, and Welsh is something else. When you come to a place that has a name with a vowel in it, you know you’re in England again.

  29. Katrina
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 11:13:48

    @Lynne Connolly:

    Lynne, I feel your pain. I’m an American who’s lived in London for 5 years, and I taught English as a foreign language using a British curriculum for 3 years before that in Prague. My accent’s all messed up, and Americans now ask me what part of the UK or Australia I’m from, while Brits ask me if I’m Canadian (I think they think Canadians sound like they hover somewhere over the Atlantic, a mix between American and British).

    As for why we Americans struggle to tell British regional accents apart, I think it’s firstly because we don’t grow up with nearly as many British shows and films as you do American ones (though that’s slowly changing). Plus, I wouldn’t be surprised if Britain has more accent variation than the U.S. I can usually tell if someone’s from the southern U.S. but wouldn’t be able to name the state. My British husband can identify the town someone’s from in Britain based on their accent.

    I’m getting better with British accents after 5 years year, but I did recently ask a colleague which part of Wales he was from (thinking I was being clever), and he smirked and said, “Close. Wigan.”

    So I still have a lot of listening to do.

  30. Phyllis
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 11:37:21

    I don’t mind a little bit of dialect, to establish that is how a character talks. If the author can write with regular, modern spelling, for the most part, and yet maintain something of the cadence of the particular accent, I really appreciate it. All the dinnas and doonas and cannas make it really hard to read.

    But I speak French and every time a Cajun character has his “chère” misspelled, it makes me cross. Maybe Cajun French is different and doesn’t have masculine and feminine? But “cher” is masculine and it takes me a minute to realize the guy is talking to a woman still.

  31. jayhjay
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 11:37:36

    I laughed at these excepts. Did anyone notice most of the “dinna fash yerselfs” seemed to involved the hero trying to get the heroine out of her clothes? Maybe he thinks the use of the strong Scots accent will be enough to do it (and he may not be wrong!)

  32. Carole & Chewy
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 11:46:31

    @Phyllis -Cajun French is different -it’s cher. I know this because i use to have a Cajun boyfriend who could give a Scot a run for his money.

  33. cead
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 11:53:14

    @Katrina: I used to get the same thing when I was living in the UK – at least two people thought I was Austrian! Brits used to think I was Canadian, Irish, or possibly from the west country, and the Americans all thought I was British. I’ve been back in the US for a few years now, and still no one can figure out where I’ve come from.

    Plus, I wouldn't be surprised if Britain has more accent variation than the U.S.

    This is absolutely true. The dialects of the US are much fewer in number and also (with a few exceptions) much more recent ini origin, so they’re not as different from each other as many British dialects are. The American dialects also cover broader areas, so if you don’t move around a lot, you might not interact much with people who don’t speak your dialect. This is particularly true in the West.

    Also, Americans often don’t seem to notice their own dialect much – there have been some empirical experiments done that seem to verify this, so it’s not just an impressionistic judgement. My sociolinguist friends all have these recordings of fieldwork interviews with people who would say they spoke one way while speaking another; some of it is pretty funny.

  34. Daisy
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 12:03:42

    JD Robb comes to mind as an author who does an “accent” well – though it could be argued that Roarke does not speak with an accent. She uses terms such as “the music of Ireland flowed though his speech” (paraphrasing there) or states that in times of stress or during moments of great passion the “language of his childhood comes out” – which tells us that Roarke has an accent without trying to use the dialect. As a reader that carries over – whenever I read Roarke’s words I imagine the Irish flow to them.

    Overall, I don’t mind some dialect in my novels, but too much tends to spoil the overall enjoyment of a book.

  35. R. H. Rush
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 12:14:10

    I was giggling by the third example. (And have just used “dinna fash yerself” to a coworker — that one might stick around a while between us.)

    I’d once read a book in which the author described a character’s speech as being “in that clipped Midwestern accent”. Clipped Midwestern accent? I lived in the Midwest for years and never heard a “clipped” accent from anyone who’d been raised there; it’s a drawl.

  36. kaigou
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 12:29:24

    @R. H. Rush: I lived in the Midwest for years and never heard a “clipped” accent from anyone who'd been raised there; it's a drawl.

    Well, if the author was from certain areas in the Deep South, maybe that’s not such an unlikely impression. I mean, one of the major accent-influences in my life was coastal Mississippi, and on a hot summer Sunday afternoon, you couldn’t move fast, think fast, or talk fast. Too hot! Everything languid, including the crickets. (But strangely, never too hot to not give my one-syllable name a four-syllable delivery.) Compared to that, pretty much everyone’s accent sounds clipped, crisp, or even just quickly-spoken.

  37. R. H. Rush
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 12:53:02

    @kaigou: It’s a good point, but I don’t think it applies in this particular case. The author was from New York, and it’s been a while since I read the book, but I seem to recall that it took place in Long Island. If took place in the South, or the author was Southern, I might give it a pass, but I can’t imagine a New Yorker hearing a Midwestern accent and thinking of it as “clipped.”

  38. Isobel Carr
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 13:11:11

    @Taryn Kincaid:

    Interesting (to me) tidbit that a friend's friend pointed out: “braes,” which we sometimes find in romance novels, purportedly meaning breeches or (whatever goes under breeches) actually means “hill” in Scottish and has nothing to do with men's apparel. One long ago romance author misused the word and down through the years many others picked it up!

    I don't' read a lot of Scottish romance because I loathe the dialect thing, so I'm not sure what books you're finding “braes” in. But if you're reading Medieval romances, then “braies” (with an “i”) are indeed underwear (white linen men's drawers). They were also sometimes called “breeks”. They were worn with “chausses” (leggings that tied into a belt; these eventually developed into trunk hose, and then with the addition of the codpiece, into the first breeches). Nothing to do with Scotland, Ireland, or anything Celtic though.

    Scotts would be wearing “triubhas” which was anglicized into “trews” or “trowse” (and were just like “chausses”, being leggings, not pants) and first shows up in English discriptions of the Scotts in the 16th century.

  39. Sao
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 13:12:15

    If there’s anything I hate in books, it’s a grown woman being called “wee lassie.”

    Most accents are a nuisance. The ones I can’t pronounce are the worst. Like gel for girl. Gel as in jello?

    It’s hard to describe or to write sounds that are subtly different, but I always notice word order and choice. “fancy a bit of a pud?” will make your Brit sound like a Brit a lot more than calling his accent clipped or writing figger instead of figure or costle instead of castle.

  40. Sao
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 13:22:44

    And I’m with Estara on getting the language right. One of the winning contest winners on the mills and Boon site had a Russian character. Among other howlers, he said “famiilya” was everything to him. It means last name, not family.

  41. Melissa
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 13:48:17


    The Native American historical with the Appalachian heroine who speaks with the crazy country talk is Dream Catcher by Kathleen Harrington. She would say things like “Jumpin’ Jehosephat” all the time, it was so over the top that I just laughed because she talked like Sally Squirrel from Sponge Bob. It was actually a good book if you ignore her speech (or just laugh at it).

  42. Shannon Stacey
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 13:48:45

    The Boston accent is routinely butchered in print and film (…)

    Remember the TV show “Crossing Jordan”, which was set in Boston? I had to stop watching it because Ken Howard, who played her dad, had nothing New England about him except for calling Jordan “JAAAAAAAAW-dun” every five minutes.

    I need to tell some random stranger “dinna fash yourself, lassie” today, though. That idea’s wicked pissah.

  43. kaigou
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 14:34:08

    @R. H. Rush:

    hah, okay, in that case!

    There’s a webpage from George Mason University which I find enlightening at times like these. It’s a series of recordings of people from all over the world, speaking the same paragraph. The words used are a combination of different sounds — some rather hard for non-native speakers, a few borderline tongue-twisters in there — and goes on long enough to give you a basic idea of what an accent sounds like. (Plus, for many of the geographical regions, there are multiple speakers, so you can hear what an older generation person sounds like, compared to a younger person.)

    For each person recorded, there’ll also be data like this:

    birth place: diekabo, ivory coast
    native language: agni
    other language(s): french
    age, sex: 25, male
    age of english onset: 15
    english learning method: academic
    english residence: usa
    length of english residence: 1.2 years

    …so when there are multiple speakers from one area, you can see the influence (or lack thereof) there might’ve been in terms of how long the person’s spoken english, or how late in life they learned it, and so on.

    You can find the site at:

  44. Suze
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 14:34:38

    Yea, verily, and forsooth! Unless you’re Laura Kinsale, writing an entire manuscript in an old version of English (or rather, hiring an expert to do it), please use a delicate touch. If your character’s accent or dialect needs to be highlighted in order to further the story or develop the character, then go ahead. Delicately. Otherwise, leave it up to the reader to supply the audio.

  45. Joy
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 15:01:19

    Clipped midwestern accent, eh? Southern Ohio’s got an accent kind of like watered-down Kentucky, while in the upper Midwest they squish their vowels down flat as a pancake, dontcha know?

  46. Jean
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 15:13:02

    Sao – gel is pronounced like gal except the e is like the e in egg.

  47. Jerusha
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 15:25:34

    I’m Scottish and I live in Scotland – and I think I sound perfectly normal! Why doesn’t anyone ever write a Welsh accent, or even better, a Somerset drawl?

  48. Courtney Milan
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 17:33:39


    Why doesn't anyone ever write a Welsh accent, or even better, a Somerset drawl?

    Working on the last one. The book I’m writing at this moment is set in Shepton Mallet.

    And yes, the accent, such as it is presented, is all description and word choice/word order.

    The BBC did a great dialect survey a few years ago that involved taking recordings of tons of people around the UK. It’s one of my oft-visited bookmarks.

  49. willaful
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 17:35:15

    I feel exactly the opposite. I think it’s appropriate for dialect only to be spoken — in fact, dialect in non-dialog narrative–droppin’ g’s comes to mind–is a pet peeve of mine.

  50. Emma
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 19:21:15

    I hate thick dialect. It distracts from the story and I refuse to think too hard and try to figure it out. I have no clue what “dinna fash yourself” is suposed to mean!
    I found the servants dialect in Gone The Wind to be horribly tough to read and slog through.
    So, I just stay away from books with headialect. Call me lazy or a coward.

  51. Emma
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 19:22:13

    Sorry about the typos my iPod is acting up. Gone With The Wind

  52. Janine Ballard
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 20:01:27


    Why doesn't anyone ever write a Welsh accent

    I think Mary Balogh used Welsh speech patterns in Longing.

  53. Jessie
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 20:11:16


    That was it, thank you! I do remember liking the book, but know I would never revisit because of the dialect.

  54. Silvia
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 20:36:22

    More books have ended up DNF for me due to dialect more than anything else. I just can’t take the over-the-top written accents for Scottish or Irish characters in romance novels.

    –which is not the same as the marvelous and creative use of created-dialect in A Clockwork Orange or the authentic use of dialect in HBO’s The Wire or that pretty much made the material.

    I think dialect should be used when it’s truly authentic and not merely mimicking pronunciation differences but instead actually reflecting real-life common slang. (show me the regional words, not how they pronounce them!) And if in that case you use it for 1 character, you need to use it for all of them — all the characters’ individual dialects should be reflected in the text.

    And subtle difference is the key, to give your narrative an authentic ethnic flavor without bashing your readers over the head.

    One good example of Irish dialect in a novel is Once Were Cops by Ken Bruen. (dark action-crime fiction). It’s set in Brooklyn and first person POV of an Irish-immigrant cop.

    Excerpt:“My name is Matthew Patrick O’Shea. And you’re thinking, “Does it come any more Mick?” Not a lot. Course, everybody called me Shea. Has a ring to it and the first thing I did in America, yeah, Shea Stadium.

    Predictable. Sure. If only I’d stayed thus. Right at the end, when the shite was coming from every direction, I’d have given a lot for a dose of me own predictability.

    I grew up in Galaway, the son of a Guard, and it was never a debate but that I’d follow in me old man’s heavy shoes…”

  55. Maili
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 21:44:51


    I have no clue what “dinna fash yourself” is suposed to mean!

    “Don’t fuss yourself”, as in “Relax” or “Take a chill pill.” Usually said with a hint of impatience.

    I do wish they could stop using ‘lassie’ because when men use it, it’s usually to belittle women. ‘Lassie’ has the same effect and weight of “little girl”. I’m trying to think of a common word that has the nearest meaning. “Baby”? No. Hm, the same feel of “Just get back to kitchen where you belong, you stupid woman.” It’s not PC. It carries that meaning for decades at where I came from. My gran’s friend (as a twentysomething during the 1940s) was arrested for breaking a councillor’s nose after he addressed her that way, for instance. The meaning of ‘lassie’ might be different in south Scotland, though.

    But yes – each time Hero says “Dinna fash yerself, lassie” it makes me want to kick him in the balls. Excuse me for being so graphic and violent, but that’s how I feel. :D

    Generally, reading a badly-done portrayal of a dialect in a novel is very much like having my eyes scraping on a field of glass shards. I try not to twitch so much when author uses the so-called “working class accent” to portray a poor- or working-class English character, but I do anyway.

    It’s better to stick with plain English with – as some say above – different syntax and word choices. Or for a highland-set rom, highland English. This way, it’s a win-win.

  56. wendy
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 23:36:21

    Was waiting for Maili’s visit.

    When my runaway Scots husband is looking for a beating he says, ‘dinna fash y’rsel, Hen’ I take my cue from my mother in law who wouldn’t stand for being called Hen.

  57. Rose Fox
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 23:45:18

    @willaful: Then you dislike the work of Jane Austen? Because it’s written 100% in the language of her time and place–her dialect. I just got to hear Donna Hill and Janet Mullany read from their respective novels; both books are written in dialect (Hill’s in contemporary black American English, Mullany’s in Regency British English), and hearing each in its author’s accent really made that work. It would have sounded very strange had either one attempted to narrate in standard American English, which I assume is what you mean when you say you don’t want to read dialect in descriptions.

  58. Maili
    Oct 06, 2010 @ 06:02:30

    @wendy: I intended to stay well away, but I cracked under Emma’s question, damn it. I didn’t foam at mouth this time, though. Well, I think I didn’t.

  59. dri
    Oct 06, 2010 @ 08:27:28

    Oh my sweet christ. DM Cornish’s first book, Foundling, was written with so much dialect I wanted to pulverise the book and then possibly DM Cornish too. But clearly, someone else had pointed this out cos the second book, Lamplighter, had almost none and, as a result, was infinitely better, omg.

    Maybe everyone has copied Gabaldon (Drums of Autumn)
    Hahahahahahahaha, that’s what I thought immediately! *giggles*

    Having said that, I used to have a similar difficulty with ‘gel’ for ‘girl’ until Barbara Leigh-Hunt played Lady Catherine in Pride & Prejudice and she said “You have no regard for the claims of duty, honour? Unfeeling, headstrong gel!” and I suddenly went “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh! That’s how it’s supposed to sound!” And now I kinda love ‘gel’ cos it puts Barbara in my head again. :p

    Otherwise, yeah, I totally agree with going for cant rather than murdering the actual spelling. Soooooo much more skilful and easier to read, so much effective!

  60. Speaking of accents « Reader, I created him
    Oct 06, 2010 @ 10:16:10

    […] Jane at Dear Author prompted a great discussion on the same topic – go read “Dinna Fash Yerself Lassie (and Other Dialect Crimes)”. Part of the discussion in the comments was about the incredible number of British accents, […]

  61. willaful
    Oct 06, 2010 @ 12:02:54

    @Rose Fox:

    Actually, I also very much dislike it when, in a filmed version of Austen, words that had been part of the narrative are put into people’s mouths as dialog. Which makes me think that Austen had the correct balance between what sounds natural in words and what sounds natural in narrative.

  62. LizL
    Oct 06, 2010 @ 19:15:28

    What goes for dialect goes twice as much for languages other than English. I’ll never forget a Robin Schone short story where the hero gets his o face going on and yells something “in Arabic” that was rendered on the page with full out academic transliteration that includes S’s with underscores and random capital H’s in the middle of the word. And then you “translate” the line and it’s horribly formal media/MSA/fusha Arabic of the kind you might hear in a Saudi gov’t press statement.

    Then again, reading about the 10 gazillion Arabic words for dick did strange thinks to my impressionable young mind. Sometimes I think Schone’s The Lady’s Tutor is solely responsible for my six years of Arabic study. Romance novels are dangerous, you know?

  63. GrowlyCub
    Oct 06, 2010 @ 20:10:24

    If you all think reading this is awful, try listening to it. I’m currently suffering through Linda Howard’s Son of the Morning and I keep wanting to reach into the MP3 player to strangle the narrator.

    There’s a reason I haven’t cracked open a ‘Scottish’ historical in over a decade and I don’t plan to in the near future either.

    I lived in Scotland and I *never* met anybody who spoke like this/used those words and I doubt they did in the past either.

  64. orannia
    Oct 07, 2010 @ 02:02:20

    Reading dialect drives me batty. Not sure if it’s the OCD side of my brain, but whatever it is I just get thrown out of the sentence every time I read a word like ‘dinna’. Just tell me the character has an accent and I’m fine with that. Hmmm. Maybe that’s why I haven’t read many historical romances set in Scotland lately…

  65. A Fistful of Links … Or, I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends | 101 Centavos
    Mar 10, 2012 @ 07:16:44

    […] Curse of High Expectations, over @ Rich Mom, Single Mom.  Ach, dinna fash yerself, lassie (and other dialect crimes).  Right or wrong, ever since reading Tai-Pan, I’ve been waiting for a chance to write […]

  66. Cyril Randle
    Nov 06, 2013 @ 02:44:49

    I staggered on to this site looking for ‘a bit of Jock’ . It’s girls only unless men are worried by constant reference to ‘Sin Tax’ I’ve read quite a few comments but can’t see any reference to The Black Country dialect. Yow know, West Brammich, Tippun, Odebry, Smerrick, Dudley, much on it based on Saxon. “Wheest thee bin aer kid” ? “Hast thee swep thee fowd aer wench” ? “Bist thee cummin or bist thee bay” ? “Bist thee gun ‘it me, if thee bist Ah bay” . Almost impossible unless one is from these parts although ‘Barry’ in Auf Wiedersehen Pet got the ACCENT to perfection and he’s a Londoner I think. Any road up, Tarra a bit an’ thank yer fer ‘avin’ we.

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