Scots Word of the Season: Dingie

dingie v. to snub, reject; to fail to keep a (romantic) appointment Dingie, which rhymes with words like stringy, is one of the new additions to the revised Concise Scots Dictionary (2017) and is a comparatively ‘new’ Scots word, rarely attested in twentieth-century written sources, and more typically encountered in speech than writing. It is […]

Scots Word of the Season: Quaich

quaich  n. a shallow, bowl-shaped (silver or wooden) drinking cup with two handles This is the time of year when students are graduating and prize-giving ceremonies mark the end of the academic year. Quaichs are often presented as prizes at such events, perhaps to the dux of the school. While the audience are cheering, they […]

Anne Donovan on Writing: ‘Buddha Da’, ‘Being Emily’, and the Importance of Language | Interview by Adrian Searle (2008)

This interview came to my attention while researching Anne Donovan’s work for my article, ‘Melancholia and Conviviality in Modern Literary Scots: Sanghas, Sengas and Shairs’ for C21st Literature. Marie-Odile Pittin-Hedon referenced the interview in her monograph The Space of Fiction: Voices from Scotland in a Post-Devolution Age (2015) and on investigating the recordings, I found […]

Scots Word of the Season: Fankle

fankle v. to tangle, mix up; to become tangled; (formerly to trap, ensnare)       n. a tangle, muddle Fankle is a relatively young word in the history of Scots, first appearing in print in the poetry of Allan Ramsay in the eighteenth century. Although its older verbal uses are documented by the Dictionary of the […]

Scots Word of the Season: ‘Skoosh’

skoosh v. (cause to) gush, splash, squirt; dart, move rapidly with a swishing sound; etc n. a splash, spurt, jet (of liquid); carbonated drink such as lemonade; etc Skoosh is an onomatopoeic word that ably echoes the sound of the speedy, swishy, splashy things it describes. Although it may be much older, written evidence for skoosh (sometimes scoosh) first appears in […]

Scots Word of the Season: ‘Bogle’

bogle n. an ugly or terrifying ghost or phantom; also (figuratively) a scarecrow Although bogles can be found in literature from around the British Isles, their earliest known exploits are recorded in Scottish texts from the early sixteenth century. The prologue to book six of Gavin Douglas’s 1513 translation of Virgil’s Aeneid warns readers: “Of browneis and of bogillis […]

Scots Word of the Season: ‘Lift’

lift n. the amount of fish that can be lifted aboard by hand in the net; a collection; etc. v. to take up out of the ground; (in golf) to take up the ball; etc. Several of Naomi Mitchison’s novels and non-fiction works are quoted as evidence for Scots words and meanings in the online Dictionary of the Scots […]

Scots Word of the Season: ‘Besom’

besom n. term of contempt for a person, especially a woman The Scots word besom shares much of its early history with an English cousin of the same name which typically designated a broom or other domestic tool for sweeping. However, in modern contexts north of the border, it most often refers to a woman — in less than […]

Scots Word of the Season: ‘Clamjamfry’

clamjamfry n. (disparaging) a company, crowd of people, rabble; rubbish, junk Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) is credited with introducing to the wider world many Scottish words including Gael ‘Celt; Scottish Highlander’, which appears in The Lady of the Lake (1810), and Glaswegian ‘a person from or living in Glasgow’, which appears in Rob Roy (1817). Although Glaswegian has endured, some consider it ‘incorrect’ and it provoked strong […]

‘Sociolinguistics in Scotland’ edited by Robert Lawson

In this edited volume, Robert Lawson brings together scholars with diverse specialisms including phonology, syntax, lexicology and onomastics. Jennifer Smith’s Foreword sets the scene by drawing attention to the many varieties of language encountered in twenty-first century Scotland. The complex interplay of Scottish English, Scots, Gaelic and other languages presents scholars with a sometimes bewildering […]

Scots Word of the Season: ‘Croup’

croup n. an inflammatory affection of the larynx and trachea of children Scots has a wide array of terminology relating to the body and its aliments. An uncle of mine, originally from Argyllshire and more familiar with Ivanhoe than the demotic of the lowlands, learned much about everyday language while working as a GP in Ayrshire. He regularly encountered […]

Scots Word of the Season: ‘Provost’

Provost n. the head of a Scottish municipal corporation or burgh, chair of the town or burgh council, corresponding to English mayor Provosts still play an important role in the governance of many Scottish towns and cities, but the word has a long history that is perhaps not so well known, and the current Scottish meaning ceased to […]

Scots Word of the Season: ‘Sassenach’

Sassenach adj. and n. English; an English person Sassenach is derived from the Scottish Gaelic word sasunnach, literally meaning ‘Saxon’, and originally used by Gaelic speakers to refer to non-Gaelic speaking Scottish Lowlanders. Scots, after all, is descended from northern varieties of the medieval language known as Old English or Anglo-Saxon, and although Scots and English evolved into their own distinctive […]

‘Jamieson’s Dictionary of Scots: The Story of the First Historical Dictionary of the Scots Language’ by Susan Rennie

The Reverend John Jamieson’s contribution to Scottish lexicography is central to the historiography of the study of Scots as a distinct variety of language. Furthermore, his methodologies have proven extremely influential for subsequent major Scottish and English dictionary projects, yet his life and accomplishments are not well-known in either academic or popular culture. Susan Rennie’s […]

Scots Word of the Season: ‘Leerie’

Leerie n. a lamplighter, who lit gas lamps in towns and cities (before electric light) The word leerie is perhaps best known nowadays from the nostalgic poem ‘The Lamplighter’ by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894). The character, ‘Leerie’, is depicted as a romantic wanderer who charms the imagination of the child-narrator, trapped behind the window of his house in the […]

Scots Word of the Season: ‘Stravaig’

Stravaig v. roam, wander about casually or aimlessly; traverse, travel up and down (a place) Stravaig is one of many Scots words found casually traversing a range of formal and informal contexts and genres. In 2003, The Guardian described author and broadcaster Alastair Borthwick’s Always A Little Further (1939) as “a vivid memoir of a decade’s carefree and impetuous stravaiging through the […]

Scots Word of the Season: ‘Mahoun’

Mahoun n. a term used for the devil Readers may recognise the term ‘Mahoun’ from the literary context in which it is perhaps best known, the poem ‘The Deil’s awa wi’ th’Exciseman’ (1792), by Robert Burns: The Deil cam fiddlin thro’ the town, And danc’d awa wi’ th’Exciseman, And ilka wife cries:—’Auld Mahoun, I wish you luck […]

Scots Word of the Season: ‘Ceilidh’

ceilidh n. (originally) an informal social gathering among neighbours, often involving music and storytelling, etc; visit, chat, gossip; (from the twentieth century onwards) an organised evening of entertainment involving Scottish traditional dance, music and song, etc. Ceilidh is a word that could be associated with a number of different languages. It existed in Irish and Scottish Gaelic before being […]

Scots Word of the Season: ‘Kelpie’

kelpie n. (folklore) a water spirit haunting rivers, fords and pools Kelpies have the ability to appear in two different forms, taking on the guise of old men or horses when moving around the human realm. As horses, they emerge from their burns and lochs to enchant their human victims, enticing them to ride on their backs only […]

Scots Word of the Season: ‘Wean’

wean n. a child, especially a young one Scots has a number of words for children and young people, the most well-known being bairn and wean. While bairn is traditionally associated with dialects of the north and east of Scotland, wean is more often found in the south and west, and both terms occasionally appear in northern English dialects, reminding us of the fluidity of […]

Scots Word of the Season: ‘Eldritch’

eldritch adj. Weird, ghostly, uncanny, unearthly, hideous, esp. of sound; often applied to persons, things and places, usually to denote some connection with the supernatural Eldritch is a word that often appears in Scottish poetry and literature that deals with odd or otherworldly sounds, sensations and experiences. The term is quite frequently attested in texts written […]

Scots Word of the Season: ‘Swither’

swither v. to be uncertain or perplexed about what to do or choose; doubt; hesitate; dither Swither is a word that many Scottish people use without realising that it is a relative stranger outwith Scots and Scottish English. My spell-checker has in fact just proven the point, underlining both ‘swither’ and ‘outwith’, which have clearly bemused […]

Scots Word of the Season: ‘Kailyard’

kailyard n. a kitchen-garden; a genre of sentimental Scottish literature Kailyard literally refers to a small plot of land or kitchen-garden where cabbage (i.e. kail) and other vegetables may be grown. The word kail is recorded in Scottish sources from the late fourteenth century onwards and derives from Old Norse kál. Kailyard has been in use since at least the sixteenth […]

Scots Word of the Season: Pinkie

pinkie n. the little finger Pinkie is one of the many Scots terms and expressions that Scotland has exported to North America along with its people. The word has been recorded in dictionaries of American English since the nineteenth century, and appears in diverse modern contexts. In April 2004, the New York Times reported that ‘the President and […]

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