Toward the close of her life she was greatly troubled at any unusual stir in the household. She liked to have company, but nothing disturbed her more than to have a man working in the cellar, putting in coal, cutting wood, or doing such work. She used then to follow us uneasily about and look earnestly up into our faces, as if to say:—

"Girls, this is not right. Everything is all upset here and 'a' the world's gang agley.' Why don't you fix it?"

Concerning Cats by Helen M Winslow 1900

I feel like "a' the world's gang agley" is a kind of dialect. Can I change it into "all the world is gang agley"?

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    Shouldn't it be "all the world has gone agley"? Which itself doesn't sound right unless you replace "agley" with a less dialectical word. Jan 25, 2020 at 17:55
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    My point is that Ms Winslow's character was speaking cod-Scots of the "Hoots mon" variety. Whether this is intentional I cannot tell. To write 'the world's gone wrong' in Scots you would need 'the world's gaen agley' - example: The weary sun's gaen down the west, The birds sit nodding on the tree; All nature now prepares for rest, But rest prepared there's none for me. -The Soldier's Adieu (Robert Tannahill. 1808) Jan 26, 2020 at 10:04
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    Be cautious about calling Scots a 'dialect', especially north of the Border. The Scottish Government considers it one of Scotland's three languages, with Gaelic and English. "We are fair blythe tae be eekin on a cuttie innins tae this Scots Language Policy. We, in the Scottish Government, are continuin tae tak important steps tae heize the profile o the Scots leid. This paper sets oot policy commitments an context, oor reasons for supportin Scots, the ettles we hae as a Government an the practical steps we will tak." Jan 26, 2020 at 10:14
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    Dialect or not, you can't change anything about the text, because you are not the author. You are quoting someone else's work.
    – RegDwigнt
    Jan 26, 2020 at 11:12
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    It's fake 'dialect'; I think the OP is asking whether changing 's to is preserves the meaning; discussion has ensued about the 'is gone'/'has gone' usages; I don't really think the OP is asking if it's OK to edit the original text in a quotation. Jan 26, 2020 at 11:29

1 Answer 1


The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley is a well-known line from the Scots poet Robbie Burns.

It appears in "To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest With the Plough, November, 1785".

The Wikipedia provides a translation from Scots to English, which is a tad snarky in my view, but possibly helpful for those raised outside the British Isles.

When a character in fiction uses Scots dialect, you can be sure that they heard this phrase in their (fictional) childhood. Same with the author.

The easiest translation of gang agley is go awry. There are, of course, many ways of expressing this concept (some mild, some extremely vulgar), because as Burns aptly notes, it happens often.

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    That's an intriguing point about both the fictional character and the author hearing the dialect in childhood. But they must have heard it from someone, likely an adult. Are you referring to contemporary authors and their characters?
    – Zan700
    Jan 26, 2020 at 4:05
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    Re: "The Wikipedia provides a translation from Scots to English, which is a tad snarky in my view, but possibly helpful for those raised outside the British Isles": As an American, I can confirm that I wouldn't be able to understand the poem without that translation. (And I don't think it's at all snarky; on the contrary, giving an "English translation" implicitly acknowledges that Scots is a proper language. I think Burns would be quite happy with that.)
    – ruakh
    Jan 26, 2020 at 6:23
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    @ruakh - 'giving an "English translation" implicitly acknowledges that Scots is a proper language.' Yes. see my comment above. I don't think you would exactly get scowls in Scotland (yet) for calling Scots a 'dialect', like you might in Catalunya if you said that Catalan was one, but it is something careful speakers should be aware of. Jan 26, 2020 at 10:22
  • Regarding that “snarky” or not translation, it may be worth noting that Wikipedia has an entire Scots-language encyclopedia. And while I find I can understand most of Scots, “gang agley” was beyond me. Anyway, I suspect most Americans would be surprised to learn that the phrase “Of Mice and Men” wasn’t a Steinbeck original.
    – KRyan
    Jan 26, 2020 at 17:17
  • I would have liked Global Charm's answer better if he/she had either explained what he/she means by 'snarky', and why the Wikipedia translation has that quality, or else omitted that statement of opinion. Jan 26, 2020 at 20:05

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