In honor of the 42nd birthday (on 28th November) of my son Angus, who is a mixologist extraordinaire, I was going to ruminate on the origins of the word whisky, derived from either the Scots Gaelic usquebaugh or the rather lovelier Irish ditto uisgebeatha.  But a combination of linguistic ill-discipline and serendipity led me otherwise, to the reminder that the winter dancing season has now begun back home in Scotland, and that all over the nation, from Lerwick to Berwick, from Dunnet Head to Gretna Green, Scots will be enjoying the delights of the ceilidh (pronounced caylee), and which originally signified

an evening visit, a friendly social call.

Today, and for the past hundred years or so, the word has come to mean

a session of traditional music, storytelling, or dancing

all of which is these days often augmented (and often greatly improved by being so) with ample quantities of usquebaugh. Such gatherings are a lot of fun: most birthdays, bar-mitzvahs and even the coming holidays tend to pale beside a full-blown Highland ceilidh, though their hangovers are seldom so memorable.



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  • Tom Sullivan

    The  ceilidh tradition lives on in Prince Edward Island. Folks still drive from around the East side of the island to gather in halls at small hamlets for ceilidhs almost every night of the week. There is always a fiddler and piano player at the least. 
    Because of an allergy to alcohol, (If I drink it I fight, fall down, break my head, get arrested, etc.and then can't remember what happened) I can't testify to the drinking at these ceilidhs, but I have noticed that at times men join in small groups near their cars. 
    Nearly two and a half centuries after they first arrived in PEI, the Scots ceilidh on.

  • USANovelist

    This word: ceilidh, pronounced caylee, I still wonder about...why? Is it pronounced caylle like the "K"? Or, is it pronounced caylee like the "S"? Since the actual spelling doesn't help, and the pronunciation BARELY does, I look to your expertise upon this FUN-tastic word, as well as
    usquebaugh (now how to you suppose we pronounce THAT one)

  • Yvonne Mason

    I just learned (in the last couple of years lol) about the "angel's share." Delightful concept in the making of usquebaugh : )