Is Scotland Inflicted With Luck?
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Is Scotland Inflicted With Luck?

Scotland, as a nation, and historically, is full of 'nae luck' stories. Real or imagined, Scotland has had its fair share of misfortune and suffers from a 'nae luck' complexity.

It would be fair comment to say that the only time that luck and Scotland can be mentioned in the same sentence is if the word 'no' was there also; or to be more accurate (that is Scottish), 'nae' luck. Scotland, as a nation, and historically, is full of 'nae luck' stories. Real or imagined, Scotland has had its fair share of misfortune and suffers from a 'nae luck' complexity.

The phrase 'glorious failure' is often used when describing the Scotland national football (soccer) team, inasmuch as they have a tendency of somewhat punching above their weight but ultimately falling at the last hurdle. Either that or getting tanned by the minnows but beating the big teams - glorious failure is one way of looking at it, another is that there is just 'nae luck'! It is not just on the field of sport though that the whole 'nae luck' comes in to, Scottish history is full of such stories.

Is Scotland an unlucky place?

A place itself can not be classed as unlucky, can it? Surely not, but it is worth stating that it is not really a lucky place either. I suppose it depends on how you look at luck itself and whether it is something that just happens or something that can be created itself. There is an old Scottish proverb that reads: "Luck never gives; it only lends". It's almost like saying that luck, whether good or bad, may well happen by chance but it can disappear as quickly as it arrived.

As an aside, a thought springs to mind. What is the opposite of luck. If someone is said to be lucky then the obvious answer is that the opposite is that they would be unlucky, but that doesn't quite cover it because both would then still be associated with luck, it would just be that one would be 'good' luck while the other was 'bad' luck; opposite sides of the same coin if you like. If one was to consider that luck, whether good or bad, itself was something that happened merely by chance and out-with the person's control, the opposite could be described as 'skill', inasmuch as the fortune of the outcome would depend on the person, rather than leaving it to chance.

"if at first you don't succeed, try try again."

There is an expression that I'm sure you will be well aware of and what it means. What is less known is the origin of the phrase comes from Scotland and more directly Robert the Bruce. The alleged incident that supposedly lent the world the above phrase came from a time when Robert the Bruce was in a cave and watched a spider try to create a web. The spider kept failing to finish the web but did not give up, instead it kept starting again until it managed to finish. The lesson that Robert the Bruce learned from that incidence was that 'if at first you don't succeed, try try again', or in other words - success may come to those who persevere. Robert the Bruce went on to have some success against the English in battles, which won him more supporters and which led to ultimate victory.

(Robert the Bruce leading the troops at Bannockburn - Image via Wikipedia)

The above story may well be apocryphal in nature but it does highlight two different schools of thought. The first is that what Robert the Bruce went on to achieve had nothing to do with luck and everything to do with the lessons he learned from the incident. The flip-side of that is the argument that it must have been good luck for him to have been in the cave in the first place.

As for luck itself, there is very little to suggest that Scotland, as a country, has any true need for traditions that are based on luck, other than ones that are also evidenced elsewhere. There seems to be very little that is native just to Scotland.

Lucky numbers

There are many countries or nations or indeed groups of people that apportion luck to an individual number. The Chinese for example see the number 8 as being 'lucky', whether that is because the pronounciation is similar to that of the word for 'prosperity', or whether it is because the figure 8 is 'perfectly balanced'. It is more common in the western world for the number 7 to be deemed lucky. There are no individual numbers that are deemed to be lucky specifically in Scotland.

There are individual incidences of occurences in Scotland that have been rooted in numbers. For example, Loch Leven in Kinross-shire is a loch that has eleven islands, is eleven miles round and has exactly 11 rivers or streams running in to it, but all of that is mere coincedence and has nothing to do with 'luck', 'tradition' or anything really.

Another numerical coincidence refers to Oliver Cromwell, who was the 'scourge of the Scots'. Two of his most major victories - at Dunbar (1650) and Worcester (1651) - happened on the 3rd of September, which was rather ironic as Oliver Cromwell died on the 3rd of September (1658). Again though that is nothing more than a numerical coincidence.

It would be fair comment to say that on the matter of luck, Scotland has neither a 'lucky' number of its own or indeed much 'luck' of its own either.

Good luck sayings

Although Scotland may not have many stories of 'luck' in history that is not to say that it has not been the home of sayings of 'good luck', or to be more accurate, sayings that 'wish you well'. The most obvious one that springs to mind comes from the pen of Robert Burns.

(Portrait of Robert Burns - Image via Wikipedia)

Auld Lang Syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And auld lang syne!

For auld lang syne, my dear,

For auld lang syne.

We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,

For auld lang syne.

Auld Lang Syne was a poem written in 1788 by Scottish poet Robert Burns. Think of 'auld lang syne' translating as 'for old times sake' and the meaning becomes more apparent. It is a song that looks to the past to bring fortune to the future. With that in mind, it is no surprise that the song has become traditional enough to be the song of choice that people sing at New Year (or Hogmanaay as it is called in Scotland). The popularity of the song caught on so much that it is often heard at weddings and funerals aswell.

Another Scottish proverb that mentions luck is as follows;

An inch o 'gude luck is worth a faddom o' forecast.

Translated in to simple English says: An inch of good luck is worth a fathom of forecast. There is a certain 'double-meaning' to the word 'faddom' here whereby it can mean literally a 'fathom' meaning a unit of length. Or it can be 'fathom' meaning 'find the reason'. Whichever, it doesn't take anything away from the expression at all. It means that sometimes luck can be just as good as a well thought out plan. Think back to the story of Robert the Bruce and this expression may well sum it up.

In terms of history, luck has had very little input to the Scottish way of thinking. It could be argued that 'bad luck' has certainly infected Scotland over the years but that is a whole different story and the Scots tend to be too canny to bleat on about 'hard luck' stories - unless it has do with football!

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Comments (2)

Well said, great observations about luck! We have a similar story here with the Chicago Cubs baseball team. They think they're unlucky because they haven't won a World Series since 1908, but it's really because they don't play very well.

Superb article Alistair! My wife was a Wallace, so the roots run deep in that sphere :-) With the time zone difference here in SA I have got no more votes left today, but I will make amends tomorrow.