Scots nature dictionary helps tell a huam from a splorroch.
RESEARCH: Dictionary lists ancient Scots words which have disappeared from use
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
One of the lovely words for a rainbow is a water-gaw.