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.

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne with his Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rowan Atkinson is bringing out Mr Bean for Comic Relief

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
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.

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project