A “Sort-of” Scot Clears up Some Anglo-American Confusion

A large proportion of this blog’s readership is American (around two-thirds) so I’ve decided to do a little to further Anglo-American understanding (Anglo in this sense including Scotlo too, since I am (sort of) from Scotland and live there too.)

In my last post I used the British word “hob” and I included the American term “stove top.” Sarah, of Amycakeandthedude, thanked me for the translation because she hadn’t been sure what “hob” meant. So I’m going to clear up some confusion and have some fun.

First, I’ll explain why I am only sort of a Scot. I was born on and grew up on The Shetland Isles. Their location causes so much confusion that I wrote an article to answer the question  Where Are The Shetland Isles? (It includes a fun quiz, so do take a look.)

Most people know about Shetland Ponies, some about the sheep and Fair Isle sweaters, a few know that Shetland is home to way more of the gorgeous puffins than it is to people. But, very few people know a huge lot more than that. Even in the UK. Even in Scotland, people think that Shetland is either somewhere off the west of Scotland (that’s the Hebrides) or in a white box off the east coast. That’s how maps often display Shetland.

Shetland is in fact, much further north than the rest of Scotland. So far north that it is in line with the southern tip of Greenland, so far north that in mid-winter it is only beginning to get light at 9am, and in mid-summer it never truly gets dark. January is creeping on now, and on the last Tuesday of each January Shetland celebrates the lightening days with the fire festival, Up Helly Aa. During the day men dress up as Vikings and sing songs in shopping centers (as in the video below) and then after dark they carry torches of fire (still singing songs) before burning a Viking galley. (And then everybody parties till dawn.)

You might conclude from this that Shetland has a Viking past. You would be right. From around 800AD the Vikings saw Shetland as the perfect stopover at which to rest and recharge before raiding and pillaging the UK mainland, or even before heading west. A few Pictish settlers were already living on Shetland by then, but the Vikings didn’t let that stop them. Along with Orkney, Shetland became part of Norway. For almost 800 years. Then some bad money-management meant that a King didn’t have enough ready cash for his daughter’s dowry, so he handed the Islands over to Scotland.

But Shetlanders have long memories. The attachment to Norway has never completely faded, and from my experience when visiting Norway, the feelings are mutual. So that’s why I’m only sort of a Scot. Now back to hobs and stoves.

What Americans call stoves, we British call cookers. In the UK a stove is a solid fuel – em – stove – (I was about to say cooker, but of course that’s British.) It is also known as a range – not to be confused with farm as in, “Home on the range.” We don’t tend to have that kind of range in the UK since farms that big would probably take up the entire UK.

Stoves generally feature in novels by Joanna Trollope and the poshest brand nowadays is the Aga – hence the name “Aga Sagas” for novels by Joanna Trollope and others.

I was amused when the Aga became the must-have stove. When I was growing up on Shetland, everyone had Rayburn stoves, with Trueburn a cheaper alternative. Agas were the old-fashioned ones, the ones that belched black smoke, the ones everyone was getting rid of. Those Agas were far smaller than the other stoves around. They were nothing like the Agas in the sagas.

So now you know why I am only sort of a Scot, and what a stove is. Have a nice day. (See I truly can speak “American.”)


  1. That was very interesting! I only heard of Shetland because of the ponies. I knew nothing else.
    It sBoggles my mind that there was a day when a king could just give part of his country to another.

    1. You and many others Christine – the ponies get around. Actually, considering Shetland’s population is around 23,000 it hasn’t done badly for being known around the world. There are many parts of America that I don’t know at all. Since getting to know many American bloggers I my US geography has greatly improved because I often look up where people come from.
      And yes, that king giving away part of his country – it is amazing how life has changed.

  2. That was both educational and entertaining! I’m Canadian from Montreal. We tend to use a lot of American words but tend towards UK spelling – such as doughnut rather than donut. We, of course have plenty that are all our own, eh… (visiting from Bloppy Bloggers)

    1. Nice to meet you Kat. I didn’t know that Canadians tend to use the UK spelling, though when I think about I have noticed that a few times. I think Australia and New Zealand also do – and like you they also have several words of their own.
      Thanks for your comment!

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