Useful Scots word: Keech

Elephant dung. Picture: Ian Barbour
Elephant dung. Picture: Ian Barbour

I am not really a street party kind of person and most of the royal jubilee celebrations passed me by unnoticed. They had one effect however. I was a child when the queen came to the throne and her jubilee made me pause and think about the enormous changes that have taken place in society since then.

The most major of these have involved technological and scientific changes which would once have been dismissed as the stuff of science fiction. However, there have been many other changes in various fields also, including language. One such change is the great spread of informal language and slang which purists see as the dumbing down of language. Another is the whittling away of linguistic taboos.

When the queen came to the throne people were disinclined to talk about certain subjects such as death, cancer and the bodily parts and functions. Sex was still very much what coal was delivered in in Morningside or other genteel places.

Now it is a case of let everything hang out and talk about it at length. As far as bodily waste is concerned, however, there remains a degree of reticence. Rather than call a spade a spade, many people still resort to euphemism. There have been a few changes here as well in that the number two of yesteryear has become old-fashioned, having been replaced by the now ubiquitous poo.

This was formerly largely a child’s word but now seems to have become the standard term for many adults as well. It has its origins in the exclamation pooh! used to indicate the presence of an unpleasant smell.

Poo is obviously a lot more acceptable to many people than excrement or faeces which may sound rather technical for such a familiar substance. But it is undeniably rather a silly word. English would have done much better to adopt the Scots word keech, altogether a more homely sounding word than excrement or faeces and, unlike poo, not sounding ridiculous.

Note that the ch of keech is pronounced like the ch of loch. Do not pronounce it with a k, because keek is quite a different word. In origin keech is related to English cack which shares a meaning with keech, but has nothing to do with being cack-handed. Should you be trying to look up keech in a dictionary you might be unsuccessful. You might find that it is listed under kich, an older spelling of keech.

Like poo, keech can also act as a verb. As a noun, it can broaden its meaning to refer to any filthy or dirty substance. It can also be used as an exclamation of disgust in much the same was as pooh! can and it can be shouted as a warning to a child not to touch something dirty. Often, of course, such a warning will come too late or go unheeded.

Keech can also be used figuratively to refer to rubbish or nonsense, as in Don’t listen to him. He’s talking a lot of keech. It can also be used to refer to a person in a particularly contemptuous way, as in He’s a right wee keech, always sucking up to the bosses.

In some parts of Scotland you will find keech in the form of toley, pronounced to rhyme with goalie. If you regularly share a walking area with dog-walkers you will undoubtedly encounter many toleys.

  • Jode

    A lane frequented by dog-walkers is often referred to as Toley Avenue.

    • Asabove

       Toly’s used to be the the name of  a beer brewed in Newcastle which created huge merriment when a visiting Scotsman, usually of the Weggie clan visits the city. Geordies and Scots share the same sense of irony and black humour. I cannot find any trace of it now, perhaps the association with the other Toly was to much for it?

  • Sherlock

    The image of keech on the front page was not accompanied by an explanation of the keech’s origin, but one observed immediately that the representative sample was far too high in fibre to have been generated from the diet of a Scotsman.

  • Steve

    Toley is a fantastic word.
    But it’s still overshadowed by the sweary-word unique to Scots and North of England: “shite”, to rhyme with “night”. Such a better word for the addition of the pronounciation changing E at the end.

  • Johnfraserkay

    Cack is not (only) English – Cac is Gaelic for Keech, after all.  Scharn is another good one

    • Jim Braid

      The two highest points on Lochnagar are Cac Carn Mor and Cac Carn Beag.  Don’t know why.  It’s a great mountain.

    • Neil Young

      Gu dearbh John, wanted to say the same thing but you’ve beat me to it by 5 years!

    • Neil Young

      Gu dearbh John, wanted to say the same thing but you’ve beat me to it by 5 years!

  • Man Grangeburn

    Is the word khaki not from the same origin?

  • DeeGee

    I heard a wee story. A chap, evidently not from here abouts, was enjoying his walking holiday but had quite a thirst. He stooped at the burnside to have a drink. A nearby catlle herd shouted, dinnae drink fae yon, its fou of pisssh and keech. The travelling worthy replied, “I say my man, cant you speak to me in English?” The herd replied, ” I can that, – tak’ baith hands, you’ll get mair that way!”