Sunday, December 28, 2008

You really do learn something new every day

Try this out for size: we already are aware that the Irish had a profound impact on American slang, but dig this - rap may have its origins in medieval Scotland (h/t Cernig of The Newshoggers). Let's break it down, as the kids might say:

Professor Ferenc Szasz argued that so-called rap battles, where two or more performers trade elaborate insults, derive from the ancient Caledonian art of "flyting".

According to the theory, Scottish slave owners took the tradition with them to the United States, where it was adopted and developed by slaves, emerging many years later as rap.

Professor Szasz is convinced there is a clear link between this tradition for settling scores in Scotland and rap battles, which were famously portrayed in Eminem's 2002 movie 8 Mile.

He said: "The Scots have a lengthy tradition of flyting - intense verbal jousting, often laced with vulgarity, that is similar to the dozens that one finds among contemporary inner-city African-American youth.

"Both cultures accord high marks to satire. The skilled use of satire takes this verbal jousting to its ultimate level - one step short of a fist fight."

The academic, who specialises in American and Scottish culture at the University of New Mexico, made the link in a new study examining the historical context of Robert Burn's work.

The most famous surviving example of flyting comes from a 16th-century piece in which two rival poets hurl increasingly obscene rhyming insults at one another before the Court of King James IV.

Titled the Flyting Of Dunbar And Kennedy, it has been described by academics as "just over 500 lines of filth".

Those cats from the British Isles really could get down with their bad selves. Just replace the DJ and turntables with someone playing the bagpipes and we've got a block party.

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