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Guachinche. There’s a word for you. It’s a lovely word which slips off the tongue like a child down a slide … when you know how to pronounce it that is. WAH-CHEEN-CHAY.

Here’s another word. Muggle.

Muggle is a word that was made up by J.K. Rowling to describe non-magical people, whereas guachinche is a makeshift restaurant (travel editors like to describe them as pop-ups so hipster Londoners can relate to them) predominantly found in the north of Tenerife.

M-U-G-G-L-E is definitely how you’d spell muggle. It’s a fact. That’s the way J.K. Rowling spells it and she should know as she made it up.

The spelling of guachinche on the other hand, well, that’s opening up a can of worms. What I’ve written is the recognised spelling, but this is a word borne out of illiteracy. The origins date back to the time of Victorian merchants visiting Tenerife, and roadside stalls along the island’s wine lands. If you want the full story it’s here. But the short version is the phrase “I’m watching you” became the word guachinche over the years, chronicled by someone who basically wrote down what they thought they heard because the people who said it couldn’t read or write. Is it the right spelling? It is now.

Whilst writing a chapter of the novel I’m working on, set in the West of Scotland, I used the phrase ‘the brew’, referring to the way the dole office (Job Centre) is referred to in Scotland. On facebook my sister, who still lives in Scotland, picked me up on this spelling, saying it should be the ‘broo’ whilst a friend suggested it should be ‘buroo’. That had me scampering back to Google search to see if I could find the definitive spelling of the word. The problem is, like guachinche, it’s not a proper word.

Broo, buroo, or brew has it’s origins in the days when the Job Centre was known as the Employment Bureau. The Employment bit was dumped, and the Bureau part became shortened to the ‘buroo’, then ‘broo’ or ‘brew’, depending on who you talk to. It’s a colloquialism.

Until I started to research it I’d only seen it written down once, in the Angus Og cartoon in The Daily Record newspaper many years ago when the characters referred to the ghost of the Rothesay broo (or brew, I can’t remember how they spelled it) – a place I worked incidentally, so you’d think I’d know how to spell it. But it’s not a real word, remember.

Limited online evidence confuses the issue.

Cuttings from old newspapers spell it as ‘buroo’, whereas the popular spelling among those who actually use it seems to be ‘broo’. But in some Scottish forums, and at least one Scottish comedy series, it’s written as ‘brew’. This is presumably why some language sites give up trying to provide a definitive answer, resorting to writing diplomatically “buroo, broo, b’roo and brew are informal Scottish and Irish forms of the noun bureau.”

As nobody can say for sure, why does it matter?

It matters because although I know what it sounds like in my head, and what it means, many other people who aren’t Scottish wouldn’t.
If I write ‘buroo’, how do you say that in your head? Maybe as buh-roo? But that’s not right.
If I write ‘brew’, the chances are you’ll hear it right, but might think I’m talking about a cup of tea.
‘Broo’, on the other hand, captures the rhythm accurately and is unlikely to be confused with another distracting word. So, ‘broo’ wins.

And all this chin-pulling over one word. One single word out of 47,000 typed so far.

That’s writing for you.

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Jack Montgomery

Jack is an author, travel writer, photographer, and a Slow Travel consultant who has been writing professionally for twenty years. Follow Jack on Facebook for information about his writing, travel tips, photographs, and tales of life in a tiny rural village in Somerset.

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Welcome to my Canvas

Some of the items on this site won’t be to everyone’s liking, I get that. Basically this is my place, my wee studio to mess around in – experimenting with words and thoughts. I’ll be chuffed if you enjoy it, but if you don’t, c’est la vie. As a friend used to tell me “it would be a boring life if we all thought the same.”

Jack Montgomery
A wine press,
On a farm at the end of the dirt track,
The Setúbal Peninsula,