To the long-dead flax workers of Scotland.

You were known as hecklers, a Scots and dialect English version of hackler. You worked long, exhausting hours, dragging bundles of flax or hemp through heckling combs to separate the fibres so that they could be spun into thread and then into cloth.

You were one of the most radical and vociferous elements in the labour movement of Britain. You were famed for your literacy, your burning desire for self-improvement, your advocacy for the rights of the poor. It is said that while you worked in cities like Dundee, one of your number used to read out the stories of the day from a newspaper and shouts and comments would come from all corners of the room.

Your trade is long gone now but the memory of your radicalism lives on in the word heckler, a name now used to denote someone who shouts out and interrupts a speaker. 

Unfortunately, there are people now who want to make your contribution to the history of the English language as dead as your trade. They are people who have read a foolish book and believed all of it (I can imagine you turning in your graves – Think on that, folks that accept the printed word as true without questioning or thinking or investigating! For shame!)

That book is Daniel Cassidy’s How The Irish Invented Slang. Cassidy, who claimed to be ‘a labor activist’, cared nothing for the facts and chose to ignore your contribution to the history of the labour movement. He invented a foolish phrase in Irish (éamh call) which he claimed meant ‘to shout out complaints’ and he tried to pass this off as the origin of the word heckler. No matter that no Irish speaker has ever used éamh call. No matter that it makes little sense. No matter that Irish has many real ways of saying heckle or interrupt, like trasnáil a dhéanamh, trasnú, trioscadh, cur isteach ar chainteoir, briseadh isteach ar chainteoir. No matter that your own proud name is well-established as the origin of the word heckler.

A parcel of rogues and fools wants to believe in lies and nonsense rather than accept the facts. Which is why I am here, on a piece of technology you could not have imagined back in your day, shouting out my objections on your behalf – like a true heckler.   


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.