A Peedie Nation

by Keith Savage · 15 comments

Orkney Serpent on the Window at Helgi's

A word haunted every map, sign, and food cart I saw on Orkney. Peedie. What the hell? There was the Peedie Chippie (which made excellent fish and chips, incidentally), the Peedie Sea, Peedie anthems, and so on.

“Peedie” isn’t English. I’m pretty sure it’s not Norse. It doesn’t sound much like Scots. Finally I asked an innocent woman working behind the counter at a gift shop across from St. Magnus Cathedral: “What does Peedie mean?”

She seemed a bit embarrassed answering the question, like it wasn’t meant for the ears of visitors or that she was English. “It means small, or little,” she said as I paid for the peedie pack of Orkney fudge I’d chosen for Sarah. The origin of the word is unknown it seems.

Orkney is a close-knit place with an independent streak. I think they see themselves as different from the Scottish mainlanders, partially due to isolation, partially due to culture. Orkney was long part of the Norwegian kingdom. There’s still a strong Scandinavian presence in Orkney and, to speak generally, most Orcadians embrace it. It’s a peedie place that leaves a large impression. My last visit to Orkney happened during my honeymoon, and I’m happy to say I’m still enamored.

In case you’re wondering, it’s possible to drive from the nothernmost tip of mainland Scotland to Edinburgh in five hours. Talk about a peedie nation. And yet for all it lacks in sheer size it more than makes up for in the richness of its history, scenery, milieu of cultures, and – let’s face it – whisky. It’s why I keep coming back and digging.

I’m sitting in my dorm-like hotel room at the Edinburgh airport typing this and swilling Boddington’s while my dad snores on the twin bed next to me. Tomorrow we catch the noon flight to Newark and then it’s on to Milwaukee. Then on to Madison for me. Three weeks catalogued in photos, blog posts waiting to be written, and late-night Skype calls. Another trip complete.

It’s difficult to parse all of the emotions flitting about inside my head right now (see this for preamble). For as much as I love Scotland, it seems the more that I travel the more I come to love home and everyday life in Madison. Traveling solo has taught me more about myself than perhaps I’d like to know. For those lessons I’ve learned and ignored, Scotland has kindly reminded me again and again. (Traveling with my dad for three weeks has yielded an entirely new set of lessons 🙂 ). Whether or not Traveling Savage becomes the career I envisioned when I dreamed up this venture, after five trips I’m certainly a richer person.

I know, I’m blethering, as they say in Scotland.

But for such a peedie nation it sure has proven to be a large influence on my life.

howardNo Gravatar October 14, 2015 at 9:12 AM

While researching my ancestors from Orkney, I discovered that they first originated in France. I believe that they fled France due to religious turmoil there. Originally I thought that they were French Protestant Huguenots, but they arrived there before the Catholic/Protestant wars. Now I think that they may have been another religious group from the south of France called the |Cathars|. Very interesting history about the Cathars. Maybe that’s where the French loan words came from on Orkney?


Keith SavageNo Gravatar October 14, 2015 at 9:28 AM

Very interesting indeed, Howard. I’ve just been reading a bit about the Cathars since your comment. Orkney has such a densely layered history. Your suggestion may well be right.


howardNo Gravatar December 27, 2015 at 2:33 PM

I purchased a copy of the Orkney surnames book on amazon. It says under the Sinclair name that many of the “landless” people of Orkney called “cottars” adopted the Sinclair name and contributed to the prevelance of the name. The word cottars is somewhat ambiguous and its origins are debated. I think it is an anglicised variation of Cathars…


Cynthia AtwoodNo Gravatar October 8, 2015 at 1:35 PM

Thank you for your insights. I came upon your site when I googled Peedie Nation. I, too, wondered about the definition of the term, and I appreciate now knowing. I am somewhat older than you and am embarrassed to admit I just made my first trip to Scotland this year after multiple visits to other countries. But, it felt as though I had been there before and it felt completely comfortable. This trip included venturing to Shetland and Orkney, as well as days on the mainland. I am truly happy I made the decision to visit the northern island areas, if only briefly, and am ready to see more of all of it.


Keith SavageNo Gravatar October 8, 2015 at 3:05 PM

Nothing to be embarrassed about, Cynthia. Be proud! You have visited a sacred place in this wide world, Orkney, perhaps, chief among them. It remains the place nearest my heart.


Lynnette ClarkNo Gravatar August 16, 2013 at 3:09 AM

Thanks you for you insight. We have just completed a tour around the Beautiful Orkney Isles, so I could retrace the step of my ancestors from a peedie place called Evie, it had a remote beauty and great calm which will stay with me for ever.


Keith SavageNo Gravatar August 19, 2013 at 9:45 AM

Evie is indeed beautiful. I believe Woodwick House is there. I spent part of my honeymoon at Woodwick.


David GoadNo Gravatar August 23, 2012 at 1:24 PM

Surely, peedie comes from French, petit, meaning small. I came across it while reading Redmond O’Hanlon’s book “Trawler”. Are there other words of French origin in the area, I wonder?


Keith SavageNo Gravatar August 23, 2012 at 4:04 PM

So says Wikipedia, but I’m not familiar with other French words in the region. Seems odd, no?


Jeremy BranhamNo Gravatar May 21, 2012 at 1:13 PM

Thanks for all these perspectives on Scotland. This is a beautiful area and I enjoy reading about your personal experiences and what you are learning as well.

A couple of weeks ago, I met a Scottish clan that was from Orkney and had a Norse heritage. It’s a peedie world I guess 🙂


Keith SavageNo Gravatar May 21, 2012 at 2:53 PM

My pleasure, Jeremy. I saw Clan Gunn signs on the drive south through Caithness. They must have had a nice sized home area.


laura edinburghNo Gravatar May 18, 2012 at 6:28 PM

You have a really nice blog here. Just wanted to comment and appreciate. I will certainly be following this from now on.


JesseNo Gravatar May 18, 2012 at 3:54 AM

Scottish never fails to entertain me especially with their accent. It makes them distinct and stand out that’s why I always know if a person is from Scotland.


wandering educatorsNo Gravatar May 17, 2012 at 10:57 AM

i love this. scotland has a special draw, and it claims a peedie place in our hearts that just keeps growing, yes? glad your trip was so inspiring and, well, impactful?!


Keith SavageNo Gravatar May 18, 2012 at 8:19 AM

Scotland never fails to impress. It was a great trip.


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