By Betty Kirkpatrick
Most Scots parents, and a goodly number of Scots children, heaved sighs relief of when the holidays were over and schools once again opened their doors for business. The school is a long-established institution, but nowadays it seems ever-changing so that parents, and even more so grandparents, scarcely recognize it as the same institution which they attended.
One thing, however, does not change. Clyping is still against the unofficial school moral code and swift retribution will be heaped by their peers on anyone who is so foolish as to clype. Clype (pronounced to rhyme with ripe and having the alternative spelling clipe) is a Scots verb meaning to tell tales, in other words to tell a teacher about a piece of wrongdoing carried out by another pupil. For once, something is known about the origin of the word. Clype is related to the Old English word, meaning to name or call.
I am sure that we all have school-day memories of sitting in a classroom waiting for someone to own up to something considered wrong, while the teacher threatened that the whole class would be punished if the culprit was not identified. Often the whole class was punished unless the culprit reluctantly decided to confess. Still we did not clype.
We might all have known the identity of the culprit, but mass punishment was considered more acceptable than clyping. Was this the school equivalent of honour among thieves? Perhaps so, but just as likely is the fact that we were all scared of the wrongdoer.
Clype did not always carry the sense of getting someone into trouble by reporting what they had done. It once simply meant to relate or tell about something that had happened, whether the event was bad or good. Before that it meant to be exceptionally talkative, to gossip a lot.
Clype can also be a noun. Nowadays, it usually refers to someone who tells tales, but it once was commonly used to mean a tale, whether it was the kind of tale borne by a tale-bearer or just a story. It was also used to refer to a piece of gossip or even a lie.
A tale-bearer was once also known as a clype-clash. A more charming word for this, unrelated to clype, is tellie-speirie.
After we leave school we seem to leave the word clype behind us. There are still tale-bearers around, but we tend to call them different things according to the situation. For example, we have informers, squealers, grasses, whistle-blowers and investigative journalists.
Of these, whistle-blower is the most general, but the activities of a whistle-blower, unlike those of a clype, are often actively encouraged rather than frowned upon. Whistle-blowing often involves an employee disclosing information about some form of malpractice or wrongdoing in an organization and it is sometimes officially known as public interest disclosure.
Who knows? Perhaps clyping will one day go the way of whistle-blowing and become acceptable and even actively encouraged.
Betty Kirkpatrick is the former editor of several classic reference books, including Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus. She is also the author of several smaller language reference books, including The Usual Suspects and Other Clichés published by Bloomsbury, and a series of Scots titles, including Scottish Words and Phrases, Scottish Quotations, and Great Scots, published by Crombie Jardine.