By Betty KirkpatrickLast time I wrote about the word girn. This time I am writing about a word that is closely related to girn in terms of emotion or mood. That word is greet which is a stage further on than girn. While girn can mean to whine tearfully, to greet is to give full rein to the tears and weep.
The Scots greet is thus completely different in meaning from the English word greet meaning to say hello to someone or to welcome them. The verbs probably have a common ancestor in the Old English gretan. There are also grammatical differences between the two verbs. The past tense of English greet is greeted, as in He greeted them with a wave of the hand. The past tense of Scots greet can be either gret or grat.
Scots greet can also be a noun meaning a bout of weeping. So, when everything gets too much for you, you can sit down and have a right good greet, at least if you are a woman or child. I suspect macho man is still expected to have a stiff upper lip, at least in public.
Greet has given rise to such expressions as greetin match. A greetin match involves one or several of a group of children crying after an unfortunate incident of some kind. Like the English expression it will end in tears, it is used prophetically by parents who can see the potential danger or mishap in some form of play. Children, of course, ignore such warnings.
Then there is greetin face. This can describe someone who looks permanently miserable, as though on the verge of tears. But it can also be used to describe someone who is never satisfied and who is always grumbling or moaning.
This is because greet has a secondary meaning. It started off meaning to shed tears, but it later also came to mean to complain or grumble. From this sense comes greetin Teenie, someone of either sex who always finds something to complain about. Like greetin face, it can also refer to someone with a permanently miserable expression.
Sadly, greet in both senses, in common with girn, tends to manifest itself during family holiday travel. You just have to grin and bear it.
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.