Scotland The Great - Nine Inch Will Please a Lady

Ae fond Kiss

Ae fond Kiss

To some, the language of Robert Burns is impenetrable. Not so, says actor Tam Dean Burn, as he provides a contemporary commentary of the Bard’s, ‘Nine Inch Will Please a Lady’

The Burnsian band I am in, with Malcolm Ross and my brother Russel, The Bum-Clocks, has a version of ‘Nine Inch’, a witty ditty in celebration of quantity. We usually locate it in our mash-up of the poetry of Burns and Iggy Pop which kicks off with ‘A Tale O’ Twa Dugs’, portraying the dugs in question as Rabbie and Iggy. Our name comes from the last verse of ‘Twa Dugs’ (Burns’ first published poem) and is an auld Scots word for beetles. So The Bum-Clocks are the Scottish beetles.

‘Nine Inch Will Please A Lady’ is undoubtedly one of Burns’ dirtiest songs. It is featured in The Merry Muses Of Caledonia, Burn’s collection of bawdy songs; some of which he wrote and some existing songs which he added lyrics to. The latter seems the case with ‘Nine Inch’ as the first line bears the same name as the tune it is set to – ‘Come rede me, Dame’. It is also suggested in The Canongate Burns that he heard a bawdy song on his travels and composed it from that, as line seven indicates – ‘I heard a sang in Annandale…’

The song sets up a conversation with a ‘carlin’, an elderly woman, instructing us on ‘the length o’ graith’ required to satisfy a lady, all the while scratching her own eager lady bits – ‘The carlin clew her wanton tail, her wanton tail sae ready…’ She then describes the size desired to pleasure rural damsels such as herself:

‘But for a koontrie cunt like mine,
In sooth, we’re nae sae gentle;
We’ll tak twa thumb-bread to the nine,
And that’s a sonsy pintle…’
Aye, she is looking for another two inches as the cherry on top of the nine!

The carlin finishes by reminiscing about two of her previous partners in ‘houghmagandie’ (Burns’ general term for sex); Charlie, who came equipped with ‘tway roarin handfu’s and a daud’ and Tam. I have to admit, I was chuffed to discover that with my namesake, it was quality not quantity which delivered satisfaction.

‘It’s no the length that makes me loup,
But it’s the double drivin…’

This song may appear to reinforce the stereotype of Burns as a philanderer boasting of his sexual prowess but it shows much more his love of bawdy songs. As Professor De Lancey Ferguson writes in The Canongate Burns, ‘Burns frankly admitted his fondness for this type of humour, which is deeply rooted in the Scottish folk tradition… good, clean, barnyard dirt; there is nothing perverse or psychopathic about them.’

What may actually be more shocking is the assertion in Patrick Scott Hogg’s brilliant and illuminating new biography, The Patriot Bard that Burns remained a virgin into his early 20s.

On Sun 25 Jan The Bum-Clocks will host a Burns Busk below his statue in George Square, Glasgow at noon and perform at Manifesto Politikal Kabaret at the Tron 6-10pm and Optimo at the Sub Club, Glasgow at midnight. A weekly podcast of Burns’ complete works by Tam Dean Burn can be found at

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