Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Word of the Week Haggis

European Magpie
A traditional Scottish dish, haggis is a type of sausage made from sheep's heart, liver, and lungs that is minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt. Traditional recipes call for this mixture to be simmered in a sheep's stomach or intestine for a few hours. Commercial haggis is usually prepared in a casing. Robert Burns' poem "Address to a Haggis" raised it to the status of Scotland's national dish.
Is there that ower his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi perfect scunner,
Looks down wi' sneering, scornfu view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him ower his trash,
As feckless as a wither'd rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit:
Thro bloody flood or field to dash,
Oh how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his wallie nieve a blade,
He'll make it whissle;
An legs an arms, an heads will sned,
Like taps o thrissle.

from "Address to a Haggis"
Now that we know what haggis is and what it can do for you, we ask why is it called haggis? Why not something like "sheep stuff sausage" or "mutton offal" or something more descriptive?

The first recorded usage of the word dates to the fifteenth century. There are two theories on the word's origins. The first posits that the Middle English word hagese derived from the Old English word haggen, which means to chop. So, haggis refers to chopped up stuff. The second theory traces haggis to the Old French word agace, meaning magpie. In this case, haggis is analogous to the "odds and ends the bird collects" (from haggis entry in the Online Etymology Dictionary). While the chopping theory sounds more likely, I'm cheering for the bird.

Photo Credit: Adrian Pingstone in January 2005 and placed in the public domain.


  1. I don't know the origin of the word either. I just eat it. It's a superb meal with potatoes, turnips, gravy and veg to choice.
    We live in England, and most of the English won't touch it. But we give it to al the foreigners whoi visit, and they all approve of it.

    One traditional sport is to try to convince the English that the dish comes from the Haggis bird. A creature which lives its entire life on Scots hillsides, which is why it has one leg longer than the other, so it can walk round and round the hill.
    This is why fences in Scotland always go round the hills, not up and down as in England. The males and females have different sides longer - this is to prevent inbreading as it forces them to walk in opposite directions.
    Incidently South of the Great Glen the males have the left leg longer, females the right. North of the Great Glen it's the other way round. Of course the two species cannot interbread because they can't walk across the level ground between - on flat ground they walk in circles.

    We have occasionally got right to the end before the victim cottoned on.