Scots na­ture dic­tio­nary helps tell a huam from a splor­roch.

RE­SEARCH: Dic­tio­nary lists an­cient Scots words which have dis­ap­peared from use

The Courier & Advertiser (Dundee Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - NICK DRAINEY

No one wants to hear the sound of a splor­roch but a huam is an­other mat­ter, at least if you lived in Scot­land 100 years ago or more.

Long for­got­ten words to de­scribe Scot­land’s coun­try­side have been un­cov­ered and in­cluded in a new dic­tio­nary com­piled dur­ing an aca­demic’s re­search in the Cairn­gorms. (A splor­roch is the sound of walk­ing in wet mud and a huam the moan of an owl on a warm sum­mer day.)

This rich evoca­tive lan­guage harks back not just to words which have been lost but a whole way of life.

“These words re­veal so much about our his­tory, nat­u­ral his­tory and our chang­ing ways of life. They are in­dica­tive of the depth, rich­ness and va­ri­ety of the Scots lan­guage and its unique re­la­tion­ship to na­ture and the Scot­tish land­scapes of Low­lands, High­lands and is­lands,” says dic­tio­nary au­thor Amanda Thom­son.

The visual artist and lec­turer at Glas­gow School of Art was re­search­ing a PhD about land­scape, speak­ing to foresters and ecol­o­gists work­ing in the Aber­nethy For­est in the Cairn­gorms, when she be­gan to no­tice un­fa­mil­iar words they were us­ing such as gral­loch – to take out a deer’s in­testines af­ter it has been killed.

At the same time she found a 19th Cen­tury Scot­tish dic­tio­nary in an Ed­in­burgh book shop.

“I came across the word tim­mer breeks – tim­mer is tim­ber and breeks is an old Scots word for trousers and tim­mer breeks to­gether means cof­fin.

“The more I started to look at these dic­tio­nar­ies, I was com­ing across these re­ally in­ter­est­ing def­i­ni­tions, phrases I had never used.”

The words of­ten linked to land­scape and were “some­times a con­nec­tion that had been lost”, says Amanda, who also il­lus­trated the book.

“A lot of the words had a real poetry to them and that’s what made me col­lect them. There is a word huam which means the moan of an owl in the warm days of sum­mer or splor­roch which is the sound made by walk­ing in wet mud.”

A Scots Dic­tio­nary of Na­ture is a re­minder of how the beauty of lan­guage and its con­nec­tion with na­ture can be lost and how pas­sion­ate peo­ple can be about this lit­er­ary link with the past.

In 2007, the Ox­ford Ju­nior Dic­tio­nary ditched 40 words it said chil­dren no longer used; acorn, ot­ter, blue­bell and wil­low were re­placed with blog, voice­mail and broad­band.

The en­su­ing out­cry led to a book The Lost Words by Robert Mac­far­lane, a fundrais­ing cam­paign to get the books into schools and even a ma­jor ex­hi­bi­tion in Ed­in­burgh over the sum­mer.

Amanda, from Kil­syth, says: “Dif­fer­ent words will have res­o­nance with dif­fer­ent peo­ple de­pend­ing on who they are, where they are from and how old they are.

“Most of us are now in the city more than the coun­try and we don’t have to care about the weather in the way we would have done. A lot of the old words per­tain to that – one of the lovely words for rain­bow is a wa­ter-gaw and when it is seen from the north or the east it is a sign of bad weather.”

A Scots Dic­tio­nary of Na­ture by Amanda Thom­son is pub­lished by Sara­band. Amanda will be ap­pear­ing at the Wig­town Book Fes­ti­val on Thurs­day Septem­ber 27, www.wig­town­book­fes­ti­val.com

Picture: Getty.

One of the lovely words for a rain­bow is a wa­ter-gaw.

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