Useful Scots word: Scud

Spencer Tunik nudes. Picture: Maegan Tintari
Picture: Maegan Tintari

I was on a bus the other evening when some kind of incident involving a bunch of young teenagers occurred, leading the bus driver to turf them off the bus to a stream of choice expletives. Commenting on the said incident, the man sitting in front of me said to his companion, When I was young he would have given them a scud on the lug.

But times have moved on and giving people a scud on the lug or elsewhere is not acceptable these days, whether the person administering the scud is a bus driver, teacher, police officer or parent. We now inhabit a scud-free zone.

Scud in this sense is a Scots word which translates into English as a blow with the open hand, a slap or smack. To me the word sounds as though it echoes the sound made when delivering someone a clip round the ear, but, in fact, it is of doubtful origin.

Scud in Scots can be a noun or verb and is related to the English word scud meaning to move along swiftly and smoothly, as clouds in the sky sometimes do, or to sail with a strong wind blowing from behind. Alas, this, too is of uncertain origin.

In Scots the verb to scud can mean to hit with a belt or strap as well as with the open hand. In former times such a belt was commonly used by school teachers and was known in Scotland as the tawse. Those of a certain age will remember the tawse well. Regular recipients of it may even still have the scars to prove it.

Another common meaning of the verb scud has nothing to do with punishment, but relates to a leisure activity. In this sense it means to throw a flat stone so as to make it skip over the surface of a stretch of water. This game was known as scuddin stanes, scuddin stane being the name given to the stone selected for the activity.

Less common meanings include to do odd jobs here and there, a common experience in these days of high unemployment. Another relates to one of our less admirable national pastimes and means to drink a great deal, often in large gulps.

Scud in Scots can also be a noun. Its most common meaning is a blow with the open hand or a stroke with a belt (back to the old school tawse again), while a dowp-scud refers to a painful smack on the bottom. In the plural form scud can be used to mean a beating or a thrashing and gie (give) somebody his scuds is to trounce them in battle, the sports field or the like. Too often as a nation we get our scuds on the football or rugby pitch.

A scud can also mean a turn at doing something, more commonly known in Scots as a shot. To be on the scud takes us back to drinking and means to go on a spree or bender. Originally this often involved the consumption of really cheap alcohol and, since this was before the days of cheap supermarket booze, even methylated spirits.

Scud will be more familiar to many of you in connection with the unclothed state. To be in the scud or in the bare scud is to be naked as the day that you were born. There are many English equivalents of this – stark naked, starkers, without a stitch on, in the altogether, in the buff, in your birthday suit and so on.

In the scud can also be known as in the scuddie and, indeed, the original Scots word for scud in the sense of nakedness was scuddie. Once again, the origin is uncertain, but it may be related to scaldie, a Scots word for an unfledged bird. This, in turn may be related to an obsolete English word scalled meaning bald or hairless.

Scuddie, with alternative forms scuddy or skuddy, originally did not necessarily have to involve total nakedness. A person could be described as scuddy if they were wearing only one garment, although this garment was presumably not usually all-encompassing.

As a noun scuddie can be used to refer to the bare skin or a state of nakedness. It can also be used to describe a naked person, especially a child. You will have probably seen mini scuddies on the beach during the recent spell of hot weather. Hopefully they were completely covered in sunscreen at the time.

Those who have the misfortune not to be Scots may be more familiar with the word Scud when it is accompanied by the word missile. Does this nasty long-range surface-to-surface guided missile, developed in the Soviet Union, have anything to do with our scud? Fortunately not. Apparently, it is a NATO code name — nothing to do with slaps, tawses or nudity.

  • Mikester

    In Aberdeen the belt was always called ‘the scud’ by the pupils but never by the teachers. They always called it the belt or strap. ‘Did ye get the scud?’ was the question pupils asked, for example, the boy who had been told to stay behind at the end of registration class or some such thing. Youngsters today would be surprised not just by the ferocity with which the scud was applied but the frequency. That it was still being used as late as the 1980s is something of which this country should be thoroughly ashamed. 

    • Derek O’Connor

      Bring the belt back I say, never done me any harm. Kids have no respect these days, it would sort them out.

  • Jeemac

    What a good word ‘scud’ is. There’s also the meaning of getting a lift or a carry, particularly as a joyride, as in, ‘Can I get a scud on the back of your bike?’