Scottish Humor

Despite the set of incredibly bad puns which some fiend slipped into the Scotia News quiz this month, this article is not about the humor of the Scots, but rather the jokes made about Scots.

Jokes are often told and often newspapers of print stories that are ostensibly funny about Scottish things. This is not to say that they aren’t always funny or that they aren’t told only by non-Scots. A recent article in the Scotsman published on Monday Feb 2rd 2014 and which can be found on line at airport security is an interesting example. It deals with a gentleman who was taking a haggis to an old friend in Dublin and was stopped by security who suspected the haggis might have been a plastic explosive. (ironically the gentleman was cleared when they read the ingredients, and he went through security with his sgian dubh undetected!)

I am not sure whether the laugh in the article is caused by the English security suspecting the haggis to be a bomb (although it might have been one) or the incongruity of the haggis being examined while the sgian dubh got through. But it does point out something that is not uncommon, and that is things which tend to be characteristically Scottish frequently become the focus for and the butt of jokes.

Jokes about the Scots tend to focus on kilts, bagpipes, haggis and also stinginess, all but the last of which are seen as peculiarly Scottish although kilts and bagpipes are certainly not restricted to Scotland. Many cultures have bagpipes, and certainly the Irish as well as the Scots have a strong image in this area as well. It does seem that when people think of the Irish they don’t think of bagpipes, but with Scots, bagpipes seem to come to mind immediately – perhaps because they are so strongly associated with the Scottish regiments.

Stinginess is perhaps the oddest of the subjects chosen to characterize the Scots since the Scots are notoriously generous even when they have had nothing. Highland hospitality could not be further from any concept of miserliness. So this as a topic for humor seems totally bizarre. After reading a draft of this article, Tom Doran reminded me of Woody Allen joke about “a terrible taxi cab crash in which 30 Scotsmen were killed” "being mean" is a web page about Scottish jokes says that “A Scottish newspaper reported that ‘Two taxis collided last night. Three people were seriously injured. The other twenty-two escaped with cuts and bruises.’”

Although not overtly stated it is clear that the passengers were Scots.

Another (below) can be found on a web page called Funny Humor by Joke Buddha:

From Scotland
Hot 4 months ago
Tourist to Taxi driver: "How much is it to the Airport?"
Taxi driver: "That's five pounds twenty."
Tourist: "And how much is it for the luggage?"
Taxi driver: "The luggage, of course, is free."
Tourist: "All right, just take that stuff along. I'm walking."


More can be found on a Scotland’s Vacation web page called “The ‘Thrifty’ Scot”. The page at least has the statement at the beginning:

The Scots have the [unjustified] reputation of being stingy.
But what they do have is the ability to laugh at themselves.
Here are few examples

Rather than list them, here is the web page.


At some level one wonders that while the Scots may have the ability to laugh at themselves – just what is it Scots are laughing at? Is it the joke, or the idea that people think the Scots as like that?

Additionally, like the Inuit/Eskimos who often laugh at a disaster after it is passed, the jokes constitute a relief for many of terrible times gone by. The humor would lie in a sense in the relief of something difficult and hard to bear. It reflects the memory of the Scots, who like many people who have been in poverty, of a time when they had to be frugal, rather than stingy. One can reflect on the line in the Archer’s film I Know Where I’m Going where one of the characters points out the Scots “…aren’t poor, they just have no money”. This occurs after several of the Islanders comment that a rich Englishman who has taken over one of the islands has built himself a swimming pool and is importing salmon. This mystifies them since he has the whole ocean to swim in and salmon virtually at his door step in the same waters. Is this reasonable or extravagant spending and a waste? Do people make jokes about people who spend a great deal of money unnecessarily? Jackie Gleason, in one of the Honeymooners episodes thinks he has come into a great deal of money and finds later he did not – even though he has spent it wildly. He says “When I had it I knew how to spend it”! “Spendthrift” may be a word in English which implies exorbitant spending, but there are few if any jokes about “spendthrifts”.

It is amazing what a choice of word can do! If a person makes an attempt to get another to believe what they do, they claim they are doing “consciousness raising”. If you don’t believe in the belief is it called “brain washing”. So the same concept may be seen positively or negatively and we have words that will describe it from either viewpoint. Scots, who are certainly aware of the stereotype may even play with it themselves. On one of my visits to Scotland I had a wallet that closed with Velcro. When you opened it, it made the characteristic sound that Velcro makes when it is pulled apart. I had been in a store chatting with the clerks for a while, and when I opened the wallet and the sound was heard, one of the clerks said “That’s a lovely wallet you’ve got there. It even screams when you open it!

Kilts on the other hand are the subject of more jokes than one can number even if numbers go on to infinity! I don’t know of any jokes about dashikis, saris, kimonos, obis, parkers, sombreros or any other clothing that seems to be used as an emblem of a kind of ethnicity. Kilts, alone seem to be singled out in this capacity. Kilts as the mark of many Scottish military regiments could hardly been seen as anything less than manly, yet are in many ways mocked as skirts and jokes abound about them which as we have mentioned in other articles (see the article about kilt aprons in the Vol. 7 # 10 New York, New York Dec. 2013 issue) . I do have to admit that many of the jokes about kilts and what goes on under them ultimately reflect a kind of manliness or masculinity of the wearer. Jokes like “What’s worn under the kilt?” Nothing’s worn everything is working fine” start with a puzzling question – who asks “What’s worn under a kimono?” But the response to the joke asserts a strong answer which foregrounds the idea of virility.

Bagpipes, similarly are often made the brunt of jokes. Earlier in the same article mentioned in the last paragraph, we mentioned a Bugs Bunny cartoon in which Bugs believes a kilted Scot playing the bagpipes is actually a screaming woman being attacked by some dreadful animal. While there is little doubt that the highland pipes when played indoors ins a small area can be deafening, this was not there function. There are smaller pipes which can be easily enjoyed in smaller enclosures.

The haggis as a source of humor is again an interesting bit. National food is often used to mark the people from the country themselves. Kraut was used to refer to Germans, as Frogs were the French. No one calls Scots “haggis” (although if my memory serves me correctly there is an example of this on Star Trek where Scotty calls someone a haggis as an insult!). The jokes about the haggis are usually about what it is (Haggis hunts turn up in a number of jokes). In effect, these often indicate the Scot having some fun for a change at the expense of foreigners who don’t know about Scottish things.

So the question here is, are there any other countries whose typical traditional material culture has been made into jokes? I can’t think of any (although occasionally there are some jokes about American Indian names). Interestingly enough, the current wave of “political correctness” has all but stopped very open joking about ethnic groups, the Scots seem immune to this and jokes about some of the national characteristics of Scots continue to be in vogue.