- An Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language. By JOHN JAMIESON, D.D. New Edition. Edited by J. LONGMUIR, M.A., LL.D., and DAVID DONALDSON, F.E.I.S. Four vols. Paisley, 1879—1882.
- The Kingis Quair. By KING JAMES I. of Scotland. Edited by the Rev. W. W. SKEAT, M.A. Edinburgh and London, 1884.
- Scottish History and Literature to the period of the Reformation. By J. M. ROSS, LL.D. Edited by J. BROWN, D.D. Glasgow, 1884.
- The Dialect of the Southern Counties of Scotland. By J. A. H. MURRAY, F.E.I.S. London, 1873.
IF the interest and pride which a nation takes in the language it employs for the expression of its ordinary ideas, be any guarantee of the permanence or longevity of a language, there would appear to be little reason for supposing that the Scottish language will soon cease to be used, or that it is in any imminent danger of becoming extinct or dead. Not a few are apparently of opinion, however, that it is rapidly falling into decay and that before long, though, like Greek and Latin, it may continue to be known by means of the literature in which it is preserved, it will be spoken by but few, and by them not as a vernacular but as an accomplishment or amusement. The grounds on which this opinion would appear to be based, are, that in the Lowlands the Scottish language is less generally spoken than it used to be, and that as Gaelic is rapidly disappearing from the Highlands, so Scotch must disappear from the Lowlands. Education and the development of the means of communication with the southern kingdom, it is supposed, are sounding the knell of both, and it is feared, or expected, that before long Scotch, as well as Gaelic, will be supplanted by English.
That the Scottish language is less generally spoken in the Lowlands than it used to be, may be admitted. Eighty or a hundred years ago anything else was rarely heard; but there are circles now where it is either entirely disused, or used only as a sort of unconventional vernacular, that is, in moments of playfulness, or merely tor comical effect. But that this is a reason for supposing that the language itself is decaying we have yet to learn. A dialect or language may be disused or neglected by one class of a community and survive in other classes of the same community for an indefinite period. Instances of this are not rare, and will occur to most. It may be admitted, again, that Gaelic is at least gradually disappearing from the Highlands. But the relation in which it stands to the dominant or literary dialect is altogether different from that which is occupied by the Scottish. To the Highlander acquainted only with his native Gaelic, Scotch as well as English is a foreign tongue, as unintelligible as Chinese or Egyptian. An Englishman and a Lowland Scot, on the other hand, have little difficulty in making themselves intelligible to each other in their native dialects. The development of the means of communication, again, which is doing so much to bring about the disuse of Gaelic, has on Lowland Scotch nothing like the same effect. As soon as a line of railway or of steamers approaches, the Highlander begins to learn English, or at least a dialect of English; by and by he ceases to speak Gaelic to his children, and in the course of twenty or thirty years, except among the older part of the inhabitants of the district, Gaelic ceases to be spoken. In the Lowlands anything like this rarely occurs. Notwithstanding the increase of communication with the south, and a constant influx of English visitors, Scottish parents in the Lowlands continue to speak Scotch both among themselves and to their children. Not a few of them take a pride in speaking it, and, though quite as well acquainted with the literary dialect, prefer their own, seeing in it beauties and excellencies which the English language does not, in their opinion, possess. As for the influence of education, it seems to us that it is often greatly over rated, at least in respect to the extent to which it is affecting the language of the great bulk of the population. The English children are taught in the Public Schools is generally English with a strong Scotch flavour, and the flavour, it need hardly be said, makes all the difference. As its name implies, too, the ‘English lesson’ is a lesson in a foreign dialect. The language which the children speak is Scotch. Scotch, also, is the language in which they think, even while undergoing an examination in their ‘English lesson.’ So much is this the case that Inspectors of Schools not acquainted with Scotch or with the local idioms, have often considerable difficulty in understanding the answers given by the children to their questions. Some Inspectors, we understand, invariably refuse to accept answers which are not couched in the purest English. The practice may, of course, be justified, but in our opinion it is to be deprecated. The language of the country is not English but Scotch. But after all, the question, whether the Scottish language is decaying is a question of fact, and can be settled only by statistics. A pretty intimate acquaintance with various classes of society has induced the opinion that the language is neither decaying, nor ceasing to be spoken, but is undergoing a natural process of development, a process which is being greatly accelerated by the rapid progress of civilization, and may or may not eventuate in a closer approximation of the Scottish to the English language.
That the Scottish language and literature are attracting a considerable amount of earnest and intelligent attention, the volumes which furnish the titles we have placed at the beginning of this paper afford abundant proof. Mr. Skeat’s book has been prepared for the newly founded Scottish Text Society, and bears ample witness to the solidity of his reputation for learning and skill as an editor. Whether the Society of whose publications it forms the first instalment, will do for the language and literature of Lowland Scotland what the Early English Text and Philological Societies have done for the literature and language of England is of course yet to be seen. This, however, may be said – it has made an excellent beginning. Its choice both of a text and an editor for its first publication has been exceedingly fortunate. It is to be hoped that succeeding editors will follow the example Mr. Skeat has set them.
Dr. Ross’s posthumous volume is a work of learning and ability. Its aim is to trace the connection between Scottish history and Scottish literature. Beginning with almost pre-historic times the author follows the development of the national life and literature of the Lowlands down to the period of the Reformation. The work is written with great vigour and its pages are often eloquent. A more critical treatment of the literature, more especially with a view to exhibiting the development of the language, would have made the work of greater value; but anything of this kind does not seem to have entered into the author’s plans. The least satisfactory part of the volume is the opening chapter. The subject it deals with is confessedly a difficult one, and demanded a much more careful treatment than it here receives. Had the author been spared to see its pages through the press, it is probable that more extensive reading would have induced him to omit or modify several passages which are either of doubtful accuracy or inconsistent with others. In a footnote on page 4, it is said that the Scots and Picts ‘belonged to the same Gaelic race, and spoke kindred dialects.’ The probability is that the race to which both the Scots and the Picts belonged was neither Gaelic nor Celtic, but non-Aryan. The Scots certainly spoke the Goidelic dialect of the Celtic language, probably as an acquired or adopted tongue; but many of the Picts did not understand it. Columba, who spoke Goidelic, could make himself understood, it is true, to King Brude and the men about him when he visited him in his stronghold in the neighbourhood of the river Ness; but when he penetrated further into the Pictish country and came in contact with plebeians and peasants, he had to preach to them, as Adamnan says, by means of interpreters. Their language, there is reason to believe, was like their race, non-Aryan. On the same page, again, it is said, ‘The Picts of Orkney vanished before the colonies of Norsemen, whom the tyranny of Harfagr compelled to seek new homes; Caithness and Sutherland were held for a time by foreign Jarls; all Southern Alban, as far as the Tay, was more than once overrun and plundered by them; the Hebrides were utterly subdued and became a bone of contention between Scandinavian rivals.’ But on page 15 it is said – ‘There is no record of a Teutonic settlement except in the south-east’ There is no lack of evidence to shew that the Teutonic tribes which took possession of the whole eastern sea-board from the Humber to the Moray Frith, spread themselves west as far as the Grampians and, on the south of the Forth, to the borders of Galloway, and that in their progress they either expelled the tribes they found in possession or absorbed them. Yet on page 15 we read – ‘There is no probability that the Picts between Drumalban and the eastern sea, or even the Cymry of Strathclyde, though they lost their language and their independence, were ever expelled from their native seats, or transformed by any extraordinary infusion of a Teutonic element’ These and other inconsistencies and inaccuracies ought to have been corrected, but they are passed over by the editor without note or comment. A gracefully written memoir of the author has been added, and the work itself, is evidently the fruit of great labour.
Dr. Jamieson’s Dictionary is a work of great learning and research, and is well entitled to the excellent reputation it has long enjoyed as a thesaurus of information respecting the Scottish language and people. In respect to convenience and fulness, the new edition, prepared, we understand, mainly by Mr. Donaldson, is a decided improvement on the original work. In the first place, the Supplement has been incorporated with the dictionary; and many words have been added from the writings of Barbour and Lyndsay, from the various works relating to Scotland issued by the Record Commissioners, from Mr. Edmonston’s Etymological Glossary of the Shetland and Orkney Dialect, and from Mr. W. Gregor’s Dialect of Banffshire. Next the number of words registered as peculiar to Clydesdale has been considerably enlarged, and the words registered under I and J, I and Y, V U and W, in the original work, have been separated and arranged under their initial letters. The phrases occurring under such words as gae, set, mak, neir, pit, shot, tak, have also been carefully rearranged and largely increased. And lastly, the citations in Greek and Hebrew, except from the first part of the first volume, have been judiciously omitted; and some attempts have been made to correct the etymologies. All these are very considerable improvements, and represent a large amount of labour and research. On the other hand, however, no uniform system of spelling has been adopted; no attempt has been made to represent the pronunciation, or to treat the words historically; and many words are still missing. Yet as a new edition of Jamieson, the one before us is probably all that could be expected. What is now wanted is an entirely new work, one which will do for the Scottish language what is being done for the English by the dictionary in course of publication under the editorial care of Dr. Murray. It should also exhibit the pronunciation which each word receives in different localities, and deal with the folk-lore, the manners and customs and superstitions of the country after the manner of Dr. Jamieson. The preparation of such a work would necessarily occupy a long period, and could not be completed without the aid of a large number of willing and able assistants; but surely it is not impossible. Meanwhile we look forward with interest to the publication of Mr. Donaldson’s promised essay on the Scottish language, and his new Supplement to Dr. Jamieson’s Dictionary, the manuscript of which, we are glad to learn, is already in the hands of the printer.
The language to which the name Scots, Scotch, or Scottish was first applied, was a dialect of the Celtic tongue. The Scots themselves landed in Cantyre and Islay towards the close of the fifth century. This was probably not their first appearance in the country. If Professor Rhys’s conjecture be correct, that they were a non-Aryan tribe who had adopted the Goidelic dialect, it is not improbable that when they landed on the shores of Argyllshire, they were simply returning to the land from which they or their forefathers had been driven by the first Celtic invaders of Britain. But be that as it may, the language they brought with them was different from that spoken by the aborigines of the country, and the same as was then used by the Celts inhabiting Galloway and Carrick, and a tract of country which may be roughly described as lying between Ardnamurchan Point, the Mull of Cantyre, the head of Lochlomond, Strathearn, Fife Ness and the South Esk. Subsequently it was adopted by the Picts living to the north of a line drawn from the South Esk to Ardnamurchan Point, and though it has long ceased to be spoken in Galloway and Carrick, it has for its modern representative the Gaelic of the Highlands. This was the original lingua Scotica, the language of which Kennedy says in his reply to Dunbar’s taunt, –
‘It sowld be all trew Scottis mennis leid;’
and down to the fifteenth century, whenever the Scottish or Scots language was spoken of, this and no other was meant. John of Fordun, who wrote about the year 1400, says of his countrymen: ‘two languages are in use among them, – the Scottish and the Teutonic (Scotica et Teutonica), – the people using the latter tongue occupy the sea coast and lowland districts; the people of Scottish language inhabit the highlands and the isles beyond’1 From the fifteenth century it began to be known as Yrische or Ersche. The language of the Lowlands, on the other hand, was known as Inglis, Inglisch or English. In the Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedy, the former calls his rival, because of his connection with the Celtic speaking Irish Scots of Galloway and Carrick, ‘Ersch Katherane,’ an ‘Ersch brybour baird.’ His poetry he calls, –
‘Sic eloquence as thay in Erschery use,’
and boasts, –
‘I tak on me, ane pair of Lowthiane hippis
Sail fairar Inglis mak, and mair parfyte
Than thow can blabbar with thy Carrik lippis.’
At the end of ‘The Goldyn Targe’ he both calls the language he uses ‘Inglisch’ and identifies it with Chaucer’s English.
‘O reverend Chawcere, Rose of Rethoris all,
As in oure Tong ane Flouir imperiall,
That raise in Brittane evir, quho redis rycht,
Thou beiris of Makaris the Tryumphs riall;
Thy fresch anamalit Termes celicall
This matir couth illumynit have full brycht:
Was thou noucht of our Inglsch al the Lycht
Surmounting eviry Tong terrestriall
Als fer as Mayes morow dois Mydnycht.’
George, Earl of Dunbar, again, in a letter addressed to Henry IV. of England, and dated February 18th, 1400, says, ‘And noble prince mervaile yhe nocht that I write my lettres in Englis fore that ys mare clere to myne understandyng than latyne or Fraunche.’ This practice of calling the language of the Lowlands English was kept up down to the sixteenth century. Thus we have Knox writing:-
‘And so by Act of Parliament it was maid free to all, man and woman, to reid the Scriptures in thair awin toung, or in the Engliss toung; and so war all Actes maid in the contrair abolished. This was no small victorie of Christ Jesus, feghting against the conjured ennemyes of his verite; not small comforte to such as befoir war holdin in such bondage, that thei durst not havered the Lordis Prayer, the Ten Commandimentis, nor Articules of thare fayth in the Engliss toung, but thei should have bene accused of heresy.’2
The Act to which reference is here made was passed on the 15th of March, 1543, and Knox probably wrote his History some twenty or twenty-five years later, but previous to that the language of the Lowlands had begun to be called Scots or Scottish. The first to apply this name to it was apparently Gawain Douglas, in the well-known passage in the preface to his ‘XIII. Bukes of Eneados of the Famose Poete Virgill, translatet out of Latyne Verses into Scottish Metir,’ &c., where he protests that he has
‘Writtin in the langage of Scottis natioun,
‘Kepand na Sodroun, bot oure awin langage.’
During the seventeenth century the term would appear to have been in general use, ‘Scots’ or ‘Scottish’ being employed to distinguish what is now called the English side of a school from the Latin or classical. Thus the records of the burgh of Musselburgh bear, under date September 22, 1679, ‘The Counsell condescends that John Smyth shall be master of the Scottish schoole, and that he shall be obleiged to serve in the same office as James Hodge, late schoolmaster thereof, wes in use to doe of before, and no utherwayss.’3 According to the records of the burgh of Ayr, again, it was enacted by the magistrates in 1695 that ‘all persons shall be prohibited from keeping a common school – reading, writing, and arithmetic – except George Adamson, teacher of the Scots school.’4 The whole subject, however, has been carefully gone into by Dr. Murray, who, besides several of the above citations, gives a number of others, and concludes his extremely interesting investigation as follows:-
‘To sum up these authorities, then, we may say that the lingua Scotica, or Scottish toung, from the earliest period down to the year 1400, meant the Gaelic or the original Scots; which, however, from the 15th century onwards, was known to the Lowlanders as the Yrische or Ersche. The Teutonic tongue of the Lowlanders was, in like manner, known only as the lingua Anglica, or Inglis, from the earliest period to the close of the 15th century, and by many writers was called Inglis, even down to the union of the crowns. But during the 16th century there were foreign writers who, for the sake of distinction, and native writers who, from patriotic or political motives, began to distinguish it from the English of England as Scottis or Scots. And thus the tongues of the Highlands and Lowlands were distinguished down to the 14th century as Scottish and English – during the 15th century as Yrische, or Ersch, and English – and during the 16th century by some as Ersch and Inglisch; by others, probably as Ersch and Scots.’5
What then, is the language now in use in the Lowlands, and called Scottish? That it is of Teutonic origin is clear; but as soon as we touch the question, From which branch of the Teutonic language has it descended? we are confronted by controversy. Some maintain that it is derived from the Scandinavian or Old Norse. Others maintain that its origin is Anglian. The weight of evidence seems to us to be on the side of the latter. Though the date of the first arrival of the Angles has not been accurately fixed, there can be no doubt that they were settled on the south-east long before the arrival of the Norsemen. Their first coming may have been contemporaneous with the descent of the Angles in Kent; it is not improbable, even, that they assisted the Picts and Scots against the Romanised Brythons previous to the withdrawal of the Roman troops; but be that as it may, they were evidently here in strong force before the close of the sixth century. The battle of Caltraeth, which proved so disastrous to the Britons, and confirmed the power of the Angles over the country from the Humber to the Forth, was fought not later, if not some twenty years earlier, than 596. The Wickingtide, on the other hand, did not begin until a couple of centuries later. When the Norsemen came they found the Angles in possession, and dealt out to them the same ruthless treatment as they did to the Scots to the north of the Forth, and to the Britons or Welsh in Strathclyde. The name, too, which was given to the south of the Forth was Engla-lande or England. It was known by this name as late as the close of the eleventh century. Thus, when Malcolm advanced in 1091 to meet William Rufus, it is said that ‘he proceeded with his army out of Scotland into Lothian in England, and there awaited him.’ When, again, the oldest Scottish literature is compared with that of the North Angle district, both are found to be written in the same language. ‘Barbour at Aberdeen,’ as Dr. Murray remarks, ‘and Richard Rolle de Hampole near Doncaster, wrote for their several countrymen in the same identical dialect.6 The identity continued far down into the fifteenth century, when, from a variety of causes, but chiefly from the establishment of Scotland as a distinct nationality, the dialect of the Lowlands began to assume those characteristics which have since differentiated it from the literary dialect of the South.
As at present spoken, the Scottish language unquestionably contains a large number of Scandinavian words. This alone is sufficient to complicate the question of its origin. The question is rendered all the more difficult of solution by the close affinity there is between the Anglian and the more northern Teutonic dialects. Still, on grammatical as well as on historical grounds, we are strongly disposed to accept the theory of its Anglian derivation, so ably maintained by Dr. Murray. Certainly it is much the most likely we have seen, and is supported by arguments which have not yet been refuted.
But leaving the name and origin of the language, and passing to the language itself, one of its most remarkable features is the extraordinarily varied character of its vocabulary. Perhaps there is no language whose vocabulary has been made up from so great a variety of sources, or in which the words in daily use are so equally divided as to their origin. Scarcely a single race has been in possession of the soil, and certainly none has stood in intimate relations with the Scottish people without contributing to its stock of common words. Under the skilful hand of Professor Rhys, even the Ivernian or non-Aryan language of the aborigines has been proved a contributor, supplying as its quota several geographical and personal names. Let us take the now famous name Macbeth. Speaking of this, Professor Rhys observes:-
‘It was current in Ireland, as well as in Scotland, and was sometimes treated as purely Goidelic, which would make it mean Son of Life; but such an abstract interpretation is discountenanced by Maelbeth, which was likewise used in both islands, and must have meant the Slave of Beth. That this last word meant some dog divinity or dog-totem, is suggested by the probable identity of Macbeth – not, as we think, Duncan, – with the Hundason, or Hound’s-Son, of one of the Orkney Sagas that relate to their time. In that case, Maelbeth would be a partial translation into Gaelic of the name which, completely rendered into it, produced the Maelchon we have more than once mentioned in connexion with the Pictish Kings; this, at any rate, meant the Hound’s Slave. Similarly Macbeth, put wholly into Goidelic, would be Mac-Con, or the Hound’s Son, which occurs as the name of a mythical prince, whose sway was not confined to Ireland, but extended, according to Cormac, to the part of Britain in which Glastonbury stood. Mac-Con may, perhaps, be regarded as representing the whole non-Celtic race of these islands.’7
We shall not be far wrong therefore if we see in ‘Macbeth’ a remnant of the language of the non-Celtic aborigines of the country, or if we suppose that among those who invented the name the dog was a highly respected totem or divinity. Perhaps, too, we shall not err if, as Professor Rhys suggests we may, we identify them with the people whom Herodotus calls the Kynesii or Kynetes, both of which terms have, as he remarks, the look of Greek words meaning dog-men. Keith, which enters into the formation of so many names, and is itself a name, together with its form Caith as in Caithness, etc., probably comes from the same people, Cait being one of the names for the legendary son of the eponymous Cruithne or Pict representing Caithness, and apparently of non-Celtic origin. The name of the island of Tiree is probably also from the same source. Formerly it was called Tirieth and Terra Hith, which reminds one of Ith, the mythical son of the famous Miled or Miles. Bolge, again, which appears in the modern name of Strathbolgie in Aberdeenshire, occurs among the Pictish names in the legend of St Andrew, and as the epithet of a Pictish King called Gartnait. It is not unlikely, therefore, that in ‘ Strathbolgie ‘ we have a survival of the language spoken by the non-Aryan tribes who preceded the Celts in their progress towards the west. Other names, also, which have hitherto refused to give up their secret, may prove eventually to be contributions from the same source.
The words derived from the dialects of the Celtic tribes are much more numerous and certain. It is to the Celtic that we must look for the etymology of most of the names of the great natural features of the country, as well as of many names of places, and many a surname of high and low. Celtic names, indeed, are to be met with every where, and prove that, previous to the arrival of the Romans, the Celts had made themselves masters of the greater part of the country, except to the north of the Caledonian Forest. When not hills, laws, knows, or fells, the eminences are bens or pens, like Ben Macdhui, Ben Lomond, Ben Venue, Ben More, or Lee Pen, Ettrick Pen. Celtic, too, are many of the names of rivers and towns, as Clyde, Tweed, Nith, Esk, Avon, Allan; Dundee, Dunbar, Glasgow, Dumfries, Sanquhar, Aberdeen, etc. And again, just as Gaelic gave a number of words in common use to the Icelandic,8 so it has given many to the Scottish language. Thus we have bannock, ‘a cake,’ brogue, ‘a rough kind of shoe,’ brae, ‘the side of a hill,’ clan, ‘a tribe,’ creel, ‘an oiser basket,’ cairn, ‘a heap of stones,’ collie, ‘a sheep dog,’ clachan, ‘a village,’ galore, ‘in plenty,’ gillie, ‘a servant,’ cuttie, ‘a short pipe,’ croon, ‘to hum a tune,’ plaid, ‘a blanket,’ whiskey, ‘spirit,’ loch, ‘lake,’ strath, ‘valley,’ quaich, ‘a cup,’ etc.
The word ‘gillie’ appears again in the surname Gilchrist. ‘Cuttie’ is often used as an abbreviation for the name of anything short or small and in frequent or habitual use. A poacher’s ‘cuttie’ is the short gun he carries in the side pocket of his coat. The ‘bairns’ cutties’ may mean either the low stools on which they sit round the fire, or the short spoons made of horn with which they ‘sup’ their porridge.
‘- Honest Jane brings forward, in a clap,
The green-horn cutties rattling in her lap.’
A Highlander’s ‘cuttie’ is not necessarily the tobacco pipe he carries in his waistcoat pocket; it may be the pocket flask in which he carries whisky, or the small quaich, cup or horn, he drinks it out of. The word is often used in the sense of ‘worthless’ or ‘impudent,’ ‘Yeh cuttie!’ being a phrase of not unfrequent occurrence. In Fife, Perthshire, and Berwickshire, again, ‘cuttie’ is the common name for the hare. In Dumfriesshire it signifies ‘a short stump of a girl.’ Not unfrequently it is used in the same sense as quean is in England. In Mearns, again, a ‘cuttie’ is ‘a horse or mare of two years of age.’ A man is said to be cutty-free when he is able to handle his spoon, or when, though pretending to be ill, he retains his appetite.
Pibroch, according to Dr. Murray, has had a somewhat curious history.
‘It is Celtic,’ he says, ‘in form. When the Highlander borrowed “the pipes” from his Lowland neighbour – making them so thoroughly his own that it now seems little short of heresy to refer to a time when the bagpipe was an English, not a Scottish instrument – he borrowed along with them the English names pipe and piper, which appear in Gaelic orthography as piob, piobair (pronounced peep, peeper, as in French pipe and sixteenth century English). From the latter, by the addition of a Celtic termination, was formed the abstract noun piobaireachd, piperage, pipership, piping; as from maighstir we have màighstireachd, master-ship, mastery. When the Sasunnach, having forgotten his own pipership, reimported the art from the Gael, he brought with it the Gaelicised name piobaireachd, softened into pibroch, where the old English piper is so disguised in the Highland dress as to past muster for a genuine Highlander.’9
The earliest notice of ‘the pipes’ in Scotland is in the Royal Treasurer’s Accounts for the reign of James IV., where frequent entries occur of monies paid to ‘Inglis pyparis.’ Still, ingenious as Dr. Murray’s theory is, there are good grounds for questioning its correctness. The pipers referred to in the Treasurer’s Accounts are ‘Inglis,’ but it does not follow that at the time there were no Scotch or Highland pipers. The following lines from Dunbar’s Testament of Kennedy show that they were then well known at least in the Celtic district of Carrick in Ayrshire.
‘Bot a bag-pyp to play a spring,
Et unum alewisp ante me
Insteid of torchis, for to bring
Quatuor lagenas cervisiæ.
‘Within the graif to set sic thing
In modum crucis juxta me,
To fle the feyndis than hardly sing
De terra plasmasti me.’
The probability is that the instrument, which Dunbar thought sufficient ‘to fle the feyndis,’ was also quite as well known to the north of the Clyde and along the Grampians, as it was in Celtic Ayrshire. It is quite as probable, too, that the word ‘pipe’ is derived from ‘piob,’ or some such Celtic word, as that ‘piob’ is derived from ’pipe.’ If we might hazard a conjecture, it would be that both the instrument and the name are Celtic.
Tartan, usually supposed to be of Gaelic origin, is from the French tiretaine, ‘linsey-woolsey, or a kind of it worn by the peasants in France.’ Jamieson has a long and learned note upon the word, and observes that it was probably imported with the manufacture itself from France or Germany. Kilt, philibeg, sporan, spleuchan, names for other parts of the Highlander’s dress or equipment, are from the Gaelic, with the exception of the first, which is Scandinavian. As might be expected, words borrowed from the Gaelic are most numerous in the dialects bordering on the Highlands. In the southern counties their number is not much greater than in ordinary English.
The influence of the Scandinavian language upon the Scottish vocabulary is not so easily traced. By Dr. Jamieson and others it has probably been exaggerated. On the dialects of Orkney and Shetland it was undoubtedly great; but two circumstances pointed out by Mr. Worsaae, would seem to indicate that on the dialects of Lowland Scotland it was not so great as is generally supposed. The first is that the whole east coast of Scotland, from the Cheviot Hills to Moray Frith, is entirely destitute of characteristic and undoubted Scandinavian monuments. The other is that in the Scottish Lowlands the places which have Scandinavian names are extremely few.10 Here and there, but chiefly in the Southern countries, there are certainly places bearing names of an unquestionably Scandinavian origin. Their number, however, is much smaller than would almost necessarily have been the case had the influence of the Scandinavian tongue upon the Scottish been as great as Dr. Jamieson and others maintained. Among the words in use among the Lowland Scotch which can be clearly traced back to a Scandinavian origin, are byre, ‘a cowhouse,’ bauch, ‘disagreeable to the taste,’ bauchle, ‘to distort, wrench, vilify, shamble,’ bauchle, ‘an old shoe,’ boun, ‘ready,’ busk, ‘to dress,’ blae, ‘blue, livid,’ baith, ‘both,’ ken, ‘know,’ kirk, ‘church,’ fit, ‘foot,’ gait or gate, ‘a road,’ gang, ‘go,’ garth, ‘enclosure,’ glint, ‘to glance off,’ hansel, ‘earnest-money,’ muck, ‘dirt,’ midden, ‘a dunghill,’ nowt, ‘oxen,’ scout, ‘to pour out a liquid forcibly,’ skart, ‘scratch,’ skirl, ‘a shrill cry,’ sky, ‘a cloud,’ wraith, ‘an apparition in the likeness of a person supposed by the vulgar to be seen before, or soon after death,’ yird, ‘bury,’ yaup, ‘yelp,’ etc. But whether these and similar words have found their way into the language through the existence of Scandinavian settlements in the country, or have been imported from England or the Orkney and Shetland Islands, is exceedingly difficult to determine.
Dr. Jamieson remarks that among the common people in the North of Scotland the names of herbs are either the same as those still used in Sweden, and other northern countries, or nearly allied to them. The same observation, it is said, applies pretty generally throughout Scotland to the names of quadrupeds, birds, and fishes. Many Scandinavian words in use among the Orcadians and Shetlanders are to the majority of Scotsmen unintelligible. Especially is this the case with words used in the seafaring life and in farming. The old Norn dialect, however, is rapidly disappearing. In the Hebrides, where the Norsemen were once ‘a mighty imperial race,’ their language, it need hardly be said, has long been completely supplanted by Gaelic. But, ‘where the records are silent, the very stones speak.’ Out of every four names of places in the largest of the islands, three, though variously disguised, are still recognisable as Norse.
The influence of the French language on the Scottish has, as might naturally be expected, been great. That famous
‘Weill keipit ancient alliance,
Maid betuix Scotland and the realme of france.’
has left behind it innumerable traces. During the fourteenth and two following centuries, it made Scotland, as Dr. Murray has well remarked, ‘to a great extent the pupil of France in learning, art, and policy.’ Scotchmen completed their education at the University of Paris, and founded their own Universities upon French models; the entire legal system of the country was transferred from France; and even the Presbyterian system of the Reformed Church was drawn up under the supervision of the great French Reformer. The connection between the two countries was of the closest nature, leaving its traces in almost every department of Scottish national life, and in none more so than the language.’11 A glance at the literature of the period shows not only its influence on the orthography and grammatical construction of the language, but also the almost wholesale importation of French vocables. French words were used without the slightest hesitation, and the fashion with some writers was to cover their pages with them. In the modern dialects many of the words they used are obsolete, or occur only in their more English form. Still, of the words now regarded as peculiarly Scotch, very many are of French origin. The Scottish housewife still goes to the butcher and buys a gigot, ‘leg,’ of mutton, which she places on an ashet (assiette) or large flat dish. French also supplies her with the words awmry, dresser, hotch-potch, haggis, bonnet, and basket. From ‘fouillé’ comes fulyie, the ‘sweepings or refuse of a town’; from ‘tacher,’ tash, ‘to spot or defile’; from ’fâcher,’ fash, ‘to bother or trouble’; from ’fâcheuse,’ fashious, ‘troublesome.’ ‘Deuil’ gives dool, ‘sorrow’; ‘glaire,’ glaur, ‘mud.’ A corbie, from ‘corbeau,’ is a crow; a port, from ‘porte,’ is ‘the gate of a town’; and a causey, from ‘chaussée,’ ‘a pavement.’ A boy has his pouch (0. Fr. pouche) full of bools (boules) made of sugar or marble; he stravagues (extravaguer) or wanders, he gets his paumies (paume), strokes on the palm of the hand with the tawse (this, however, is Anglo-Saxon), a leather strap, usually with a slit or fringe-like end; he trocks, barters, with his companions; traps, takes places with his classmates; goes a message; is fond of geins (guigne), wild cherries, and of grossets or grosels (grosse, groseille). He is douce, sedate; or dour (dur) stubborn; or contraire. Many legal phrases have also been borrowed from the French, such as advocate, ‘counsel’; aliment, ‘to give legal support for another’; assoilzie, ‘to acquit’; compear, ‘to appear in a court’; declarator, ‘a legal declaration’; deforce, ‘to treat with violence’; heritor, ‘a proprietor’; hypothec, a ‘pledge for payment of rent’; procurator, ‘one who conducts a case in court’; condescend, ‘to specify’; &c. On the other hand, many of the Scots law terms are good Anglo-Saxon, as, e.g., sac, ‘a plea, or suit at law, and the jurisdiction or right of judging in litigious suits;’ soc, ‘the district included within such jurisdiction’; thol, ‘the right of extracting toll’; them, ‘warranty’; infangthef, ‘the right to judge and punish a thief caught “with the fang” within the grantee’s jurisdiction.’12 Very many law terms, however, are borrowed direct from the Latin.
The dialects spoken in the North of England still bear witness to the close linguistic connection, which formerly existed between the district in which they are spoken and the Scottish Lowlands. Many words generally regarded as exclusively Scotch may still be heard as far south as the Humber, and a few as far south as the Trent. Thus to the north of the Humber, in Yorkshire and the north eastern counties, if not in Westmoreland and Cumberland, abee is still used in the phrases ‘let’s abee,’ ‘let m’ abee,’ ‘let abee,’ in the sense of ‘do not hurt, or meddle with me.’ The elder tree is known as the bourtrie or bottrie; chimla is used for ’chimney,’ and reek, smeek, sometimes smeeak, for ‘smoke;’ a stupid fellow is a gawkie; cleverness is gumption; impertinence, jaw or sauce; a gate is a yett or yatt; the ears are lugs. Fell ‘a skin,’ is preserved in the word fellmonger, ‘a dealer in skins;’ fidgie, ‘restless,’ in fidgets. Flitting is used in the sense of changing one’s residence; and gusset is still in common use for a triangular piece of cloth inserted at the bottom on each side of a robe. Among others are axe, ‘ask,’ barm, ‘yeast,’ faring, ‘money given to spend at a fair,’ fettle, ‘condition,’ flipe, ‘a flap,’ fend, ‘care for,’ gab, ‘idle talk,’ gang, ‘go,’ gullie, ’knife,’ eft, ‘the after part of a boat or ship,’ dint, ‘a small indentation,’ egg, ‘urge,’ gymp, ‘scant,’ graine, ‘groan,’ beck, ‘a small stream,’ gate, ‘a street,’ gramashers, ‘gaiters reaching to the knee,’ heft, ‘handle,’ snib, sneck, ‘to fasten,’ hesp and stapple, both used in fastening doors or gates, muck, ‘dirt,’ midden, ‘heap,’ lift, ‘steal,’ smiddy, ‘a blacksmith’s workshop,’ smit and smittle, ‘infect,’ mask and mash, ‘infuse,’ speir, ‘inquire,’ tyke, ‘a churl,’ ligg, ‘lie,’ mauk, a ‘maggot,’ etc. Mense, though not used in the sense of ‘manliness or good manners,’ as in Scotland, is used in Yorkshire with the meaning of freshness, or new look. A ‘dyke’ in the same county is a ditch. The word ‘arreist’ or ‘areist’ is preserved in the following doggerel sung by beggars in the North of England on the approach of Christmas:-
‘God areist you all merry gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay:
For remember that Christ our Saviour
Was born on a Christmas day.’
People in the same district still speak of a rainy day as a soft day, of swealing a candle, and in the word yule-clog, the name for the log of wood placed on the fire on Christmas eve, they retain, among other things, the use of the word yule. The thoroughly Scotch words, shoon, brawlie, and wunna, may still be heard in Derbyshire.
One peculiarity of the Scottish language, which a perusal of Dr. Jamieson’s Dictionary very forcibly brings home, is that many words which are spelled and pronounced in the same way as their apparently corresponding words in English, are used in a totally different sense. In some instances the explanation of this is obvious, but in others it is not. An explanation which will account equally well for every case it is perhaps impossible to give. Some of them it should be observed, however, have also the same meaning as in English. In the following lines from Barbour’s Brus abandon, means, as Dr. Jamieson remarks, to bring under absolute subjection:-
‘Oftsyss quhen it wald him lik,
He went till huntyng with his menye,
And swa the land abandownyt he,
That durst nane warne to do his will.’
The following passage gives a singular yet easily intelligible meaning to animosity:-
‘Thair tonnes, besydis St. Johnstoun, ar vnwallit, which is to be ascryved to thair animositie and hardiness, fixing all their succoris and help in the valiencie of their bodies.’
To avoid is ‘to remove from.‘ Baffle is a noun denoting in Orkney and Sutherland a thing of no value; in Angus we have the phrase ‘that’s mere baffle,’ i.e. nonsense; in Mearns, again, a baffle is a portfolio. To baist has in Scotland nothing to do with cooking. In the North of Scotland it signifies ‘to defeat,’ and one is abaist who is struck or overcome. In Dumfriesshire, however, we have the phrase, ‘Wer’t no for that I shouldna be sae baist,’ i.e. afraid or apprehensive. Bawd is a name for the hare, a name which, though now entirely disused in England, was not unknown to Shakespeare.
‘Mercutio. A Bawd, a bawd, soho!
Rom. What hast thou found?
Merc. No hare, Sir, unless a hare, Sir, in a lenten pie,’ etc.
Romeo and Juliet, Act ii., Sc. 4.
When a man and woman are bookit or booked, seats are not taken for them in a coach, they are registered in the Session-records in order to proclamation of the banns of marriage. A clash is a piece of scandal; clatter has the same meaning.
‘When skirlin weanies see the light,
Thou maks the gossips clatter bright.’
In the Shetlands a dry place is called a bull. To a Scotsman curling is suggestive neither of curl-papers, periwigs, nor hairdressers, but of frost and snow, being a game played by young and old on the ice, and known also as the ‘roaring game.’ A crack is a quiet confidential gossip. A clod is in Dumfriesshire a clew, as ‘a clod hides himself, he is said to be darning; in Fifeshire the same term of yarn.’ A constable is a bumper, so is a sheriff. When a man is applied to him when he is eavesdropping. A daub is a sudden stroke. Diet, besides having its ordinary English meaning, signifies a fixed time or meeting for some specified purpose, as e.g., a diet of examination, a diet of preaching, a diet of visitation, a diet of prayer, etc. Dole, which in English suggests charity, signifies in Scotch ‘fraud or malice.’ To earn is not only to win, but also to coagulate or to cause to coagulate. Ebb is used as an adjective with the meaning of ‘shallow;’ Barbour uses it as a verb in the sense of to strand, to sink by the ebbing of the tide. A footman is ‘an iron or brass stand for holding a kettle before the fire.’ A girdle is a circular plate of iron used for baking cakes on. A man who has a large income is not necessarily one who has a large salary; an income is also ‘any bodily infirmity, not apparently proceeding from an external cause.’ To flicker is defined in the English dictionaries as ‘to flutter, or fluctuate;’ Dr. Jamieson’s definition is ‘to coax, to flatter.’ To fling, besides meaning to kick as a horse, and to throw, also means ‘to baffle, to deceive, to jilt.’ A fling, again, is ‘a fit of ill humour.’ Lift, which in some parts is pronounced lüft, stands for the firmament, as in the proverb, ‘If the lift fa’, we’ll gather laverocks’ (larks), or, ‘Maybe the lift will fa’ and smure (smother) the laverocks;’ or again, ‘He could souck (suck) the larricks (larks) out o’ the lift,’ a proverb used of one who has great power of wheedling. Mail is rent or duty paid to a superior; a merchant may be a small shopkeeper; a mere is not a ‘lake,’ as in Tennyson, but a ‘march or boundary; ‘ to mind is not simply to attend to, but also to remember. To mizzle is to speckle; a mote is a hill; a panel or pannel is a prisoner at the bar; a pickle (in some parts puckle), a little; a pig, an earthen vessel, used, when filled with hot water, in place of a warming-pan; pigtail is a kind of tobacco; and a pump is a sink. Scud while descriptive of motion through or on the surface of water, signifies also to drink liberally; as a noun it means a stroke with the open hand, or with the tawse, given by way of punishment. Socks are ploughshares, suffrages are prayers for the dead, and to justifie is to punish with death.
Distinctively Scottish words are extremely numerous. Most of them are in daily use, and constitute what may be called the weft and woof of the language. As they stand for the various parts of the human body, for common actions, and for the ideas and things with which the popular mind is most familiar, they afford the best insight into the character of a language, though they do not necessarily furnish the best proofs as to its origin. To give anything like a complete list of them, or to indicate the origin of each word, is here of course impossible. It may not be amiss, however, to point out a few.
Let us take such as relate to one or two of the several stages of life. An infant is a weean, a bairn, or a bairnie, a wee bairnie, a wee laddie, or if a girl, a lassie, wee lassie, a lassock, or a lassockie, and may be either bonnie or braw. Here lad and lass are Celtic; bairn is Anglo-Saxon; wee is doubtful; Mr. Skeat is disposed to regard it as Scandinavian. A boy is a callant, a chield, or a loon. He is blait, ‘bashful,’ or no (not) blait, auld farran, ‘discreet beyond his years,’ doited, ‘stupid,’ douce, ‘sedate,’ dour, ‘obstinate,’ daft, ‘foolish,’ daffing, ‘merry,’ silly, ‘delicate’ or ‘spiritless,’ or berly, ‘ strong,’ as the case may be. Callant is probably from the Flemish and Dutch ‘kalant,’ and not, as Dr. Jamieson suggests, from the French ‘gallant;’ chield is Anglo-Saxon; loon, Low German; blait, farran, doited, daft, and daffing are Scandinavian; silly and berly, Anglo-Saxon. A girl is a dawtie and becoming a quean, ‘young woman,’ is bonnie and daintie, ‘good-looking,’ sonsie, ‘well-conditioned,’ or feckfu, ‘active.’ Sonsie is Gaelic; daintie and bonnie are French; feckfu and quean, Anglo-Saxon. Respecting the last, Dr. Jamieson remarks, ‘This is never meant as implying any reproach, unless an epithet, conveying this idea, be conjoined with it. Although familiar, it is often used as expressive of kindness.’ In English, it is used always in a bad sense. Bonnie and daft, it may be remarked, are still used in the North of England in the same sense as in Scotland.
Turning to the words denoting the several parts of the body, these also betray a similar diversity of origin. For the head the same word is used as in English, but is pronounced heed; the sides of the head are haffits; the cheeks are chafts or chaffs. Head and haffits are Anglo-Saxon; chafts and chaffs, which are also north English, are Scandinavian. For the forehead, or the part of the head between the brow and the crown, there is the word pash, from the Gaelic bathais, (Pronounced baesh, or bă esh), the forehead. Its most common use is in the phrase ‘a bald pash.’ Pow is another form of poll, and comes from the Celtic through the Old Low German. Lugs, the ears; broo, the forehead; ee (plural een), the eye; and winkers, the eyelids, are Anglo-Saxon. The word for ‘brains’ is harns; the skull is called the harnpan. Harns recalls the German hirn, brains; pan is the Anglo-Saxon panne, a corrupted form of the Latin patina. Brains in Angus signifies the voice, in Lothian, spirit or mettle, and is Anglo-Saxon. Skull is the name for a goblet or large bowl. From meaning a goblet it came to mean ‘a health;’ hence to drink a man’s skull or skole is to drink his health. Jamieson has a long and interesting note upon the word, in which he remarks that ‘it is highly probable that a cup or bowl received this name from the barbarous custom, which prevailed among several ancient nations, of drinking out of the skulls of their enemies.’ The note is an excellent illustration of the learning and research he brought to bear upon his work. Among others he cites the words of Silius Italicus-
‘At Celtae vacui capitis circumdare gaudent,
Ossa, nefas! auro, et mensis ea pocula servant;’
and the words from Ragnar Lodbrok’s Death-Song, ‘I shall soon drink beer from hollowed cups made of skulls.’
The Scotch word for the nose is neis, also spelled nes and niz. It is the same as the Latin nasus, the English nose, and the Icelandic nes, and the ness and naze of geographical meaning. For the mouth there are several words. The one in common use is mou, a contraction of ‘mouth.’ Others are gob and munds. Munds is the same as the German mund. Gob is the Gaelic gob the mouth. Gab, often used in the phrase ‘gift of the gab’ both in the North of England and in Scotland, is probably connected with the Icelandic gabba, mockery. To project the under jaw, or to distort the mouth in contempt is to gash, and one whose chin projects is said to be gash-gobbit or gash-gabbit. Gash, again, is synonymous with gab. The derivation of gam ‘a tooth,’ gans ‘the jaws without teeth,’ geggen the under lip, is uncertain. From the chin to the breast, the fore-breast, is called the gibbie – from the Gaelic gibian, ‘the gizzard.’ A double-chin is a flytepock, literally a scolding bag, so denominated, Dr. Jamieson remarks, because it is inflated when one is in a rage; from flyte, and pock, a bag, as if this were the receptacle of the ill-humour thrown out in the scolding. Choler and churl also signify a double-chin. Choler is from χολέρα; churl and flyte are Anglo-Saxon. The crag, craig, or crage is the neck, also the throat. The forecraig is the front part of the neck; skruff and cuff denote the back part. Skruff and cuff occur also in the north English dialects. The name for the windpipe is the Scandinavian word thrapple; the Anglo-Saxon forms of which give in English ‘throat’ and ‘throttle.’ The Oxter, from the A.-S. oxtan, is the armpit. Elbuck or elbock, the elbow, is from the same source. Gardy, the origin of which is doubtful, is used for the arm; the gardy-bane is the arm-bone; a gardy-chair an arm chair; and gardy-moggans are long sleeves. The word for the hand is han‘; for the hands maigs, from the Gaelic mag; for the palm of the hand lufe, a word found in Maeso-Gothic and in Celtic, but not in Anglo-Saxon; for the fist neive or neif, to which Mr. Skeat assigns a Scandinavian origin. For the stomach there are various words, as kyte, wame, groof, bib. Groof is Scandinavian. Kyte and wame are Anglo-Saxon, the latter is also used for the womb. Bib is used in Angus, and is supposed by Dr. Jamieson to be borrowed from the name given to the small pieces of linen used to cover the breast or stomach of a child. If this supposition be the correct one, the word is probably derived from bibere. The Teutonic word shanks is the ordinary name for the legs. Shaum and shockles are also used. The first is probably connected, as Dr. Jamieson suggests, with jambe; the second is a comical word derived from shockle or shackle ‘to shamble.’ For the buttocks or hips there is hurdies, for the loins, hunkers. Hunkers is Icelandic. To ‘hunker down’ is to squat down; to ‘sit on one’s hunkers,’ to sit with the weight of the body depending from the knees. The word for foot is spash.
Many other words are used to denote the various parts of the body. Many others, also, might be given as the signs of familiar ideas and things. The above are sufficient for our purpose. They show that the basis of the language is Teutonic; but whether the language is derived from the Scandinavian or Anglian branch, they afford no sure proof. In number and importance they are about equally divided between the two branches. If there is any difference, those derived from the Anglo-Saxon predominate.
In the earlier stages of the Teutonic dialects spoken in Britain, the Northern often developed itself more rapidly than those of the South, throwing off inflections and adopting forms long before the same phenomena appeared in the Midland or Southern dialects. Dr. Murray remarks,-
‘When the curtain rises over the northern dialect, in England towards the close of the 13th century, and in Scotland nearly a hundred years later, the language had become as thoroughly uninflectional as the modem English, while the sister dialect of the south retained to a great extent the noun-, pronoun-, and adjective-declension of the Anglo-Saxon. The same phenomenon of earlier development has been repeated in almost every subsequent change which the language has undergone. The South has been tenaciously conservative of old forms and usages, the North has inaugurated, often by centuries, every one of those structural changes which have transformed the English of Alfred into English as it has been since the days of Shakspeare.’13
Since the period of the Reformation, however, the tendency of the Scottish language appears to have been almost entirely conservative. One result is that many words now obsolete in England, are in Scotland still in use. Any one who will take the trouble to compare the vocabularies of Chaucer and Spenser, or even of Shakespeare with Jamieson, will be struck by the large number of ‘Scotch’ words which the former contain. The thoroughly Scotch phrase, What gars ye greet? will be understood by scarcely one Englishman in a hundred. Yet, turning to Spenser’s ‘Shepherd’s Calendar’ for April, it occurs in the first line almost word for word.
‘Tell me, good Hobbinol, what garres thee greete?’
Gar, ‘to cause,’ and greete, ‘weep,’ are used also by Chaucer. The number of Chaucerian words preserved in Scotch is remarkable. Chaucerian, for instance, are many of the words given above as derived from the French, and from the Scandinavian. Here are some of the Anglo-Norman words used by Chaucer, and still current as Scottish:- advoutrie, ‘adultery,‘ areste, ‘constrain, stop,’ baillie, ‘an official,’ doole, ‘grief,’ egre (Sc. aigre), ‘sharp, biting,’ gabbe, ‘idle talk,’ galoche, ‘shoe,’ hochepot, ‘hotch-potch,’ hurtle (Sc. hirsel) ‘push,’ jangle, ‘babble,’ leche, ‘physician,’ malisoun, ‘curse,’ maugre, ‘ill-will,’ mervaille, ‘marvel,’ pawmes, ‘palms of the hands,’ penner, ‘a pencase,’ poke, ‘bag,’ pouche, ‘pocket,’ provostrie, ‘office of a provost,’ quayre, ‘book,’ remenaunt, ‘remnant,’ sorte, ‘arrange, allot,’ tache, ‘a spot.’ Among other words now reckoned as Scotch, he has ane, ‘one,’ ought or aught, ‘owed,’ bale, ‘loss,’ bathe, ‘both,’ bode, ‘delay,’ bode, ‘an omen,’ carl, ‘a churl,’ chapman, ‘merchant,’ daf, ‘to fool,’ dedly, ‘devoted to death,’ draf, ‘refuse,’ eme, ‘an uncle,’ fell, ‘a skin,’ fremde (fremd), ‘foreign,’ ferly, ‘strange,’ hals, ‘the neck,’ hern (Sc. hirne), ‘a corner,’ hynderest, ‘hindmost,’ lerne, ‘to teach,’ mavys, ‘thrush,’ michel, muchel, ‘great,’ pan, ‘the skull,’ querne, ‘a handmill,’ sark, ‘shirt,’ syn, ‘since,’ straughte, ‘stretched,’ tane, ‘taken,’ thak, ‘thatch,’ thole, ‘bear,’ etc.
Scotch has also preserved a number of words which occur in Spenser and Shakespeare, but are now obsolete in English. Besides gar and greete, to which reference has already been made, the former uses the following:- assoyled, ‘absolve,’ breeme, ‘keen,’ doole, ‘grief,’ eme, ‘uncle,’ gerne (Sc. girn), ‘to distort the countenance,’ ken, ‘know,’ kirke, ‘church,’ lere, ‘lore,’ ligg, ‘lie,’ mirksome, ‘dark,’ skeany, ‘knife,’ stouris, ‘dust,’ etc. In Shakespeare we have wee,- ‘He hath but a little wee face;’ wood (Sc. wud), ‘mad,’ – ‘O that she could speak like a wood woman;’ neif, ‘fist,’ – ‘Give me your neaf, Monsieur Mustardseed;’ hent, ‘seized,’ –
‘The generous and gravest citizens
Have hent the gates.’
Other Scotch words to be found in Shakespeare are, — foison, ‘plenty,’ dint, ‘stroke,’ daff, ‘to fool,’ scatheful, ‘destructive,’ silly, ‘weak,’ etc. Instead of horn-daft, he uses horn-mad, and in the ‘Winter’s Tale’ we have an instance of the use of pash, –
‘Thou want’st a rough pash and the shoots that I have
To be full like me.’
The word is generally explained as signifying ‘face,’ but the meaning current in Scotland suits the sense better.
Besides the above and many other words once current in English, the Scottish language has in several instances preserved whole families of words, which are now wholly obsolete in English, or of which only one or two members have survived. Chaucer and Spenser have not only siker, ’sure,’ they have its derivatives, sikerly, ‘surely,’ and sikerness, ‘sureness.’14 In English this family of words is now entirely obsolete. Scotch retains it. In English the only survivals of the word couth, the past participle of the verb to ken, are uncouth, uncouthly, and uncouthness; the Scottish language has also couth, couthie, coudy, couthily, couthiness, coudiness, couthlike, couthless, uncouthie. The only existing representative in English of the old Anglo-Saxon verb ug, ‘to feel abhorrence at, to nauseate,’ is the word ‘ugly,’ but in Scotch there are also ugsum, ugfow, ugsomeness. The negative particle wan, now completely obsolete in English, occurs in several Scottish words, e.g., wancanny, ‘unlucky,’ wanchancie, ‘unlucky,’ wancouth, ‘uncouth,’ wanearthlie, ‘unearthly,’ wangrace, ‘wickedness,’ wanhap, ‘misfortune,’ wanhope, ‘delusive hope,’ wanrest, ‘unrest,’ etc.
Considering the history of the language previous to the Reformation, this conservative tendency is somewhat remarkable. Another illustration of it, we may mention, is the power of making words. This power English seems to have almost entirely abandoned, at least so far as its own words are concerned. Scotch, on the other hand, has retained it. Such words as the following are numerous: back-speirin, ‘cross-examining;’ back-friend, ‘one who supports another;’ back-cast, ‘retrospective;’ back-coming, ‘return;’ back-fear, ‘an object of fear behind;’ bairn’s-play, ‘sport of children;’ banes-brakin, ‘breaking of limbs;’ by-common, ‘singular;’ by-coming, ‘the act of passing through a place;’ ee-list, a flaw;’ ee-stick, ‘something acceptable;’ forespeaker, ‘an advocate;’ forethouchtie, ‘caution;’ foreworne, ‘exhausted with fatigue;’ gae-down, ‘the act of swallowing;’ gathering-coal, ‘a coal used for the purpose of keeping the fire in all night.’ Numerous also are others which seem to have been formed simply for the purpose of imitating sounds, such as argle-bargle, ‘to bandy;’ bringle-brangle, ‘a confused noise;’ bulliheizilie, ‘a scramble;’ bumbeleery-bizz, ‘a cry used to frighten cows;’ bubblyjock, ‘a name given to the turkey;’ carrywarry, ‘name for a kind of burlesque serenade made with pots, pans, kettles, &c.;’ collieshangie, ‘uproar;’ chinkie-winkie, ‘contention;’ currie-wirrie, ‘a noisy habitual growl;’ fligmageerie, ‘vagary;’ rebble rabble, ‘disorder,’ &c.
The grammar of the Scottish language forms an interesting and curious study, and deserves more attention that it has yet received. Dr. Murray’s volume, besides discussing the history of the Scottish Language, contains an excellent grammar of the dialect of the Southern counties. Much has also been done for the grammar of the Old Northern English by Dr. Richard Morris. Mr. Gregor, too, has contributed somewhat to our knowledge of the dialects of the north of Scotland. But any attempt to write a grammar for the whole of the Scottish Language, dealing with its principles and pointing out the distinguishing features of its various dialects, has not, so far as we know, been made. Some of its grammatical peculiarities may here be noted.
The plural suffix in en is retained not only in the word ousen or oxen, but also in shoon, ‘shoes,’ een, ‘eyes,’ hosen, ‘stockings.’ Childer is used as in the north of England for ‘children.’ The old plural bredir or brethir is giving place to brithers. Collective nouns are usually construed in the plural. Certain preparations of food, as, e.g., brose, kail, soup, parritch, sowens, are always spoken of as they or them, few or monie: e.g., ‘Here’s a drap parritch, sup them at ance else they’ll be ower cauld.’
In adjectives of quality Scotch is extremely rich. Many of them are remarkably expressive. To give their meaning in English it is requisite to use in many cases several words. Gruesome, eerie, weirdlike, for example, have in English no exact equivalents; their meaning can be expressed only by a periphrase. The more frequent terminations for derivative adjectives are ie, fu, some, less, ish; as couthie, ‘kindly,’ carefu, ‘careful,’ waesome, ‘woful,’ thochtless, ‘thoughtless,’ fairish, ‘pretty good.’ Others are rif and le, as waukrif, ‘wakeful,’ kittle, ‘difficult,’ smittle, ‘infectious.’ After the comparative degree, nor, as, and be are often used instead of ‘than.’ Be with an adjective in the positive degree gives an emphatic comparative. ‘Young be you’ means decidedly younger. Besides verra, ‘very,’ several other words are used to express the superlative absolute, such as real, richt, unco’, byous. Real, recht, or unco gude is ‘particularly good.’ Unco is often used in the sense of the old word uncouth, ’unknown.’ Ross in his ‘Helenore’ has ‘An unco din she hears of fouk and play.’ Byous, though said to belong to Aberdeenshire, is used over a much wider area, and signifies extraordinary, exceedingly, out of the common run. The middle east coast dialect, has for its strongest form of comparison the peculiar phrase, by-the-byes, which is probably a corruption of by-the-byous. A thing is said to be by-the-byes when it possesses the quality referred to in a preposterous degree, or in a degree beyond all measure or conception. Fel and gey are also used in comparisons, and signify moderately, fairishly, but sometimes very, or exceedingly. In Perthshire, Fife, Forfarshire, etc., ‘That’s fel guid,’ means exceedingly good. Awfu is used in the same sense as the Greek δεινός. Sair, ‘very,’ is used with a touch of compassion.
The plurals of this and that, are thare and thay. Where an Englishman uses ‘these,’ the Scotch use ‘those.’ Instead of ‘yon,’ Scotch has ‘ thon.’
The pronouns ‘it’ and ‘us,’ are often aspirated; not, however, after the Cockney fashion, but in accordance with the old usage of the language. Thus, in a Paternoster of the thirteenth century, given by Mr. Ellis, we have –
‘Vre bred that lastes ai
gyue it hus this hilke dai,
and vre misdedis thu forgyue hus
als we forgyue thaim that misdou hus.’
‘It’ and ‘us’ are aspirated chiefly when emphatic. Mines is used for ‘mine,’ and the old North English relative at is retained.
The verb presents several peculiarities. Where the English uses ed or d as the termination for the past tense, or for the past participle, Scotch uses very frequently it or t. Thus ‘slipped’ is slippit, ‘talked,’ talkit, ‘licked,’ lickit, ‘wondered,’ wunn’rt. ‘Told,’ again, is telt. On the other hand, ‘slept’ is often sleeped, ‘went,’ gaed, and ‘saw,’ seed, ‘bent’ is bendit, and ‘gone’ is often went. ‘Let’ and ‘put,’ again, make in the past lat and pat, and in the past participle, latten and putten. For ‘the men came,’ ‘you were,’ Scotch has ‘the men cum’d,’ and ‘you was,’ or ‘wes.’ Besides the gerund or verbal noun in ing, it has also the old present participle in and. Instead of the auxiliary ‘do,’ it has div and dow; for ‘shall,’ sal, for ‘have,’ hae, and for ‘must,’ maun.
Negative sentences are generally formed by using the suffix na, or the word no. Dinna gang; A canna; Div ye no ken? Didna ye see’t? Ye maunna dee’t, mean ‘Do not go,’ ‘I cannot,’ ‘Do you not know?’ ‘Did you not see it?’ ‘You must not do it.’ For ‘shall I?’ wull a? is used; and for ‘will not,’ wunna. Wha’s aucht that? is a curious phrase meaning ‘whose is that?’ Aucht is from the Anglo-Saxon agan, ahan, ‘to own,’ or, ‘ to make to own,’ and, as already pointed out, is used by Chaucer.
But, bot, and ben, are still used with their old meaning, and, as prepositions, signify ‘without,’ and ‘within.’ But occurs in the motto of the Macintoshes, – ‘Touch not the cat but (i.e., without) a glove.’ Barbour uses it in the sense of ‘except,’ –
‘Quhile he had with him, but archeris,
And but burdowys and awblasteris,
V hundre men.’
Ben on the other hand signifies, when used as a preposition, within. ‘Ben the house’ is ‘in the house.’ Both words are also used as adverbs. ‘Gae but the house’ may mean either ‘go from the inner to the outer room,’ or ‘go out-side the house.’ ‘Come ben,’ on the other hand, is ‘come in.’ ‘Gae ben,’ again, is ‘go into the inner room.’ ‘Stay ben‘ is ‘remain within.’ Ben, again, is often used to denote intimacy or favour. ‘He’s far ben‘ means ‘He is admitted to great favour or intimacy.’ ‘O’wer far ben,’ again, is used to indicate too great an intimacy. Both but and ben are also used as substantives. A house with a but and a ben is one with an inner and an outer room, or one consisting of a room and kitchen. The two words are likewise used as adjectives. The but end of a house is the kitchen. Its ben end is always its best part. Hence the ben end of anything else, e.g., the ben end of one’s dinner, is always the best or principal part of it. Ben admits of the degrees of comparison. The author of Poems in the Buchan Dialect speaks of the Trojan’s ‘benner pauntries,’ and Burns in ‘The Jolly Beggars’ has
‘The kebars sheuk
Aboon the chorus roar
While frighted rattons backward leuk
And seek the benmost bore.’
Persons who live on the opposite sides of the same passage, are said to live but and ben with each other.
In diminutives the Scottish language is exceptionally rich. Thus from bit are obtained bittie, bittock and bittockie. These may be diminished still more by the use of wee; as, a wee bittie, and even by the repetition of wee; as, a wee wee bittockie. Not unfrequently the diminutives are employed to express sympathy, affection, or endearment, as in the phrases, a bit wean, a bit weanie, a wee bit wean, a bit wee wean, and the bits o’ weans, i.e., the bairns or the children.
For the purpose of indicating indefinite number and quantity Scotch has a considerable variety of words. A wheen is a few or a lot out of many; a pickle is a little pick, i.e., as much as can be taken up by the finger and thumb, or by the hand, out of a heap. A byt is a little; a hantle is a considerable number or quantity. Feck is used for ‘the greater part,’ ‘the feck o’ a hunner’ is the greater part of a hundred. Vast, lot, heep, indicate an indefinitely large number. A hew is a very small quantity; a haet is ‘the smallest conceivable piece.’ Wheen, pickle, byte, hew, and hantle may be diminished by prefixing wee or enlarged by employing gey or guid, &c. Haet is often used with the name of the devil to express the most absolute negative. Burns has
‘But gentlemen an’ ladies warst,
Wi’ ev’n down want o’ wark are curst,
They loiter, lounging, lank an’ lazy;
Tho’ deil haet ails them, yet uneasy.’
This use of the name of the evil one, however, is scarcely peculiar. We may remark in passing that in Scotch the names for the devil are numerous. Besides Hornie, Satan, Nick, Clootie, Nickie Ben, there are several others. If a multiplicity of names be any sign of familiarity or fear, there are few countries where the Prince of Darkness has been so well known, or so greatly feared.
When turning over the pages of Dr. Jamieson’s dictionary, we meet with much more than dictionaries usually contain. Dr. Jamieson was not only a philologist; he was also an ardent student of Scottish antiquities, and brought a great amount of learning and industry to their illustration. Since he wrote, antiquarian studies have made great progress, and much has been done to throw light upon the literature and antiquities of the northern nations of Europe: yet, though here and there his long and admirably written articles on the manners and customs and superstitions of the country, may be convicted of slight inaccuracies, in their main outlines they are singularly accurate. They are always entertaining, and besides illustrating the meaning of the words to which they refer, are full of suggestions as to the intellectual and social condition of the country in the past. On another occasion we may possibly return to them.
2 thoughts on “Art. II. – THE SCOTTISH LANGUAGE., Vol. 4, Jul., 1884, pp.30-61.”
What a rich linguistic heritage! Gives the lie to the various purists eg “speak proper English” or “Gaelic was never spoken here” brigades.
#RockFact, love! I found this article fascinating.