Hugh Marwick’s The Orkney Norn (1929) is the dictionary of the Norse language of Orkney. It records words of the land and words of the sea, weather words and the names of creatures and places – words like gems glittering in the last lingering light of the Viking Age.

Hundreds of the words have become obsolete, left behind as ways of living and ways of making a living have changed forever. There are also, here and there on every other page, sporadic words that have survived – against all odds – into the digital age.

So we preserve the contemptuous bruck – trash, garbage, rubbish. We maintain freck for bairns and pets. Orcadian dogs still weesk at the door for in, and when wind and tide contend at a ness there’s a lively chabble.

These words are part of the modern Norn/Scots/English mashup that is today’s Orkney language. But for how long will we keep them, in the face of online standardisation?

Mibby for twathree generations yet – for a hunder or so unbound copies of Marwick’s magisterial work have been discovered during a clear oot o the former store of Leonard’s bookshop in Kirkwall.

Now bound, and with miraculously preserved original 1928 dust jackets, these remarkable time capsules are available for sale. The new/old book is a magnificent object in itself; an antiquarian curiosity packed full of the rich and beautiful mystery of the Orkney Norn.


(The newly-bound edition of The Orkney Norn is available from The Herald Printshop, Kirkwall, priced £55)

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