Scot's Word of the Week - Archive page 2

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Words found on this page:


meaning itching

This weeks Scots word is the wonderfully descriptive 'yeukin' meaning itching. It is very similar to the Dutch word for itching - jeuken (where the j is pronounced as a y as in yellow). This word appears in the not particularly interesting Burns poem 'To A Gentleman' and so instead of including that I have dedicated this little section to interesting itching facts in honour of this weeks word.

Superstitions related to itching:

"An itch in the nose is, in the Highlands, considered the precursor of a stranger or letter. In Yorkshire it is sensibly said that the sufferer is to be kissed, cursed, or blessed."
People's Friend I 3 Sept. 1882

When the ears are red and itch, it is a sign that some one is talking of the suffering individual. If it is the left ear, they are being scandalised; if the right ear, they are being praised.

Note: There seems to be a supersition for just about any itching bodypart, and just as many different ideas as to how it should be dealt with. This varies from region to region, and even between families. For example, my granny always told me that if your right palm itches this means that money is coming to you, buy ONLY if you rub your itching palm on wood whilst saying 'Rub it on wood and it's sure to be good'. (Incidentally the supersition of rubbing or touching wood to encourage good luck or to ward off bad luck dates back to pagan cultures who rubbed the wood to ask the favour/blessing of the spirits that lived in the trees). I also was told that an itching nose meant that you were going to have an argument, or that there would be a storm.

For those of you that don't believe in superstitions here are some medical reasons for itching.

Medical causes of itching

The feeling of itchiness can be caused by movement of hairs, or release of a chemical (histamine) from cells under the skin. Itchiness is regarded as protective, as it helps creatures remove parasites that land on them.

Other causes for itching can be:

  • Skin conditions (such as psoriasis, eczema and many others). Most are of inflammatory nature.
  • Jaundice (bilirubin is a skin irritant at high concentrations)
  • Medication:
    • Allergy
    • Photodermatitis - (sun)light reacts with chemicals in the skin, leading to the formation of irritant metabolites
    • Directly (e.g. morphine)

The more interesting itches are the ones that don't have a direct cause and the medical community hasn't really got much to offer to explain these, for example when you get an itch between your shoulder blades or in the middle of your foot, or if you get an itch because you are thinking/talking about itching (how many of you are scratching just reading this?!). In this case the process of scratching stimulates the nerve endings and this masks the sensation of the itch. This process of mystery itches is nicely summed up by this quote from Mark Twain:

"If you are with the quality, or at a funeral, or trying to go to sleep when you ain't sleepy--if you are anywheres where it won't do for you to scratch, why you will itch all over in upward of a thousand places."
- Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

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meaning vacant, stupid looking

This excellent Scots word can be used in place of a great number of, much less descriptive, English equivalents. Words such as vacant, blank, stupid, dopey, foolish, uncomprehending, 'the lights are on but nobody's home'... all can be replaced by the single word Glaiket. The word originates from the Old High German word 'Glat' meaning smooth.

Some examples of the correct use of the word Glaiket:

Scottish Proverb:"Glib i' the tongue is aye glaiket at the heart."
Translation: A smooth tongue betokens a deceitful heart.

Or more informally:

"Forbye! Yer stan'in' there gowpin' wi' a big glaikit look oan yer walloper!"
Translation - "Goodness! What a foolish expression you are wearing!" (or literal ' you're standing there, staring, with a big vacant look on your face')

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meaning trounced, soundly beaten, defeated, thrashed, drunk

This weeks Scots word is 'gubbed' has many meanings but it is most commonly used when talking about sports scores. Here is a nice example that I found:

"Fits the auld goalie greetin fur? We wisni gubbed."
Translation:"What is the old goalie crying for? We were not defeated without honour"

Another example could be, " We were gubbed 5-0 " when referring to a football score.

Gubbed can also be used to mean drunk, beaten (physically, like in a fight), and broken. It became this weeks word after I declared in this weeks group meeting that "My laptop is gubbed".

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meaning Gaelic

This word is a Scots variant of Middle English Ersch, Erisch, Irish, from the Old English Iras, which was the word for the Irish. Lowland (Lallan) Scots used the word erse to describe the Gaelic speech of the Highlanders, which originated in Ireland. This is how the meaning of Erse switched from meaning 'Irish' to meaning 'Gaelic' in the Scots use of the word.

This word can be found in the poem " Address to the Deil " (Address to the Devil) by Robert Burns. This is a very cheeky poem in which Burns often makes the Devil sound more like the naughty fairy Puck in Shakespeares 'Midsummers Night Dream'.

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meaning Kite (bird)

The Scot's word gled, meaning Kite is similar to the Icelandic (Gletha) and Swedish (Glada) name for the bird. This name is also sometimes applied to the buzzard.

The Gled makes its appearance in a poem by Robert Burns entitled " Marriage of Robin Redbreast and the Wren". This poem is about a small Robin who is on his way to sing for the King on a beautiful winters morning. On his journey he encounters several creatures, all of whom attempt to trick him into coming closer so that they can eat him! He escapes their wily advances and sings for the king, who rewards him for his beautiful song by giving him the Wren as a wife.

Interesting facts about the European Red Kite:

The toy is named after the bird, not the other way around! The Kite has long angled wings and a wingspan of approx. 6ft. They eat of lot of carrion and have the reputation for killing large animals, although the largest animal they will usually catch is a rabbit. These birds were legally protected in Britain during the middle ages because they would help to clear human refuse from around towns and cities. Later they were declared vermin and an act of parliament was made to kill all of them in England and Wales. By the late 18th century all had been killed in England and Scotland and only a few remained in Wales until a group of Welsh botanists and land owners set up an unofficial breeding programme to save them. In 1997 there were 230 pairs in Britain, the majority of the population (200 pairs) were still in Wales.

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Old Scots word meaning useless/tawdry ornaments

This word can be seen in the delightful poem "The Heilan' Ball" (The Highland Ball) by Chas A Milne. The poem invites the reader to join the poet and "keek in ayont the latch, Intae the laird's great dancin' hall, Whaur he hauds the Heilan' Ball" (Translation: to peek through the key hole, into the lord's dancing hall, where he holds the Highland Ball). What follows is a delightful piece of people-watching and some very descriptive - but not always flattering! - verses about the various guests. This weeks Scottish word can be found in the verse below:

Original Scots Version:

"Young men gaither at the smokin' bowl
An tak a pipe tae mak them whole
A glass or mair o' the lairdies punch
A pinch or twa o' the cheapest snuff
Wid gie them stomach tae become reif randies
An' tae the wimmen seem fine dandies..
Aye, or jist whirlygigums"

English Translation:

"Young men gather round the smoking bowl
And smoke a pipe to make them whole
A glass or more of the lairds punch
A pinch or two of the cheapest snuff
Would give them courage to be thieving gypsies
And appear to the women as fine dandies...
Yes, or just useless ornaments!"

As this shows, there is definitely something lost in the translation. The original Scots is much more descriptive (and derogatory!) and far more entertaining!

Use the link above or visit for more Scots poetry and a wealth of information about all aspects of Scotland, its people, its language and its culture.

Note from HW WAF: Within the HW WAF we have had terrible luck with our lasers dying. It was suggested that our lasers can be described as whirlygigums!

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Old Scots word meaning fretful.

This word can be seen in "The Author's Earnest Cry and Prayer " by Robert Burns.

Original Burns:

"This while she's been in crankous mood,
Her lost Militia fir'd her bluid;
(Deil na they never mair do guid,
Play'd her that pliskie!)
An' now she's like to rin red-wad
About her whisky.

English Translation:

"This while she is been in fretful mood,
Her lost Militia fired her blood;
(Devil than they never more do good,
Played her that trick!)
And now she is like to run stark-mad
About her whisky."

This poem is an appeal to the Scottish Ministers, telling that Scotland herself is suffering under a 'great affliction' due to lack of Whiskey, and that the bard himself is unable to write because his muse is "sittin on her arse , Low i' the dust, And scriechin out prosaic verse, A' like to brust! ".

Whiskey, and more specifically the effort to tax the production and sale of it, was the cause of a great deal of trouble in ScotSland's history. In 1644 the first tax on spirits was imposed by the Scottish parliament to raise funds for the Royalist army during the civil war. This was then the start of a long period of whiskey smuggling! In 1714 the Malt tax was reinstated and the variance in measurements often found Scotland unfairly taxed. The result of this was rioting in Scotland and a great deal of blood shed in the military suppression. In 1725 the Glasgow Malt Tax Riots saw 14 people shot dead by the army after some Scots threatened to stone Excise officers. The malt tax was reduced to half the English rate to settle the dispute.

During Burns' time the Malt Tax was raised twice (in 1779 and 1780), it is perhaps in protest of this that he wrote his poem. Burns wrote this poem in 1786 and later added the footnote "This was written before the Act anent the Scotch distilleries, of session 1786, for which Scotland and the author return their most grateful thanks.-R. B". It was not until 1880 that the Malt Tax was finally repealed.

The moral of the story is that it is often unwise to attempt to separate a Scotsman from his Whiskey. Making him crankous may be the least of your worries!

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Just for fun

A little peek into the lighter side of life within the Heriot-Watt Waves & Fields group.

Word of the Week: