The Language of a Culture – Scots English
If more Celtic words had survived into the English language, in what ways would it have been enriched? (Tod, 2000.) Difficult to tell. If more standard Scots vocabulary were now part of our common English heritage, it would be enriched indeed – and curiously enough, the compilers of Chambers Scots Dictionary (1911) claim that we might then have more of a tongue that was the lineal descendant of the Anglian speech of Bede and Caedmon.
It is fascinating what a dictionary can reveal about a culture. you can tell about a culture by looking through its dictionary.
Here is vocabulary taken from random samples of pages of the Chambers Scots dictionary (1911). Much of it sounds very expressive indeed – but what does it express? For a holiday game, players could provide definitions for Scots words, – and then see how close they were to the actual Scots usage.
And then, inspired, make up similarly lively adjectives to describe whatever and whoever you like.
The Scots have spoken their own English in the Lowlands and along the east coast, since long before the Union with England. However, The Scots Dictionary contrasts with an English lexicon such as the Oxford Concise Dictionary in the sort of culture it contrasts with modern English. It is pawky and couthy and canny, very observant, and rather self-righteous – particularly about wantonness and drunkenness, which appear to be have been very common, from the large amount of vocabulary developed to describe a full spectrum of both. Much of the vocabulary in the Scots dictionary is now antique, and out of common use except by Scottish writers, but American English and the lazy general terms of our more limited conversation today have by no means yet fully taken over. Sassenachs can still not know whether to be upset or tickled if they are introduced at a public meeting as kenspeckled, and bairns can still be peely-wally.
The Scottish language was full of concise words that gave exact and specific meanings to observables that modern English can only describe with a phrase. For examples –
Frieshoch, a red, flameless fire, Gribble, to feel with the fingers, Gromish, to crush severely parts of the body, Grimesdike, a ditch made by magic.
There is not much vocabulary for love or high-flown emotions, but there is affection and humour, an interest in clothes and tools and livestock – although a narrow range of food.
A sample of Scottish adjectives
Grimly, grewsome, grippit, grisk, grobble, groff, groo, groogle, groose, groosh,(excellent) grooze, groozle, gropsey, (gluttonous) gropus (stupid) grou, grouble, grouf, rouff, grounch, grounge, grouse, grousome, grousy, growe, growble
The vocabulary of a rural peasantry –
Greth, gressum, grettlin, grew, greydog, grice, greive, grin, grind, grinstane, grintal man, grinwan, groatie, groilach, grip, gripper, gripping, grisket, grisset, grister, grizzle, grone, grool, groop, groot, groozlins, grosset, grotty (consisting of groats – now you know where that word comes from) grougrou, grounch, ground ebb, groundie-swallow, ground master, groundrotten, grounds, grout –
Hap is an implement to scrape up sea-ooze to make salt with.
Relationships. The Scots were clear about relationships, and had many handy words for them it could be no bad thing to adopt ourselves. .
Gruffer or gutser, grandfather, Gudame, grandmother, Gude-billie, brother-in-law, Gudeson, son-in-law, (And also, gudefather, gudemother, gudedochter) Half-cousin, a first cousin once removed, Oey, grandchild, Heir-oye, greatgrandchild,
Outsider, not a relative. (That says something about the strength of families.)
Eeldins, persons of the same age, (a better word than peer group)
Creepie, child at crawling stage
There are also many words for different types of friends, at different stages and ages
Teenage behaviour. The vocabulary suggests an amusedly tolerant though critical attitude. Certainly there is no great anxiety or adult fears of lost control. Some of these words would be useful today.
Halflin, a half grown boy, Halick, a giddy girl, Kelp, a rawboned youth, Keulins, young people, Hallachins, noisy, foolish conduct, Hallickit, haspan, a stripling, Jillet, a young girl entering puberty, Nickums, a mischievous boy (as in ‘Yon loon’s a right nickums,’) Bufflin boys, Knidget,a mischievous, saucy boy or girl, Laddie band, a band of boys.
Picturesque vocabulary –
Cauldkailhetagain, a sermon preached twice to the same audience.
Crying bannock, special cake eaten at feast on birth of a child
Grind, to study hard
Groaning-malt, ale brewed on the occasion of a confinement.
Groffins, prone on one’s face,
Grooschin, any disgusting liquid
Grouk, to become enlivened after sleep, or to overlook suspiciously.
Guller’s spree, guleravich, Guide ye, exclamations of contempt
Gum, the condensed moisture on the walls of a crowded church
Hamesucken, the crime of violently assaulting a man in his own house
Handthieves, steal with the hands
Hashrie, reckless waste
Holy-dabbies, shortbread used as communion bread
Hoozle, a paper band round a bundle of papers to keep them together
Houchmagandy, fornication (That’s a good word for the celebrity pages of women’s magazines.)
Jimmer, to make a disagreeable noise on a violin
Kail-kirk, a church where they ate together afterwards (Kale is of the cabbage family)
Leetach, to deliver a speech or sermon, incoherent talk, rambling speech, talk a great deal foolishly
Newance, the first kiss a child gives on getting a new garment (That would be a fine idea, now.)
Nip-lug, a school master (literally, ear-puller)
Ort, to pick out the best part of food and leave the rest; to crumble or waste food
Paigle, the dirty work of the house
Plotch, to work slowly
Polist lair, a finishing education
Pregnancy, fullness, ripeness, richness of promise (and its present more limited meaning not given)
A remarkably high proportion of the Scots vocabulary describes character and traits, and much of that is derogatory. It seems to rellish fining down aspects of being mean, lazy, stupid, worthless, churlish, clumsy, halfwitted, gluttonous, silly, and slovenly (oozlieness, etc.), and to criticise excess of anything, even virtues. A ‘predominant’ is a predominant passion or sin. If any behavior has an approving description, it will also have another that can take someone down a peg. If you want to put someone down, Scots will have a word for it.
Here are some Scots characters and traits described, with single words to depict folk rather carefully observed.
A professor is, among other definitions, one who claims an unusual amount of religious faith and fervour.
Carl-wife, a man that meddles with household matters
Grosie, fat and clumsy woman
Guldie, a tall, blackfaced gloomy looking man
Gust, an officious, flighty talkative woman, who means nothing in her talk.
Gweed-frauchty, ready to give to the poor
Haggersnash, a spiteful person
Hagmahush, a sloven
Hielant, a) Highland, b) silly and clumsy (A Lowland word)
Kneef, vigorous for one’s age
Maulifuff, a young woman without energy
Musch, a small person with a shock of dark hair
Mushlin, one who is fond of dainty food eaten secretly
Nebsie, an impudent old woman
Preek, to be spruce, conceited
Prejink, precise, smart, hypercritical
Pretty could also mean insignificant and petty
Prose-folk, people who talk in prose
Prossie, annoyingly nice and particular in dress or work
Queer, entertaining, amusing, humorous, or the choir or vault in a church, or the persons in the choir.
Drinking. Gluttony appeared to be regarded as worse than drunkenness, with harsher words for it, but there are more words for various ways of drinking and being drunk, such as kiss-the-caup, o- piper-fu, pouting, prime, exciter with drink, bosky, boke, blybe, blabber, bitch-fou, birl, banged, to belly puggy, swack, toom-the-stoup, drunkily, doon.
When young people had no toys, they were not bored, because they played games – and so many games, with so many names for them. Here is only a selection:
Hurley-whush, cahoo, catbeds, catanddog, catinthebarrel (a barbarous game,) hammer and block, habbie gabbie, harie-hurcheon, harry-purcan, hatty, heckle-birnie, heckery-peckery, henners, hickety-bickety, heytie, Hey Wullie wine, hespy, hie-spy, hop-my-fool, huckie-buckie, hunt-the-staigie, Jack’s alive, janet-jo, Jenny-mac, jump the cuddy, king and queen of Cantelon, King’s chair, King-come-along, kipperdy smash, kirk-the-gussie, kittle-kowt, knapsack, knurl, leads, line-him-out, lubin, namie and guessie, needle-cases, nineholes, nine Os, paipie, peavor, pillie-winkie (a barbarous child’s sport against birds, says the dictionary), pintacks, pirley pease-weep, poachie, plunkin, poor widow, popthebonnet, prappin, pretty, prickie and jockie.
Stories in Scots dialect in the past have tended to be unreadable, as thick with apostrophes as a briar with thorns, but since Lewis Grassic Gibbon and others have been ditching this unnecessary kowtow to an different English speech, other readers in the English-speaking world can have access to a very distinctive corner of it. Before, perhaps, too much of it has disappeared. But why, with the many flourishing and even growing Englishes that are now being studied across the globe, need the Anglian dialects of Scotland give way, from Doric and Shetlandic in the north to Glaswegian and the borders in the south?
The gude Scots folk were agin swearing. They did not need to. They had plenty of other words, sufficient to say anything at all.
A language that is queemly, querious, quirksome, quisquous, quirky, quirty and quistical.
Warrack, Alexander. & Grant, William. (1911). Chambers Scots Dictionary. Edinburgh: W. &. R. Chambers, Ltd.
Tod, Loreto. (2000). Where have all the Celtic words gone? English Today. 16.3.