Useful Scots word: Scutter

Splash. Picture: Steve Garner
Picture: Steve Garner
Splash. Picture: Steve Garner
Picture: Steve Garner

The recent spell of sunny, ultra-hot weather, as usual, had many people rushing to be beside the sea. Living near a beach as I do, I regularly witness happy, excited families parking their cars prior to carting to the beach all the requisite paraphernalia for a blissful day spent in the vicinity of sand, sea and sunscreen.

Sadly, their return to their cars often demonstrates the downside of a family day out at the sea. Fractious, whining children and red parental faces, caused as often by frayed tempers as too much sun, are frequently the order of the day. And then there is the prospect of the drive home!

Can it be worth it? Would not everyone be better off staying at home? The adults can knock back a few drinks while the children can scutter about in a paddling pool and sand pit.

For those who get the general picture, but not the meaning of the word scutter, this is a Scots word, pronounced to rhyme with butter and having several meanings. In the particular context just given it means to splash about, often in a messy way, as children do in sandy paddling pools.

To scutter does not, by any means, always involve water, but it often involves mess, one way or the other. For example, you might say of rather a slapdash amateur cook: She offered to make tea and spent most of the day scuttering about the kitchen leaving me to clean up after her.

Scuttering often involves a degree of bungling ineptness. Someone whose enthusiasm for tinkering with cars is considerably greater than his mechanical skills might spend years scuttering about with an old car trying to get it roadworthy without success. Still, as long as he is happy.

To scutter can also refer to spending time in pointless or time-wasting activities, to fiddle about with something, or to potter about. Thus, you could be accused of scuttering about on a Sunday morning when you have chosen to rearrange the contents of your box of pens instead of turning your attention to mowing the overgrown lawn. Students who are supposed to be studying for exams or writers facing a deadline are particularly prone to suffer from the urge to scutter about.

To scutter can also mean to detain or hinder someone from what they should be doing by bothering them with something unimportant. Thus, someone might scutter you by trying to force some totally irrelevant leaflets on you, thereby causing you to miss the bus.

Scutter can also be used as a noun. It can refer to the carrying out of a task in a botched, bungling, and often messy or slovenly, way. Alternatively, it can be used to describe a task that is time-consuming and footling, awkward or fiddly. I was engaged in such a task recently when helping one of my grandchildren make a design with miniscule beads. Such a task merits the adjective scutterie. It was particularly scutterie as far as I was concerned since I am pretty well devoid of arts and crafts skills and have the added disadvantage of ageing fingers.

In common with a great many words, scutter is of uncertain origin. It has been suggested that it may be related to the English word scuttle. However, it has also been proposed that it may be an altered form of the Scots word skitter, meaning diarrhoea. Certainly the verb skitter, like scutter, can mean to waste time doing unimportant jobs.

Let us hope that the children on the beach or in the paddling pool do not skitter as well as scutter.

  • Good word! – Closely related to word which would describe the ‘Yes but No’ article elsewhere in this edition. 😉

  • DerekH
  • Jode

    Growing up in Lochee by Dundee, scutter is used to refer to an awkward task (or person) that is considered to be a bit of a PITA.

    “Thah Oxbridge application forrum wiz a real scu ‘ ‘er tih feenish”

    “Och dinna ask him tih dae ih – hee’s an affy scu ‘ ‘ er”