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Scottish Inventions the Scots did not invent - Help!

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77630.  Fri Jun 30, 2006 9:35 am Reply with quote

Hi there,

I recently saw an episode of QI in which certain myths regarding 'scottish inventions' were brought to light.

I now find myself doing some research on that very subject for work and wondered if any QI fans could provide me with the definitive list of Scottish inventions not invented by the Scots, as featured on the show? I can only find the Alexander Graham Bell details on this forum.

Many thanks,
Zoe [/img]

77643.  Fri Jun 30, 2006 10:10 am Reply with quote

Will show what are real ones...



77650.  Fri Jun 30, 2006 10:14 am Reply with quote

Thanks for that Tas - actually I'd just been there but it still lists the telephone under Alexander Graham Bell so I can't be that sure of all the others listed... :0(


77651.  Fri Jun 30, 2006 10:16 am Reply with quote

Ah, oops! I missed that one! LOL



77675.  Fri Jun 30, 2006 12:05 pm Reply with quote

Hi Zoe, the following is from Jumping Jack's original notes. I hope he doesn't mind me posting them here:

Scotland is named after the Scoti, who were Irish. Scots is actually a dialect of Irish (1). Kilts were also invented by the Irish though the word ‘kilt’ itself is Danish(2). The bagpipes were invented in Asia(3).

Haggis was invented in ancient Rome. Hogmanay is a French invention and a French word(4). Porridge was invented in ancient China. Whisky was invented in Italy(5).Clan tartans were invented by the English (6).

The telephone was invented by Antonio Meucci, an Italian-American, from whom Alexander Graham Bell outrageously stole the patent application and copied it.

The steam engine was invented in ancient Egypt by a Greek(6).

John Logie Baird was beaten to the invention of television by Philo T Farnsworth, an American.

Penicillin was known to the Bedouins of north Africa for thousands of years and the French got there well before Sir Alexander Fleming discovered it by accident.


(1)The Scoti, a Celtic tribe from Ireland, arrived in what the Romans called Caledonia in the fifth or sixth century AD. By the 11th century they dominated the whole of mainland Scotland.

(3)From kilte op, ‘tuck up’.

(3)Probably. But definitely not in Scotland.

(4)In Norman French the word is hoguinané , from Old French aguillanneuf meaning the ‘last day of the year’, and a gift given on it accompanied by the cry ‘Aguillanneuf!’. It is possible that the word comes from aiguille à l’an neuf (‘pointer to the New Year’) though it has been suggested that the first part may derive from au gui (making it: ‘to the mistletoe at the New Year’).

(5)The Chinese were in fact the first to discover whisky, but it was first (independently) invented in Europe by the Italians in the 12th Century.

(6) The elaborate system of clan tartans is a complete myth stemming from the early nineteenth century. The word tartan, or tertaine (probably from the French meaning ‘silk stuff’) is mentioned vaguely in the 15th and 16th centuries, but the earliest known visual representation of tartan dates from 1660. The painting (in the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh) is supposed to be of a Campbell chieftain, but the pattern of small cross-checks on his clothes bears no resemblance to the Campbell or to any other known tartan. Paintings from the 18th Century sometimes show Highland gentlemen in tartan but in hotch-potches of any old mixtures they fancied. All Highland dress, including what tartan there was, was banned after the English crushed the Scots after the 1745 rebellion. The garrison regiments started designing their own (now suddenly uncharacteristically vivid tartans) as an affectation, particularly to make a special show for the state visit of King George IV to Edinburgh in 1822. Queen Victoria encouraged the trend, which became something of a craze for the Victorians. The Scottish Tartans Society was founded in 1963.

(7) Watt invented the steam condenser.

I don't know whether this is the definative list as mentioned on the show, things may have been added or deleted by the time the question went to air.

Of course in true QI spirit, it would be great for you to return this kindness with some of your own research.

220873.  Tue Oct 16, 2007 11:22 am Reply with quote

all were scottish inventions antonio meucci was found out by american officials he was a fraud trying to get money the greek invented a certain machine that worked with steam but not the steam engine the tv was definate scot im related just foriengners all trying to claim they did this that but why arent they recorded as doing it why did the poorest country in the west get the credits edinburgh was the place of achievment a golden age other countries are jealous of that

220885.  Tue Oct 16, 2007 11:53 am Reply with quote


I'll let someone else reformat your recent post to make it readable.

Zaphod Beeblebrox
220915.  Tue Oct 16, 2007 1:26 pm Reply with quote

bell, do you have any sources for those claims?

why arent they recorded as doing

I imagine they are somewhere and that's how JJ/the elves managed to find out the facts that eggshaped posted...

221002.  Tue Oct 16, 2007 7:54 pm Reply with quote

Bell - it's good to have a partisan aboard, though personally I don't see how anyone can regard sharing a national identity with someone as a source of personal pride. However, you may well do so, and good luck to you. Here's something to flesh out the assertion above about tartans:
Tartan was known in Scotland in the 16th century, but the differentiation of tartans by clan was not. 16th century chiefs wore coloured plaids while their followers wore brown ones, so if anything the distinction was one of rank, not clan. There's no evidence of clan tartans being worn in the '45 rebellion; the post-'45 Act which banned 'highland dress' made no mention of tartan. In 1822 the firm of William Wilson & Son of Bannockburn saw an opportunity to create a repertoire of differentiated clan tartans to coincide with the visit of George IV; some were certified by the Highland Society of London but others were simply handed out arbitrarily. The codification of the clan tartans was then carried out by two English brothers named Allen who purported to be descendants of Bonnie Prince Charlie and wrote during the 1840s under the name of "the Sobieski Stuarts" (John Sobieski, King of Poland, was the great-grandfather of Bonnie Prince Charlie); their books, which are works of complete invention, are the source for all the subsequent publications on the subject.

If that's right (and I wrote it, so I think it is), then at least some of the tartans were invented by Scots, the employees of William Wilson & Son. Invented, mind you, not traditional.

221013.  Wed Oct 17, 2007 2:00 am Reply with quote

In a survey for British Food Fortnight, 57% of school children "did not know haggis originates in Scotland."

Presumably the other 43% missed that episode of QI.

221055.  Wed Oct 17, 2007 5:32 am Reply with quote

Here is the entry in The Book of General Ignorance which should give bell some comfort that we did present the other side of the story. The point being that the most familiar, lazy and cliched views of a culture are often those attached to it by outsiders. The list of Scottish inventions speaks for itself. Most of the fabric of what we call the modern world has a Scotsman or woman to thank for its existence.

What’s interesting about Scotland, kilts, bagpipes, haggis, porridge, whisky and tartan?

None of them are Scottish.

Scotland is named after the Scoti, a Celtic tribe from Ireland, who arrived in what the Romans called Caledonia in the fifth or sixth century AD. By the 11th century they dominated the whole of mainland Scotland. ‘Scots Gaelic’ is actually a dialect of Irish.

Kilts were invented by the Irish but word ‘kilt’ is Danish (kilte op, ‘tuck up’ )

The bagpipes are ancient and were probably invented in Central Asia. They are mentioned in the Old Testament (Daniel 3: 5, 10,15) and in Greek poetry of the 4th century BC. The Romans probably brought them to Britain but the earliest Pictish carvings date from the 8th century AD.

Haggis was an Ancient Greek sausage (Aristophanes mentions one exploding in The Clouds in 423BC).

Oat porridge has been found in the stomachs of 5,000 year old Neolithic bog bodies in central Europe and Scandinavia.

Whisky was invented in ancient China. It arrived in Ireland before Scotland, first distilled by monks. The word derives from the Irish uisge beatha, from the Latin aqua vitae or ‘water of life’.

The elaborate system of clan tartans is a complete myth stemming from the early nineteenth century. All Highland dress, including what tartan or plaid there was, was banned after the 1745 rebellion. The English garrison regiments started designing their own tartans as an affectation, and to mark the state visit of King George IV to Edinburgh in 1822. Queen Victoria encouraged the trend, and it soon became a Victorian craze.

Having said a’ that, they’ve nae been idle, ye ken. Scots inventions and discoveries include: adhesive stamps; the Bank of England; bicycle pedals; the Breech-loading rifle; Bovril; the cell nucleus; chloroform; the cloud chamber; colour photography; cornflour; the cure for malaria; the decimal point; the Encyclopaedia Britannica; electro-magnetism; the fountain pen; finger-printing; Hypnosis. Hypodermic syringes. Insulin. Kaleidoscope. Kelvin scale. The lawnmower; lime cordial; logarithms; lorries; marmalade; motor insurance; the MRI scanner; the paddle steamer; paraffin; piano pedals; the postmark; pneumatic tyres; radar; the reflecting telescope; savings banks; the screw propeller; the speedometer; the steam hammer; the raincoat; tarmac; the teleprinter; tubular steel; the typhoid vaccine; the ultrasound scanner; the United States Navy; Universal Standard Time; vacuum flasks; wave-powered electricity generators and wire rope.

221062.  Wed Oct 17, 2007 5:39 am Reply with quote

And while we're on, here's what we wrote about Bell and Meucci. As you'll see it's less an attack on Bell than a vindication of Meucci, who still languishes in undeserved obscurity (except among Italian americans - see for more detail).

Who invented the telephone?

Antonio Meucci.

An erratic, sometimes brilliant, Florentine inventor, Meucci arrived in the USA in 1850. In 1860, he first demonstrated a working model of an electric device he called the teletrofono. He filed a caveat (a kind of stop-gap patent) in 1871, five years before Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone patent.

In the same year, Meucci fell ill after he was badly scalded when the Staten Island ferry’s boiler exploded. Unable to speak much English, and living on the dole he failed to send the $10 required to renew his caveat in 1874.

When Bell’s patent was registered in 1876, Meucci sued. He’d sent his original sketches and working models to the lab at Western Union. Although unproven, it seems an extraordinary coincidence that Bell worked in the very same lab and the models had mysteriously disappeared.

Meucci died in 1889, while his case against Bell was still under way. As a result, it was Bell, not Meucci who got the credit for the invention. In 2004 the balance was partly redressed by the US House of Representatives who passed a resolution that ‘the life and achievements of Antonio Meucci should be recognized, and his work in the invention of the telephone should be acknowledged.’

Not that Bell was a complete fraud. As a young man did teach his dog to say ‘How are you, grandmamma?’ as a way of communicating with her when she was in a different room. And he made the telephone a practical tool.

Like his friend Thomas Edison, Bell was relentless in his search for novelty. And like Edison he wasn't always successful. His metal detector failed to locate the bullet in the body of the stricken President James Garfield. It seems Bell's machine was confused by the President's metal bed springs.

Bell's foray into animal genetics was driven by his desire increase the numbers of twin and triplet births within sheep. He noticed that the sheep with more than two nipples produced more twins. All he managed to produce was sheep with more nipples.

On the plus side, he did help to invent a hydrofoil, the HP 4, which set the world water speed record of 70.86 mph in 1919, which lasted for 10 years. Bell was 82 at the time and wisely refused to travel in it.

Bell always referred to himself first and foremost as a ‘teacher of the deaf’. His mother and wife were deaf and he taught the young Helen Keller. She dedicated her autobiography to him.

241971.  Sun Dec 09, 2007 6:58 am Reply with quote

According to the The Book of General Ignorance, Scots seems to have invented almost everything logarithms, y inclus. If that be so, can someone please tell me what the Persian mathematician, Muhammad ibn Musa Al-Khawarzimi (780-850) was doing developing the logarithmic tables and after whose name we have the words algorism and algorithm in English, guarismo in Spanish and algarismo in Portugese.

242071.  Sun Dec 09, 2007 1:06 pm Reply with quote

Welcome aboard, Tayah - I'm not sure we've had a contributor from Austria before.

The attribution of logarithms to Scotland is clearly a reference to John Napier, the 8th Laird of Merchistoun. His book on the matter, Mirifici Logarithmorum Canonis Descriptio, was published in 1614. A Swiss man named Joost Bürgi discovered them independently at much the same time but published later.

Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī probably came from what is now Uzbekistan and certainly contributed much to mathematical knowledge, notably in the solution of equations. In around 830 CE he published al-kitāb al-mukhtaṣar fī ḥisāb al-jabr wa-l-muqābala ("The compendious book on calculation by completion and balancing"), which it will be noted has al-jabr - the Arabic root from which we get the word algebra - in its title.

I've not been able to track down whether al-Khwārizmī's work made any mention of logarithms or not - I've found a few places that state this as a bare fact, but none which provide evidence of it. Are you able to provide a more definite source?

I've also found a suggestion that logarithms may be even older than this - it has been suggested that an Indian work of the second century CE called the Anuyoga Dwara Sutra implies that the Jaina mathematicians of that time knew about logarithms too.

(mentioned here.)

242107.  Sun Dec 09, 2007 3:06 pm Reply with quote

Thank you, Suze, for a prompt reaction and pointers to possible sources of logarithms. If logarithms have such an ancient and varied pedigree then it only fortifies my original belief that their paternity does not necessarily belong to the Scots, notwithstanding the Mirfici
Logarithmorum Canonis Descriptio
of the 8th. Laird of Merchistoun.

Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarzimi was born in Khwarzim, now indeed Kheva of Uzbekistan. It was in 1954 that I first heard of al-Khwarzimi’s contribution to the solution of linear and quadratic equations and logarithmic tables from my professor of physics and mathematics. (Professor Abdus Salaam, who later went on win the Nobel Prize in 1979 for his mathematical and conceptual synthesis of Electromagnetic and Weak theories). Unfortunately, Professor Salaam can no longer shed light on this subject and I will have to ask elsewhere for a more definite connection between logarithms and Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarzimi.


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