[Ads-l] Ulster Scots, Scots-Irish, Scotch-Irish

Stanton McCandlish smccandlish at GMAIL.COM
Fri Sep 1 23:29:05 UTC 2023

A couple of different but topically related matters.

1) Some of you are very good at ferreting out earliest findable uses of a
term.  How would I go about finding a source for earliest known use (or
even actual coining) of the term "Ulster Scots" or "Ulster-Scots", in
reference to the Scottish population who settled in the north of Ireland
primarily during the Plantation of Ulster (officially 1606–1641, but
informally starting as early as the 1570s, and preceded by centuries of
piecemeal immigration in the form of gallowglass mercenaries)?

2) Over at Wikipedia, there's been long-running, recurrent dispute about
use of "Scotch-Irish" in various article titles.  The pro side claim that
this is "the" term used by Americans and Canadians to refer to Ulster Scots
immigrant heritage, though this can easily be disproven as a false
dichotomy, since "Scots-Irish" is demonstrably used instead in various
books and other sources.  (I.e., a "This is what we call ourselves" claim
has been made, and proven faulty.)  The con side indicates that use of
"Scotch" instead of "Scots" in reference to people is a Victorianism and
increasingly regarded as offensive (not unlike "Aborigine", "Eskimo",
"Chinaman", etc.)  The pro side likes to claim it is only Scots-in-Scotland
who find it offensive, and their opinion isn't relevant to
"Scotch-Americans", though this is also highly dubious.  There are lots of
details involved in the years-long squabbling that I won't pore over here.
To be clear, I'm in favor of renaming articles like "Scotch-Irish
Americans" to use "Scots-" instead, though the lead section of such an
article would still mention the "Scotch-" spelling, of course. The concern
isn't that "Scotch-" is "wrong" in some kind of objective sense, but rather
that Wikipedia's use of it in article titles and otherwise as the primary
term is offending a large subset of readers for no benefit to any others
nor any kind of gain to the project. The ultimate background of this is
that "Scotch", a contraction of "Scottish", was often used as the general
adjective in reference to Scotland and the Scots in the Georgian and
Victorian era, and started falling out of fashion in the 20th century, but
less so in North America than elsewhere.

I'm looking for a way to get at this never-quite-resolving dispute from a
source-based angle.  I've been doing this very manually and piecemeal so
far, and have noticed a strong but not total trend of shifting to
"Scots-Irish", even in American works published in the US East Coast and
eastern South, where Scots-Irish descendants are most concentrated (i.e. it
is not some kind of exonym being imposed), while older works (1980s and
back for the most part) preferred "Scotch-Irish".

I'm open to just being wrong about it. If it turns out that there's
overwhelming evidence of a continuing preference for "Scotch-" in such
constructions, despite Scots-in-Scotland taking offense (as in my *anecdotal
*experience do plenty of the diasporic Scots descendants), then so be it.

Google N-grams are kind of jaggedy and even contradictory on it and not
much help; while they show a general increase in "Scots-Irish" from about
the 1990s onward (probably because the Internet put more Americans in
immediate touch with actual Scots who object to "Scotch"), there are spikes
in use of "Scotch-Irish", and it remains common, especially when not
attached to "American[s]".

* Ngram for just the bare term by itself, shows "Scotch-Irish" dominant but
declining, with "Scots-Irish" on the rise:
* If you add "Americans" to the search terms, it gets more chaotic, with
"Scots-Irish Americans" dominant since the early 2010s (despite the
influence of Wikipedia itself on usage), but with a big spike in "Scotch-"
in the 1980s.
* Switching to singular "American", the shapes change, with a big spike in
"Scotch-" around 2010, "Scots-" rising since 1990 and now dominant by a
thin margin, but with a hint of "Scotch-" rising again (the data stops at
* With "Canadians", the "Scots-" spelling doesn't rate in Google Ngrams.
* Same with singular "Canadian":

I've been able to find some specific style advice and such on the matter,
but *could use a lot more evidence like this*, probably some of it in
paywalled material I can't full-text search.

* *Garner's Modern English Usage* advises against "Scotch" in reference to
people, as increasingly considered offensive; has done so since at least
the previous edition.
* American Society of Scots-Irish [
https://www.facebook.com/scotsirishsociety/] - they obviously use "Scots-"
* *FamilyTree *magazine (New Hampshire) [
quote: 'For those not using the term Ulster Scots today, Scots-Irish has
generally supplanted the use of “Scotch-Irish” in America.' This seems like
a bold claim, but there is it.
* University of Connecticut [
quote: ' “Scots-Irish” is the American term for descendants of
settler-colonial Presbyterians who left Ireland from the 18th century
onwards'. The UConn page didn't use "Scotch-Irish" as an alternative.
* *Mountain Xpress* (North Carolina) [
https://mountainx.com/opinion/0802martin-php/], uses both spellings, but
quote: 'I usually call them the “Scotch-Irish,” but the fashionable term
these days is “Scots-Irish.” '  Another bold claim about transition, but
based on what data?
* *The Westward Sagas* (Texas) [
https://westwardsagas.com/scots-or-scots-irish/], quote: 'In [early books
in the series], there are numerous references to the Scotch-Irish. At book
signings and speaking events, I am often asked the meaning of the word
Scotch (pertaining to people). After being asked how one’s ancestors can be
from a place called Scotch, which is the native whiskey of Scotland, I
started calling my ancestors Scots-Irish.'  Rather anecdotal, but still of

Other US-based evidence (just of usage, not of advice or declarations about

** *AmeriCeltic Foundation (California) [
** *Immigration and Ethnic History Society (Minnesota) [
** *Historic Rural Hill Cultural Center (N. Carolina) [
** Citizen Time* (NC) [
** *Genealogical Publishing Company (Maryland) [
** *Broadway Books (NY) [
** *Scottish Tartans Museum and Heritage Center (NC) [
this seems to be their own book, since I can't find it anywhere else]
** *Ancestry.com (Utah) [
** **The Register-Herald* (Ohio) [
** *SCIWAY.net (S. Carolina portal) [
** *Village of Foxburg (Pennsylvania) [
** *CelticClothing.com (PA) [
** **FamilySearch* (UT) [https://www.familysearch.org/en/wiki/Scots_Irish]
** *Carolana.com (SC) [
** *Fairfax County (Virginia) [
** *City University of New York – Brooklyn [
** *Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis [
- they have "Scots-Irish" but not "Scotch-Irish" as a keyword, even
** **The Atlantic* (Washington DC)  [
** *Princeton University Press (NJ) [
** *New England Historical Society (Massachusetts) [
** *Temple University Press (PA) [
** **Ancestral Findings* (Florida) [
** **Electric Scotland* (Arizona and Ontario) [
** *US National Park Service (DC) [
** *Mid-Continent Public Library (Missouri) [
** **The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia* (PA) [
https://philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/essays/scots-irish/]  -lists both
spellings, prefers "Scots-Irish"
** *Blue Ridge National Heritage Area (NC) [
** *Lees McRae College (NC) [
** **Find My Past* (US–UK–Ireland; not sure where the home office is) [
** *KISS 95.1 FM radio (NC) [
** **West Virginia Blue Book* [
- dating back to 1926
** **Washington Monthly* (DC) [
** **Irish America* (NY) [
** *Polk County (FL) [
** *Kentucky Genealogy Society [
** *Appalachia State University (NC) [
- uses both spellings, prefers "Scots-Irish"
** *University of Tennessee Press [
** **Chattanooga Times Free Press* (TN) [
** *NameCensus.com (exact location unknown, but it's all US Census data) [
** **Visit Staunton* portal (VA) [
** **WikiTree* (NY) [https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Space:Scots-Irish]
** Pittsburgh Quarterly* (PA) [

This is just a smattering from the first page of search results.

You can of course do a Google search on "Scotch-Irish American" and find
lots of usage of that term; the fact that it is still in some use is not
disputed by anyone. What stands out to me, though, is the large proportion
of books using that term in their titles that date from the 1980s and

* [
* [
* [
* [https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Scotch_Irish/GnaAAAAAIAAJ?hl=en]
* and many others (back to at least the Edwardian era).

There are some later books that favor "Scotch-", but these are pushing the
definition of "recent":

* Like this one from 1998 [
* And another from 1993 [
* And one from 2000 [

PS: If you're not a Wikipedian already, I would not advocate going over
there to join in such discussions, pro or con, since WP isn't a forum for
public debate, and the discussions are really about how such usage evidence
interacts with a bunch of WP policies and guidelines that one would need to
understand in considerable detail.

Stanton McCandlish
McCandlish Consulting
1355 80th Ave
Oakland CA 94621-2459 USA

+1 415 234 3992


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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