The Scots Element in
Gaelic Vocabulary of Domestic
Furnishings and Utensils
Please Note :This text contains numbers highlighted
in BOLD. Each number refers to the appropriate number
in the NOTES section at the end of the text.
small corner of the topic of Scots loanwords in Scottish
quite well some of the problems of interpretation
present concerning the relationships between the speakers
and the speakers of Scots. The present paper merely brings
the problems; it does not claim to solve them.
Table I below gives us a fair idea of the range of relevant loanwords. The
phonetic transcriptions are narrow, and most are based on pronunciations
found in the islands of North Uist and Barra although occasionally pronunciations
from other areas are used. In no instance though is the provenance of
a pronunciation indicated in the table. For eight words my sources have
not yielded a reliable traditional pronunciation, and in these cases the
phonetic transcriptions given are theoretical and are marked by an asterisk.
The problem of dating the time of borrowing of the
etymon of each of
Gaelic words will be dealt with briefly later. First, it
is interesting to
the geographical distribution of some of the words.
It must be
that the relevant information set forth here is derived
the files of The Historical Dictionary of Scottish
Gaelic and from
Gaelic-speaking colleagues from Lewis, North Uist,
Ross. 1 It is not to be regarded as a definitive statement.
Three words seem to be attested only for Argyll, or
Argyll and Arran.
(section 2), for example, is attested for Arran, Kintyre,
the general word in the north of the Gaelic area
is coire, which
meant 'cauldron'.* fleat 'plate' (3) is attested for
but truinnseir (3) is general elsewhere and is indeed
The usual Gaelic word for 'clock' is cloc (10), but
noc (10) is
for Arran and west Argyll. A very few words
seem to be
or virtually so, to the mainland: pleanaisean (10)
once, probably from Strathspey; tairleas (5) is attested
amraidh (5) is listed in a dictionary compiled by a
but is otherwise attested only for south Argyll,
Strathspey, and in a vocabulary compiled by a
bacaid (1) seems not to be a Hebridean word but
for Perthshire. On the other hand, pàm (7) seems
to be a
word, and a Lewis one at that. The usual Hebridean
'washing-up water' or 'water for washing clothes' seems to be
one of its variant forms, but great (8) is the only word
attested for the
fleat 'saucer' (3), or the form flat, is found in west
Lewis, and in east Sutherland, but is unattested elsewhere;
sàsair (3) is
probably the commoner Gaelic word. breas (1)
too seems to have a
peculiarly sporadic distribution, being attested
for Arran, Jura and
Perthshire only, although Professor Thomson tells
me that his grand-father in Lewis, formerly an apprentice in Glasgow,
used the word.
Finally, the general word for 'chair' in the Hebrides
is seuthar (6), but in
Argyll (or its southern parts anyway) cathair, the
reflex of an Early
Gaelic form, seems to be usual.
In Table II below the Gaelic words are arranged
according to the
half-century in which each is first attested, e indicating
'early or first half' and l 'late or second half'. Variant forms
have been taken into
account when placing each word in the table.
The probable etymon of
each Gaelic word is given too, and when no information
to the contrary
follows later it may be understood that its sense
matches closely that of
the Gaelic word.
- 116 lanntairean < lantern, lantren.
- 117 amraidh < aumry, amery; tubhailt < tou(a)l.
- e18 branndair (1) < brander, grèata < grate,
pana < pan; praidhea-pan < fry-pan, racaise < rax (plur.);
bobhla < bowl, truinnseir < truncher, forca fork, lodar laddle;
bucaid < bucket, pùlas < boulls (plur.), muga (4) < mug; preas <
press; being < benk, furm < furme, seuthar < chair, cuisean
< cuschen; babhstair < bowster, plangaid < blanket; searbhadair
< servitor; buad < bowat, lampa < lamp; pleanaisean <
plenishing, filear < filler, siosar < scissor.
- 118 bruis < brush; carpad < carpet.
- e19 bacaid < backet.
- 119 breas < brace; sgileid < skillet, stòbh< stove, lud < lid; tumalair< tummler; basaidh < bassie, peidheal < pail, canastair < canister; dreasair dresser, tairleas
tirless; clabhda < clout,great < graith; cloc < clock.
- e/l2O pòcar < poker; ceatal < kettle; aisead
< ashet, fleat 'saucer' < flet,fleat 'plate' < flet; muga (3) < mug,
sàsair < saucer; madhlpot < milkpot, siuga joug; branndair (5)
brander; cripidh < creepie; pàm pawn, pand, tolt tuolt; saplas < sappies; noc <
It will be noted that some of the proposed etymons
are not peculiar to
Scots; the view taken here is that they may have been
part of the active
vocabulary of speakers of Scots; but the present
writer has not
corroborated this. One or two words do nag a
little though. just one
example now: the nature of the stressed vowel
of clabhda makes an
origin in an English diphthong more likely than an
origin in the Scots
/u/ in cloot, which seems to be the usual form in
As regards the time at which each Scots word
was borrowed, little
be said now. There seems to be little in the phonetics of the
Scots and Gaelic
words to enable us to place the time of borrowing of
any word earlier
than the time of first attestation, or to prevent us from
doing so. Considering
the words purely from a phonological point of
for example, could have been borrowed in the thirteenth
its proposed etymon is first attested; forca in the
pùlas in the fifteenth century; and many other words
could be juggled
with in this way. Gaelic words that seem to have
alveolar /d, t, 1, n/ and not to have substituted dental
not particularly helpful. cuisean for example is attested
in the very early
eighteenth century at the latest; the final n in the word
to be alveolar now. Does that necessarily mean that it had
an alveolar n
in the early eighteenth century? The modern Gaelic forms
a reborrowing. tumalair seems to have alveolar t and l
now, but how
would Alexander Robertson of Faskally in Perthshire have
Gaelic to the "Two Tumblers" mentioned in his
1732? 4 Would he have had dental or alveolar consonants?
arises in the same document concerning the ashets and
James Ross pointed out some time ago that the
t, d have been in the vernacular for a considerable
time and seem
to have survived a predominantly monoglot phase." 5
are words like tubhailt that seem to have no alveolar
the etymons may have had them; perhaps some of
these are earlier
borrowings, seventeenth century or earlier, that have
not been supplanted
by later less thoroughly assimilated reborrowings.
of ashets and milkpots in the Faskally testament 4 is a
of course of how the probable time of borrowing of a Scots
word into Gaelic
can be pushed back from the time of first attestation.
But clearly there
are problems when English or Scots is the language
used in such
documents. The same source mentions "Three Delft
and "ten Cups and Saucers China". 4 Would Robertson
used sàsair to
refer in Gaelic to one of these saucers, or fleat?
of a few of the Gaelic words are unclear. For
Freying-pan is attested for Argyllshire at the very
the eighteenth century, at the latest, the modern Outer
seem not to have kept the foreign -ing. But there seems
to be no frypan
in the usual Scots and English dictionaries, so perhaps
have made up their own word using the Scots verb fry,
the f- being
subsequently back-mutated in some areas.
'table-cloth' in some places, a sense for which there
seems to be no
exact equivalent in Scots or English; perhaps it is a
Gaelic tubhailte-bùird 'table-cloth', literally 'towel of
a table', found
in some areas. The meaning 'towel' for searbhadair seems
to be a Gaelic
development too, from 'napkin', the meaning of Scots
is a tricky one. It means 'mattress' and 'long pillow'
in Gaelic but the former sense seems not to be
clearly attested for the
probable etymon. Gaelic tairleas must derive
from Scots tirless, but the
latter means 'lattice, grill', not 'cupboard'.
Perhaps the tairleas had
wicker sides giving a lattice-work effect, similar
to the 'larders' drawn
and described by Isobel Grant 6 , although the
of these 'larders' does not correspond to that
of the tairleas, at least not
as far as our meagre evidence seems to indicate.
branndair 'shelf' seems
not to have its sense attested for Scots brander
but its development from
the basic sense 'a framework' is natural enough.
fleat is a bit of a puzzle
because its 'plate' sense seems not to be matched
by Scots flat, other
than in the sense of 'Any flat plate for placing
beneath some other dish'.
Perhaps Scots plat 'a household plate; a shallow
dish' is involved here;
or Gaelic speakers may simply have extended
the meaning of Scots
As for the dialects of Scots involved with
the borrowing of any given
word into Gaelic probably little can be said
other than in the most
general terms, although a good knowledge of
trading and other relevant
contacts may prompt tentative suggestions here
and there. One group of
two words illustrates the problem: saplas and great,
'soapy water'. The broad distribution of each
of these has been given
above. A glance at a map of the distribution
of Scots words for
'soapsuds' 7 shows that sapples is predominantly
a western word and
graith predominantly an eastern word. Thus
perhaps saplas and its
variant forms are usual in the Outer Hebrides,
as they do seem to be,
because more women from those islands went
into domestic service in
Glasgow, Bute and Ayr than went to Inverness
or Edinburgh. And
perhaps great was used in Badenoch because
more women from there
worked in houses in Perthshire, Edinburgh
and Inverness than worked
in the west. On the other hand the two Scots words
are found in parts of
Lanarkshire and Stirlingshire, and in West
Lothian. Scots creepie is
found in some concentration in many areas
from Shetland to the
Lothians and Kirkcudbrightshire 8, although
the exact meaning seems to
vary slightly, but we may suppose that
Islay Gaelic cripidh was
borrowed from the Scots of the west, which has
concentrations of creepie
in parts of Stirlingshire, Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire
and Ayrshire. On
the other hand creepie is attested too in parts
of the north of Ireland.
Could contacts between Islay and Ulster have
led to the borrowing of
the Ulster Scots word?
1 . I am grateful to Professor D. S. Thomson,
Mr I. MacDonald, Mrs C. M. Maclnnes and Mr K. D. MacDonald
for their patient help.
If I have misinterpreted their information
it is of course I who am at fault.
2. M'Alpine, Neil (1832): A Pronouncing Gaelic
Dictionary ... etc., Edinburgh.
Alexander (I 74 1): A Galick and English Vocabulary ...etc.,
Leah (1986): Living in Atholl: A Social History of the
Estates 1685-1785, Edinburgh University Press, 72.
James (1962): 'Bilingualism and Folk life: some aspects of the
speech of a crofting community', in Scottish Studies,
vol.6 pt. 1, Oliver and Boyd Ltd. 1962, 67.
6. Grant, I.F. (1975): Highland Folk Ways, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 174-176.
J. Y. and Speitel, H. H. eds.: The Linguistic Atlas of
Scots Section, vol. 1, Croom Helm 1975, 47.
8. Ibid., 46.
* Subsequent to my submitting this paper I found that I had
a West Perthshire attestation of this word, given by
Máirtín Ó. Murchú in Ériu xxxvi (1985), 198.
University of Glasgow
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