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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

And what she meant by Shan drom


[192] Their (the female's) speech is as fluent, and their eyes as unabashed, in the presence of royalty, as before those from whom they have nothing to hope or fear; the result of which is, that most minds quail before them.--_Borrow on the Spanish Gipsies._--ED.

In corroboration of this principle of concealment observed by the Scottish Gipsies, relative to their language, I may give a fact which will show how artful they are in avoiding any allusion to it. One evening, as a band of _potters_, with a cart of earthenware, were travelling on the high-road, in a wild glen in the south of Scotland, a brother of mine overheard them, male and female, conversing in a language, a word of which he did not understand. As the road was very bad, and the night dark, one of the females of the band was a few yards in advance of the cart, acting as a guide to the horde. Every now and then, among other unintelligible expressions, she called out "_Shan drom_." My brother's curiosity was excited by hearing the potters conversing in this manner, and, next morning, he went to where they lodged, in an out-house on the farm, and enquired of the female what she was saying on the road, the night before, and what she meant by "_Shan drom_." The woman appeared confused at the unexpected question; but in a short time recovered her self-possession, and artfully replied that they were talking _Latin_(_!_) and that "_Shan drom_," in Latin, signified "bad road." But

the truth is, "_Shan drom_" is the Gipsy expression for bad road, as will by and by be seen.

Besides the difficulties mentioned in the way of getting any of their language from them, there is a general one that arises from the suspicious, unsettled, restless, fickle and volatile nature by which they are characterized. It is a rare thing to get them to speak consecutively for more than a few minutes on any subject, thus precluding the possibility, in most instances, of taking advantage of any favourable humour in which they may be found, in the matter of their general history--leaving alone the formal and serious procedure necessary to be followed in regard to their language. If this favourable turn in their disposition is allowed to pass, it is rarely anything of that nature can be got from them at that meeting; and it is extremely likely that, at any after interviews, they will entirely evade the matter so much desired.

With these remarks, I will now proceed to state the method I adopted to get at the Gipsy language.

Short vocabularies of the language of the _Tschengenes_ of Turkey, the _Cyganis_ of Hungary, the _Zigeuners_ of Germany, the _Gitanos_ of Spain, and the _Gipsies_ of England, have, at different periods, since 1783, issued from the press, in this country and in Germany; but I am not aware of any specimens of our Scottish _Tinkler_


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