By Betty Kirkpatrick
It has been said frequently, by myself among others, that Scots words are often more descriptive than their English equivalents. Somehow, some of them seem to be better at conveying the spirit of the meaning.
Take scart, for example. It is the equivalent of English scratch but I think it suggests a sharper, more clawing action, so necessary when an itch is severe.
An itch in Scots is yeuk, pronounced yook, and with several alternative spellings such as yuke, youk and yuck. In Scotland we need a good, strong, descriptive verb to deal with an itch because at certain times of the year many of us are decidedly itchy – or yeukie, etc. This is not because we are unhygienic enough to suffer unduly from fleas or lice.
It is partly because of the presence in our country of the dreaded midge. A great deal of scarting is necessary to cope with the bites of this mini creature. You would think that we would become to immune to the biting of the midge after a lifetime spent enduring it, but not so. Then there is the even more dreaded cleg or horse-fly. Its bite tends to be itchy and sore at the same time. Scarting often makes things worse.
It is possible to escape the midge and the cleg by going to other climes, but we may well encounter more mosquitoes there. Mosquitoes seem to just love to settle on pale, delicate Celtic skin and suck the sweet Celtic blood. Probably we have several mosquito Michelin stars. Is this paranoia on my part? No, I don’t think so. I know many Celts who feel that they are particularly prone to mosquito attack, while tougher, more tanned skins go scot-free. Well actually in Scots this translates as scart-free or scart-hale.
Scart, probably originally in the form of skart, first appeared in Scots in the 14th century. It is derived from Middle English scrat, although the derivation of this is uncertain. One suggestion is that it may be Scandinavian in origin. Another is that the word imitates the sound of scratching – onomatopoeic, in fact.
Scart in the sense of drawing your nails or something sharp across your skin to stop it itching has various other derived meanings. Hens scart or scrape about the ground with their claws looking for food. Very hungry or very greedy people scart their bowls or plates in order to get the very last bits of food from them. Scart can also mean to scrape or accumulate things together in a heap, especially if you are of a miserly disposition. You can hastily scart or scribble a few lines on paper or scart a match.
Scart has also brought us some interesting phrases. Ah’ll gar you scart where it’s no yeukie means literally I’ll make you scratch where it’s not itchy. Figuratively it means I’ll make you regret that. To scart a gray pow [head] does not mean that you have nits, but that you are getting on a bit in years.
If you scart someone’s buttons you are delivering a challenge to a fight, often while drawing your fingers down their jacket buttons. So do not admire someone’s unusual or particularly attractive buttons in this way in case your gesture is misinterpreted and you find yourself having to put your fists up.
According to an old Scots proverb, biting and scarting is Scots fowk’s [folk’s] wooing. I knew it. We are just a bunch of old romantics really.