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  • Paul Anthony Jones


Here’s a quick one, but a good one: a clunkertonie is a jellyfish.

That’s a word from the very far north of Scotland, recorded in dialects of Shetland, Orkney, and the Caithness peninsula. It was there that Norn—a Scandinavian-origin language, more akin to Icelandic and Faroese than nearby Scots—was spoken and used locally from ancient times right through to the mid nineteenth century. Its decline as a native language was precipitated by Norway’s surrendering of control of the Shetland and Orkney archipelagos to Scottish in the fifteenth century; today, Norn is officially extinct, having disappeared with its last native speaker, Walter Sutherland, on his death in 1850.

As a word from this most northerly part of Scotland, clunkertonie ultimately brings together two ancient Norse roots: klungr, an Old Norse word for a bramble, and þorn, meaning ‘thorn’. Unsurprisingly, they are are both references to the jellyfish’s characteristic sting.

#animals #Scots #Europe #history