Sunday, 5 May 2013

"They Were Werther's Original"




















There is a peculiar dishonesty to the way in which Werther's Original toffees are advertised — and one that few people appear to have picked up on. The 1997 television advertisement that introduced them features an RP-speaking grandfather reminiscing about how they were the first sweets he ever tasted. All well and good, one might say, but unless the auld mannie in question came to England as a child refugee from Hitler, it is difficult to see how that might be true. Indeed, until the 1990s "Werthers Echte", as they are known in German, were not on sale internationally.

The advertising campaign repeated a formula that had worked well in the toffees' home market. Transplanted to the Anglophone world, it lent them an important advantage — that of historicity.

Readers might ask what all this has to do with language. Well, the Blether Region couldn't help thinking of the Werther's Original wheeze when it noticed a sign at the entrance to Clonduff estate off the Castlereagh Road in Belfast (it is not for nothing the author of this blog is called "Scots Anorak"). Clonduff comes from the Irish Cluain Daimh, and the new sign at the entrance to the estate, which features an attractive piece of public art, translates this into Ulster Scots. The fact that it does so as one word, however — "Kyefiel" — has the effect of lending a currency to the name that has no actual basis in the historical record.

This is of course not the first time that such strategies have been adopted. A few years back there was a bilingual job advertisement for a worker in the "Auldkirk" (Shankill) area of Belfast. Indeed, in 1999 a street on the same Clonduff estate, Tullyard Way — from the Irish tulach ard, meaning "high hillside" — was rendered as "Heichbrae Airt". As the Irish News of 18 October of that year waspishly reported:
New street signs erected by Castlereagh council have been ripped down by loyalists who thought they were Irish. The DUP-majority council thought it was backing a cultural winner with the street sign campaign but the bonding brainwave fell like a lead balloon in the loyalist Clonduff estate.
The sign was later reinstated and is still there today.

The Blether Region is unaware of anything like this happening in Scotland. There are of course more vernacular versions of Goidelic-origin place-names (Glesca, Embra an so on), and on rare occasions these may even have a certain official currency, but no actual attempts to provide calques.

Presumably this is another example of Scots in Ulster taking routes unimaginable in the leed's homeland, a symptom of its orra sectarian dynamic. However, boundlessly curious as it is, if it gets people thinking about Scots — and Irish — it may not be an entirely bad thing.

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