By Betty Kirkpatrick
Sadly, a great many of our Scots words are dying out as generation succeeds generation and we all become globalised. Some words are hanging on by a thread and might well virtually disappear with the demise of the current oldest generation. But the picture is not all gloom.
Some Scots words have shown an admirable tenacity and are still in quite regular use. One of these is stramash, pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable. Stramash is usually translated as a disorderly commotion, or something along those lines.
The basic ingredients of a stramash are confusion and noise, usually accompanied by a crowd of people, some anger or violence and, often, a generous consumption of alcohol. Near English equivalents of stramash include rumpus, free-for-all and the more literary mêlée.
Stramash has not only demonstrated powers of endurance in its own country, but is even to be found occasionally across in the territory of our English neighbours. It is hardly surprising that stramash, like so many other words, is to be found in the north of England. Indeed, the word appears to have been first recorded in Yorkshire dialect in the late eighteenth century.
However, stramash appears to have penetrated further south. It does not yet enjoy the success of mingin, but who knows how far it may go? Various commentators say that stramash is particularly common in football circles. I can only take their word for it, but this would certainly account for its popularity. Certainly, the essential ingredients for a stramash, as outlined above, are often present in football matches.
The origin of stramash is unknown and, as in many such cases, there have been various suggested etymologies. One suggestion is that, like smash, the word is onomatopoeic and that it may be an intensive form of smash. Another suggestion is that the word may have been derived from Old French escarmoche, meaning a skirmish.
It could be that stramash has survived and extended its range of influence because it sounds like such an apt word for the situation. It conjures up thoughts of smashes and crashes. Indeed, the original Yorkshire meaning was smash and this was retained in Scots.
It extended its sense to mean mishap, accident, crash or disaster, and then a state of ruin or dilapidation. This might be an appropriate meaning for these recessionary times, when so many businesses are likely to run the risk of ending in a stramash.
Stramash can also act as a verb, although it is not nearly as common as the noun form. If people stramash they get rowdy and create a disturbance. Back to football again. If something or someone stramashes you, you get thrown into a state of confusion or agitation.
Strabush is an alternative from of stramash, but it sounds too pleasant a word to consort with rowdy crowds. No wonder it has faded from use.
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.