“Outlander:” Not an Endearment

Outlander. Foreigner. Sassenach

Definition of sassenach (Merriam-Webster)

: a typical Englishman or something considered typical of England —often used disparagingly by Scots and Irish

My second reading of The Outlander, the first book in Diana Gabaldon’s the Outlander series, is far more critical than the first. The first time around I was too caught up in the story to pay attention to errors that I now find irritating. I’m not going to dwell on minor glitches, instead, I’ll focus on the one that bugs me most because it’s the one that shows up most often and strikes too close to home.

It’s clear that Gabaldon has never been a foreigner, not in the real sense. Not as someone who has lived in another country. No doubt she’s been a tourist and she probably traveled to Scotland to do research. On her website, she says that her husband is a foreigner, but gives no details. Is he a “foreigner” from another state than Arizona, their home, or is he a foreigner to the USA? I wonder if she calls him Sassenach? Or perhaps Outlander? But in the Outlander books, Scotsman Jamie Fraser refers to his beloved, English wife, Claire, as Sassenach. Affectionately, of course, almost as if the word meant darling and were not considered a disparaging term.

Having been an actual foreigner and being too often reminded that I am “other” (You have an accent, where is your accent from? Are you English?) I can assure you that “outlander,” “foreigner,” “Sassenach” don’t come across as endearments. Not even in Latvian, my native language, which has many diminutive suffixes, the word Ārzemniecīte would not come across as loving, no matter how gently said or softly whispered in the most intimate of circumstances.

Who needs to be constantly reminded that they’re an outsider, that they do not belong? Imagine yourself in that situation, in this country, or any other you may have emigrated to.

Gabaldon was obviously reaching for something original. Something Scottish and did not give the matter enough thought.

How does this sound to you?

Husband comes home from work and kisses wife. “How are you, Foreigner?”

Wife to husband, “I adore you. Let’s make love, Foreigner.”

Does that seem endearing? Loving? Or does that sound like grounds for divorce, especially after having heard it for the five thousandth time?

8 thoughts on ““Outlander:” Not an Endearment”

  1. Haven’t read the books. I watched some of the series but wasn’t my taste. However, the use of the term in this circumstance could be an example of the rough and ready Celtic humour. It’s commonplace here in Ireland to call a friend by a disparaging name as a form of endearment, especially among men. Endearment wouldn’t be an acceptable term but you probably get my meaning. Scottish humour is very similar to Irish humour in this way.

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    1. Between men, yes. Maybe even between women. But not from a man to his beloved wife. It’s not that Sassenach is rough, there are many rougher words. My issue with it is that it’s a constant reminder that she’s an outsider. That she does not belong. Thanks for your comment.

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      1. *I* wouldn’t but it wouldn’t be surprised to hear someone call their partner Yank or Frog as a joke name. I’m not trying to excuse any discrimination but just trying to explain that Celtic humour is very robust and not always understood by those looking in. That’s why the author may have chosen to use Sassanach in this context. If you are becoming annoyed at my comments then best just for both of us to move on as we’re not understanding each other 🙂

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      2. I’m not annoyed by your comments at all. It’s interesting to get another point of view. I think you kind of proved my point by saying you wouldn’t call your wife “Foreigner,” if she were one. Yank humor isn’t exactly wimpy, either. As a joke, yeah, maybe, but not constantly. But you’ve probably never been a foreigner yourself. That could also affect your POV.

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  2. Foreigner is a distinction that should not be made, especially these days. One of my outsider experiences was being Catholic and going to my Catholic School. We wore uniforms so were easily identifiable. Public school kids chased us, ran us down on their bikes, called us names and threw rocks at us. There is nothing good about “isms”.

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    1. How awful! I’m sorry that happened to you. The little brats. One of my childhood friends was Catholic. I hope nothing like that ever happened to her. It’s all motivated by ignorance and fear of the “other.” Makes you wonder about the little monsters’ parents.

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