Useful Scots word: dreich

<em>Picture: Zenera</em>
Picture: Zenera
November has more than its fair share of celebratory events. It catches the tail end of Hallowe’en, it rejoices in the Guy Fawkes festivities which seem to go on throughout the entire month and it ends with St Andrew’s night. Of course, there is a sadness to November in that contains Remembrance Day, but, for the most part, November is a party month.

Surely, therefore, we should think of November as a cheery month. Not so. Quite a few people regard November as the very epitome of misery and a great many Scots would describe it as dreich. The “ch” is pronounced as in Scots loch or German ach.

Dreich has several meanings when applied to weather, including wet, dull, gloomy, dismal, dreary, miserable or any combination of these. It sums up November to a T, probably because we tend to concentrate on the wet, bleak weather in November, rather than on the revelries.

The word dreich has its origins in Middle English and, indeed, once was a feature of English as well as Scots. It is now obsolete in general English, although, like several other Scots words, it is still to be found in Northern England. Dreich, however, is unusual in that people living in the leafy suburbs of the south have been known to use it. Usually, Scots words do not reach that far. Should we regard this as a success story for the Scots language?

The original basic meaning of dreich was protracted or long-drawn-out. From this developed the meanings tedious or wearisome. People have traditionally associated both of these meanings with sermons. In the days when most people still went to church, those ministers who liked the sound of their own voices would deliver very long and uninteresting orations from the pulpit. These sermons were frequently dubbed dreich. No wonder people introduced a happy-clappy element to services.

Of course, not only sermons can be dreich. Anything lengthy that bores you stiff can also be dreich. Obviously this includes something written or spoken, such as lectures, after-dinner speeches, reports, plays, etc, but it can also be extended to such things as journeys, tasks, football matches, etc.

People can also be dreich, and in more than one sense. Boring, dull, lack-lustre people can be described as dreich. As you might expect, depressed, gloomy people can also be so described. However, dreich people can also be slow or unpunctual. Specifically, they may be slow in paying their bills, leaving their creditors less than happy. You have to think twice before you call someone dreich.

Incidentally, if someone is “dreich a drawin” or “dreich in drawing” it means that they are very slow when it comes to making a decision. Such a delayed decision was often related to a romantic relationship. Someone who was dreich in drawing showed a distinct reluctance to propose marriage even after long years. Nowadays, we refer to such a person as a commitment phobe.

A dreich task, as I have mentioned, can be a boring, long-lasting one. It can also mean a difficult or puzzling one or one that requires close attention. As you can see there is more to dreich than meets the eye. It goes from dry sermon to wet day with much in between.

I was wondering if I had been too harsh on November, but no. A quick look out the window this November evening tells me that it is damp, dank, dull, dreary, dismal, and depressing — dreich in fact.