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?