Burns is 'king of sentimental doggerel', says Paxman

Jeremy Paxman may have wept on television when he discovered his poverty-stricken roots in a Glasgow tenement block, but if the Scots thought this would spare them the famous snarling disdain of the BBC's grand inquisitor-in-chief, they were in for a rude awakening.

The Newsnight presenter appears to have outraged half of Scotland with comments dismissing the national poet Robert Burns as "no more than a king of sentimental doggerel".

Gerard Carruthers, a Burns scholar at Glasgow University, said the journalist's remarks, made in the introduction to a new edition of Chambers Dictionary, were "absolute nonsense".

He added: "Originally, the term sentimental was used to describe poets who engage with feelings as well as the mind, and if that is the way it is being used, then yes, Burns was sentimental. But in the modern sense it means treacly or sugary – and that is not the real Burns at all... I think [Paxman] is trying to trade off his image as a grumpy middle-aged man. It is very strange he is saying this. It's the equivalent of poking a stick in Jocks' ribs, which is fine, if he really wants to do that."

On the website of the Glasgow Herald, some railed against Paxman's "well-documented aversion to all things Scottish".

In the past he has locked horns with former cabinet minister John Reid over Reid's Glasgow accent, and has accused those north of the border of having a "chip on their shoulder" despite holding all the top jobs in Westminster – a situation he compared with the British Raj.

Other attacks on Paxman were more personal. "Who cares what he thinks of Burns? Paxman is a short man with a long face," wrote one outraged fan, presumably clutching a well-thumbed copy of the famous Burns poem Tam O' Shanter.

Mary O'Neill, Chambers' editor- in- chief, defended the BBC man's comments and said it was not her place to "censor" his controversial views.

"I am very sure that he knows he is being controversial," she said.

"We knew he would say something interesting and it will certainly get people talking."

But whatever his overall view of the poet, Paxman seems to have a grudging respect for Burns' idiosyncratic vocabulary. Acknowledging such linguistic gems as "forswunk", he wrote: "It's not exactly a word one hears every day, but, as a term to describe dog-tiredness it has a pleasing euphony." He proceeded to undo his good work, adding: "Although I'm afraid I find the Scottish national poet no more than a king of sentimental doggerel, one might as well have used his 'ramfeezled' to describe our state." It was unclear whether Paxman was contrite yesterday. In the Herald's discussion forum a correspondent calling himself "Weepaxman" wrote: "I'm controversial in a thoroughly establishment kind of tradition. Sorry, I can't help it. I'm the establishment's anti-establishment."

'To a Haggis', Robert Burns, 1786

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,

Great chieftain o' the Puddin-race!

Aboon them a' yet tak your place,

Painch, tripe, or thairm:

Weel are ye wordy o'a grace

As lang's my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,

Your hurdies like a distant hill, Your pin was help to mend a mill

In time o' need,

While thro' your pores the dews distil

Like amber bead.

His knife see Rustic-labour dight

An' cut you up wi' ready sleight,

Trenching your gushing entrails bright,

Like onie ditch;

And then, O what a glorious sight,

Warm-reekin', rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an' strive:

Deil tak the hindmost! on they drive,

Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve

Are bent like drums

Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,

Bethankit! hums.

News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
    How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

    Heavy weather

    What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
    World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

    World Bodypainting Festival 2015

    Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
    alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

    Don't call us nerds

    Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
    How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

    How to find gold

    Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
    Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

    Not born in the USA

    Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
    10 best balsamic vinegars

    10 best balsamic vinegars

    Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
    Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

    Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

    Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy