It is that time of year again when Edinburgh is buzzing with all things cultural and international visitors are beating a path to its door. Are the citizens of Edinburgh pleased at all this? Certainly, not all of them. You will hear at least some of them commenting on the fact that the city is hoachin wi tourists.
Hoachin is not a pretty word and it is often not at all complimentary, although it is occasionally used as a neutral observation. It means extremely busy or overcrowded. The citizens who use the word are usually complaining about the huge crowds of festival-goers that are thronging the streets and roads and the deleterious effect they are having on the even tenor of the citizens’ lives.
The first syllable of hoachin, which can be spelled hoatchin, is pronounced to rhyme with coach. The original form of the word is hotchin. This can be pronounced as hoachin or the first syllable can be pronounced to rhyme with cot. All forms still exist.
Hoachin and its alternatives can also mean infested with or swarming with something unpleasant. You will find it used frequently of that ferocious enemy of tourists to Scotland, midges. Places that are hoachin wi midges are soon cleared of tourists. The word can also be used of vermin of various kinds and so dogs can be hoachin wi fleas or heads hoachin wi lice. I am itching at the thought.
Before it became associated with teeming or infested, hotchin meant fidgety, either from impatience or discomfort, or seething with eagerness to do something. It is derived from the verb hotch in its sense of to fidget or be restless. The original meaning of the verb hotch is to move jerkily up and down, to bob up and down. It can also be used to mean to laugh extremely heartily or to move along when you are sitting down in order to make room for someone else.
Hotch can also be a noun with meanings corresponding to those of the verb, for example jerk, jolt, bounce. However, it can also be used of an untidy mess or state of disorder and it stays with its messy associations when it is
applied to a big, fat, ungainly, sluttish woman. Not a pretty sight!
Like many Scots words, the use of hoachin, or either of its alternatives, does not stop at the Border. It has found its way into at least northern England. As to origin, the verb may have connections with Dutch hotsen, to jog or jolt and German hotzen, to move up and down.
So back to Edinburgh, where I will try hard not to complain about the tourists when I am sitting, for what seems like hours, in one of a stationary line of buses on Princes Street. Still, you get a really nice view of the castle if you are facing in the right direction and are sitting in the right section of the bus.
Betty Kirkpatrick is the former editor of several classic reference books, including Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus. She is also the author of several smaller language reference books, including The Usual Suspects and Other Clichés published by Bloomsbury, and a series of Scots titles, including Scottish Words and Phrases, Scottish Quotations, and Great Scots, published by Crombie Jardine.