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Loaves. Picture: Bart Everson

More and more people across the world are learning English as a foreign or second language. It is one of the few growth industries. Many of these learners become very proficient in the language and so, when they visit Britain, they find it very easy to make themselves understood. They may find it surprising, though, to find out that it is not always so easy to understand what the locals are saying in reply.

Although the UK is geographically quite small in size, linguistically there are many variations from region to region. The learner will probably have learnt RP, or Received Pronunciation, supposedly proper English as spoken by those at the upper end of the English social and educational scales, especially originally those in the area around London. However, the vast majority of native speakers do not talk in that way.

Visitors to Scotland will experience several different forms of pronunciation as they travel through the country. Some of them at least will almost certainly encounter the form of speech known as pan loaf. This is the name given not to an accent that is native to any particular region, but to a very affected way of speaking used by people who wish to seem ultra-refined and to appear to be a few rungs further up the social ladder than they actually are. They affect this style of speech in order to impress others, but, of course, they very often achieve the opposite effect and end up being ridiculed.

Talking pan loaf has its origins in a type of bread. A pan loaf refers to a loaf that is baked individually in a pan or tin and has a thin, smooth crust all round it. This contrasts with a plain loaf which has crust just on the top and bottom, the crust on top being darker and harder, and is baked in batches. Pan loaves were more expensive and were thought to be favoured by more genteel eaters some of whom were likely to speak pan loaf or pan loafy, as it is sometimes known.

Pan in Scots shares some of the meanings of the word in English, especially a cooking vessel of some kind. The word is Old English in origin and has linguistic connections with German pfanne, Dutch pan and Swedish panna.

Staying with the cooking theme, we have pancakes in both Scotland and England, but they are different in form. The pancake cooked in Scotland, like the one cooked in England, is a round flat cake made with batter. However, the Scots one is much smaller and thicker than the English one. In England the Scots pancake is sometimes known as a drop scone or Scotch pancake.

Those with a sweet tooth like to put loads of jam on pancakes. Those with an even sweeter tooth like to sook (suck) another Scottish pan favourite, a pan drop. Also known as a mint imperial, this is a type of hard round white mint sweet traditionally loved by old ladies and used as a breath-sweetener by people who wish to hide the fact that they have been drinking alcohol. Beware. People with too sweet a tooth can be rendered toothless by overindulging in these.

On a more savoury note, there is pan jotral, also found in the plural form. This refers to leftovers or to odds and ends of food of the kind that lie around in your fridge. The term originally referred to a dish made from the offal of slaughtered animals, or to such offal itself. The thought of that makes me feel rather squeamish and so I will move swiftly on.

In Scots pan can also be used to refer to the skull or cranium. If you are of a violent turn of mind, and perhaps seeking vengeance on someone, you might threaten to knock their pan in. You can also knock your own pan in. This does not mean that you are self-harming, but that you are working very hard so that you are completely exhausted. Poor you! Just as well the holidays are coming up.

A midden. Picture: Chiara Marra

This week I am staying with last week’s theme of waste (see keech). The subject is midden which originally in both Scots and English meant a pile of animal keech as found in a farmyard, otherwise known as a dunghill. The word originated in Old Norse and came to us from Middle English myddyng.

In both Scots and English midden then came to mean a pile of rubbish generally. The word still exists in English, but it is generally regarded either as rather old-fashioned or archaic or dialectal. This did not happen in Scotland where midden has gone from strength to strength.

From being a rubbish tip, a compost heap or a domestic ash-pit, midden came to mean a bin for refuse, or dustbin, and its contents. In some places it was used to refer to the area at the back of tenements where communal dustbins were kept. Midden kept pace with developments in sanitation and came to be used to describe the domestic rubbish put out for collection by the relevant local authority.

What is often now known as bin day, the day on which refuse is collected, was frequently known as midden day. Of course, in these days of recycling there are often several midden days in the week, one for cardboard, one for glass and so on.

The bin lorry (I am not sure what the current politically correct official term for that is) in some parts of Scotland was known as the midden motor. Another name for this was midgie motor and this was manned by midgie men.

A midden raker, also midgie raker, was someone who went through other people’s rubbish in the hope of finding something that they found useful or valuable. If the raker was female she was known as a midden mavis. The modern equivalent of midden rakers are to be found driving round skips. Middens where the most valuable discarded items were likely to be found, mostly in areas where the rich lived, were known as lucky middens.

Midden can be used figuratively of either a place or a person. A kitchen that is in need of a good clean can rightly be described as a midden, as can a car that is full of assorted sweet wrappings, crisp packets, juice cartons, decaying banana skins and less savoury objects. A knacker’s midden is an extreme example of either of these. A person dubbed a midden is also often in need of a good clean or at least a rigorous tidy up. Alternatively, a midden can be a particularly greedy person or animal.

The midden heid literally refers to the top of a dunghill, but figuratively it can be used to indicate a person’s home territory or environment. A middenstead is the site of a midden or, figuratively, a person’s usual haunt or stamping ground.

Midden has brought us some expressive idioms. If you are described as either in the moon or the midden you fluctuate between two extremes of mood. Should you look at the moon till you fall in the midden you have let yourself be carried away by your dreams and ambitions until you are brought back to earth with a bump to face harsh reality. To marry a midden for its muck has nothing to do with hitching yourself to an unhygienic person, but means to marry someone for their money and disregard any other considerations.

I said above that midden in English is generally regarded as being archaic or dialectal. However, there is one notable exception. Midden has a specific archaeological sense which is still current. Often known as kitchen midden, this midden refers to the site of an old tip or dump for domestic waste, such as bone, fragments of pottery, shells, artefacts and so on, discarded by our ancestors of long ago at their settlements. Apparently, there is much to be learned about their lives, habits and diets from kitchen middens. I wonder what future archaeologists will make of landfill sites.

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.

Spencer Tunik nudes. 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.

Splash. 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.

James VI
James VI

James VI

Every English thesaurus lists quite a few synonyms for the adverb besides. These include also, too, as well, moreover, furthermore, what’s more, in addition, additionally and over and above that. Some of these have Scots equivalents such as tae (too), as weel (as well) and whit’s mair (what’s more) but Scots can make a contribution to the list that is all of its own.

The word is forby, pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable. Formed, as you might expect, from the words for and by, forby has its origins in Middle English. It was formerly to be found in English as well as Scots, but now its use in English is confined to certain dialects. Forby has the alternative spelling forbye, which sometimes becomes forbyes, although this is now rather old-fashioned.

As indicated above, the adverb forby means in addition, as in The weather forecast said it would be fine, but it was rainin’ and cauld (cold) forby. and as in Heinjured baith (both) his arms in the accident and broke a leg forby.

Forby can also be a preposition with meanings corresponding to those of the adverb. Thus it means in addition to or as well as, as in I kent (knew) a few there forby the hosts. and as in The flat was poky, filthy and damp forby.

Rather confusingly, forby as a preposition can also mean except or apart from, as in Forby the family, there were nae (no) mourners at the auld (old) man’s funeral. And as in We loved the place forby the weather. Forby can also be used to mean let alone, much less when used in such constructions as The flat’s no big enough for the kids, forby guests.

Forby as a preposition can also be used to mean compared with or relative to, as in in The hooses (houses) on the estate were quite sizable, but really tiny forby the laird’s palatial place.

Forby has some meanings that seem to have become more popular in Ulster Scots than they did in the home-made variety. Ulster Scots came into being when the Scots language was taken to Ulster in the early part of the 17th century by the large number of Scots who settled there under the Plantation policy of King James VI and I. By means of this policy of colonisation of parts of Ireland the king hoped to quell the rebellious Irish.

Of these meanings of forby that became more common in Ulster one is its use as an intensifying adverb, meaning extraordinarily or unusually, as in He was a huge, strong man, but he was forby gentle. The other is forby as used as an adjective meaning uncommon, extraordinary, unusually good, as in It’d take a forby man to take on that task.

One more thing. Should you be described as being forby yirsel it means that you are out of your mind. It’s a bit like being beside yourself, but even worse.


Humphing your messages. Picture: Ralph Aichinger

The average high street has changed enormously over recent decades. Now high streets tend to be a sea of charity shops interspersed with a series of take-aways and a few empty shops. Occasionally the odd small shop will remain to remind us what high streets used to be like in their glory days.

For example, most high streets used to have small grocery shops, butchers, fish shops and so on. These were the places that people used to go the messages. This Scottish expression is not as common as it once was, but then the shopping experience which it describes has practically disappeared.

To go the messages is to go and shop for everyday goods, such as foodstuffs. In the days when the expression was popular people, mostly women because these were sexist times, often did their food shopping either literally every day or, at least, very frequently. There were no giant freezers or fridges in the kitchen and storage space was often at a premium. Then there was the fact that food tended to go off more rapidly in the days before we introduced so many additives and preservatives to the food we eat and enhanced the growth of allergies.

Using a verb of motion, go, was obviously appropriate since shopping for the family involved moving from shop to shop, grocers to butchers, butchers to bakers and so on. Clearly this could take quite a lot of time, especially since the shoppers almost certainly lingered for a good old gossip in each shop. How unlike today’s weekly or monthly frenzied race round the supermarket spent throwing into the trolley things that might well end up unused a few weeks later.

Going the messages, or, alternatively, doing the messages, usually involved the use of a sturdy shopping bag, known, not surprisingly, as a message bag, This was often literally a bag for life, even sometimes spanning more than one generation.  Nowadays, this would be hailed as a great contribution to the conservation of the environment, since, of course, it was not made of plastic and could be readily disposed of, if you so chose. There again, the environment was not under such a threat in those days.

Those who were too frail or too lazy to humph the messages themselves could always rely on the message boy, known in English as an errand boy, to deliver the goods. The message boy, whistling along merrily on what was sometimes called, not very imaginatively, a message bike was the forerunner of online shopping.

Again, he was environmentally-friendly and perhaps we should consider bringing him back. Not only would this help to save the environment, but it would provide some well-needed youth employment. I doubt if being a message boy paid very much, but it would have been more lucrative than work experience and I am sure there were a few tips to be had.

Message is not always associated in Scots with shopping. If you are asked to go a message for someone you have been selected to perform a task for someone that involves going from point A to point B, or even further. The purpose varies. You might have to deliver an invitation, pick up a prescription from the chemist, put on a bet at the bookies and so on.

The English equivalent of go a message is run an errand. The element of motion remains, but the speed of the motion is faster. For example, someone might ask a neighbour’s child to run a few errands for them, hopefully giving the said child a suitable reward. It seems to me that running errands is more common in American English these days than it is in British English. However, Americans often seem to drop the idea of motion and talk of taking care of a few errands instead. Perhaps all this running has worn them out.

Scots shares with English the sense of message meaning a piece of communication, usually quite brief, for a person who is absent or out of contact. In both languages message is ultimately derived from Latin missus, past participle of the verb mittere, to send.

Of course, message in the communication sense has moved with the times. Nowadays it is very likely to be electronic in nature. If we are doing our messages today we are more likely to be checking and sending emails than we are to be out shopping for food.

An old man: a bodach
An old man: a bodach

Picture: Shahram Sharif

When I was a child my father often used to refer to our neighbour as the bodach. I see that the pronunciation of this is given in some Scots dictionaries as bode-ach, the stress being on the first syllable and the ch being pronounced as the ch in loch, rather than as the ch in much.

My father, however, pronounced bodach with a t rather than a d, more like the pronunciation of the original Gaelic word from which the Scots word is derived. Like many Scots of that generation, he did not speak Gaelic, although both his parents did. It is one of those national disgraces that the language was not handed down in those days. My father did, however, have in his vocabulary more words of Gaelic origin than most.

Bodach in Scots means an old man. I have come across several references to the fact that the word is often used contemptuously. This was not the case with our neighbour. Bodach was applied to him by my father either in an entirely neutral way or even affectionately. For long enough I thought bodach was the old man’s name, but, in fact, he was called old Tom, although this seems a bit ageist now.

Old Tom has actually appeared in my column before, but I did not actually name him. He it was who demonstrated the art of guddling  trout to me. I am not really a lover of fish dishes and so this is not a skill I have bothered to keep up.

Bodach in another meaning can be used of either sex, sometimes appearing in the diminutive form bodachan. It means a small and unimportant, insignificant person. By very definition this is used rather contemptuously.

Bodach has a third meaning and in this sense it has spread its wings a bit. It means something supernatural such as a spectre or ghost, a bodach glas (grey or pale) being exceptionally scary because it supposedly usually makes an appearance as a herald to disaster or death. Bodach is also used to refer to a bugbear or bogeyman that is referred to in an attempt to frighten children into behaving well. I would doubt if today’s children, so used to horrifically scary aliens on television and films, would turn a hair at the thought of a bodach.

This meaning of bodach has gone beyond the boundaries of Scotland. It owes much of its success to Walter Scott’s use of bodach in this sense. Being in Scott always represented a good entrée to the wider world for Scots words, Then the spectral bodach was taken up by another, much later, literary figure. The Bodachs was the alternative title of Scottish children’s writer Mollie Hunter’s novel The Walking Stones (1970). Later still, the word bodach was adopted by American writer of suspense thrillers, Dean Koontz, in his tales of Odd Thomas.

Perhaps bodach’s cleverest move was to get itself used in many Scottish place names. That way it is never going to be forgotten. One of the most famous of these is a Munro, Am Bodach, in Mamore Forest near Kinlochleven.

A possible contracted form of bodach is bod, meaning, like bodach, a person of small size, although the origin of bod is not certain. Formerly used as a nickname for a man of particularly small stature, bod is also found in English. In the English form bod is an informal word meaning either a person or the body. Sadly, it seems to be short for English body rather than for Scots bodach. Now that would have been a triumph.

Picture: Jonny Hunter

Confusion can occur when a Scots word and an English word have the same form and pronunciation, but different meanings. Take, for example, the verb hurl. Scots cyclists might say that they had to hurl their bikes up the steepest part of an incline, leaving English listeners to wonder why the cyclists were throwing their treasured bikes violently up the hill. They might have done this in a fit of anger or frustration, but it seems like a waste of a good bike. More likely they were just saving their legs.

Scots might also say: We’ve put the baby in the pram and her grandfather’s hurling it up and down the garden path. The cognoscenti will know that the said grandfather is pushing the pram up and down the garden path, probably with a view to getting the baby to go to sleep. Some unsuspecting English person might think, however unlikely, that the grandfather is throwing the pram with great force up and down the garden path and hurriedly get in touch with social services.

If you have been paying attention you will by now have deduced that, while in English the verb hurl means to throw something with great force, in Scots it means to push or pull something along on wheels or to transport someone or something in a wheeled vehicle. The English and Scots words are related and may both have their origins in the fact that the words imitate the sound made by the action of the verb.

Hurl in Scots can mean to move along on wheels or to be transported in a wheeled vehicle. Thus, you might find yourself hurling along the motorway to your destination, hopefully not at an excessive speed. Another meaning is to fall from a great height, as masonry falling from a high building in hurricane-style winds.

In Scots hurl can also be a noun with meanings corresponding to those of the verb. The last-mentioned verb has a corresponding noun meaning a violent rush downwards or forwards, as in a hurl of heavy snow or a hurl of masonry falling from a dilapidated building.

Much more commonly, though, the noun hurl means a ride or drive in a wheeled vehicle. Thus, you might hear children demanding a hurl in a relative’s brand new car. Alternatively, you might hear them requesting a hurl in a shopping trolley to save them the effort of trudging around the store. They then get a better view of what is on offer on the shelves which can make their pester power more effective.

You can request a hurl to somewhere instead of asking for a lift. Joy-riders do not bother to do this. They simply break into other people’s cars and go for illicit hurls.

A hurl-barrow or a hurlie-barrow is a wheelbarrow, while a hurl-cairt is a cart as used by farmers etc. A hurlie-cairt can be an ordinary cart, although it often refers to a child’s home-made cart of the kind made by fixing makeshift wheels on an orange box. Staying with wheelbarrows, to speir (= ask) the guts oot o a hurl-barrie (= barrow) is to be over-inquisitive and ask too many questions.

A hurl-bed or hurlie-bed is a low bed with wheels or casters that can be pushed under another bed. This is sometimes known in English as a truckle bed and in American English as a trundle bed. Whatever you call them, they used to be very commonly used when families were larger and space was at a premium.

If you are in a hurl you find yourself in a confused mass and surrounded by noise, as in a crowded shop at Christmas time. (Sorry I should not have mentioned the C word. Never mind. It’s not for ages yet).

A hurley-gush has several meanings. Originally, it was used to refer to a noisy surge of water or a body of water in spate. It then went on to be used figuratively to refer to someone who talks too much and then to be used as a synonym for garrulousness or verbosity. This is known informally in English as verbal diarrhoea. In fact, hurley-gush can be used to refer to the original, non-verbal diarrhoea also. Hurley-gush is a much more pleasant word than diarrhoea for the over-swift voiding of bodily waste, but using it does not make the physical experience any less unpleasant.


Picture: Apfel Fred

The word humph in English dictionaries is usually defined as an interjection indicating annoyance, dissatisfaction, disgust or doubt. I am not sure that I have actually ever heard anyone pronouncing the word as it is spelt. It usually comes out as a kind of grunt or growl.

In Scots, the word humph might easily come accompanied by a series of grunts because it means to carry around something heavy. Before the days when suitcases came equipped with handy little wheels, humphing your luggage around airports or railway stations was an all too common part of the holiday experience.

But we still humph overflowing bags of shopping from supermarket to car and car to house unless we are going by bus or on foot, in which case the humphing process is likely to be accompanied by even more grunts. Also fond parents are obliged to humph around their small children when they claim to be too tired to walk. It is strange how the children do not seem to be quite so small after half a mile or so of this activity.

The verb humph can also mean to move around with great difficulty because you are carrying a heavy or unwieldy load. Thus you might see pupils from the local school humphin up the road clutching the many bags that some of them seem to need these day, while somehow still leaving a hand free to clutch their mobile phones.

In origin, humph is a Scots form of English hump, as in a curvature of the back. In Scots, English hunched becomes humphed and hunch-backed becomes humph-backed or humphie-backit. Humph has given rise to a number of phrases, but you have to know whether you are coming or going when you use some of them.

The phrase to come up yir humph means to occur to you, to come into your head, as in: “He might meet us off the train if it comes up his humph.” However, the phrase gae up yir humph means to be beyond your powers of understanding or to be a mystery to you, as in: “Why she left sae [so] suddenly gaes [goes] up ma humph.” If you set up yir hump you get very angry and hostile, as in: “He really sets up ma hump when he starts bragging.”

If you are tired of someone’s company and want to be rid of them, you can use the fairly modern informal expression awa an run up ma humph. This is certainly more picturesque than “Get lost”. Even more picturesque is awa and cuddle my humph.

There is another Scots word humph, with the alternative spelling humf, which is unrelated to the one just described. This one may be derived from the English interjection that I started off with. It means to have or acquire an offensive smell or taste, as of something decaying or rotting lying forgotten at the back of your fridge. Of course your fridge may be devoid of such remains.

If something is giving off a horrible smell it can be described as humphed or humphy. They are more or less synonyms for mingin, meaning stinking, but they have not acquired its popular figurative uses. Probably for this reason, humphy has not achieved the export success that mingin has. Still, you never know what a bit of publicity might do.