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Effeirin tae the formal: Laitinate lendwirds in Scots

[W]ords can become obsolete for no obvious reason or because the thing that they denote becomes obsolete or because some other term becomes popular for some reason. In the case of the loss of a significant body of Scots formal diction over the last three centuries, a different explanation applies. Rather, […] the whole drift of the development of Scots over the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and, to some extent, the twentieth has been towards the definition of Scots as an essentially informal language used generally for informal purposes such as colloquial speech, comic verse, satire and sentimental poetry. […] In 1700 the Scots language contained a considerable body of distinctive formal Latinate diction which it did not share with English.


[T]here has been a steady erosion of the store of distinctively Scots formal diction. This is unfortunate because it makes it difficult to maintain any sense of a formal register of Scots separate from English. The bulk of formal diction always would be identical to English because it draws on the same major source, Latin loan words. But so long as it was possible to sprinkle that shared diction with a number of purely Scots forms, it made more apparent sense to claim the whole vocabulary as part of Scots. Without this, the shared diction was much more likely to be seen as purely English, and thus the notion of a Scots formal diction was seriously undercut.

Graham Tulloch, ‘Lexis,’ in The Edinburgh History of the Scots Language, ed. Charles Jones (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997), 2–3.

This is a bit follae-up tae my post frae afore, Tap 10 wirds the Scots language haes gien the warld. Ane o the wirds ben yon piece wis convene, that I notit wis no sae muckle an innovation o Scots as it wis a borraein frae either Latin or French that appeared in Scots aroond echty year afore it did in English.

The quote abuin frae Graham Tulloch, as weel as a bit stooshie on Reddit efter I postit a link tae the piece there, haes gart me consíder the naitur o Latinate (or ‘Romance’) lendwirds in Scots, wirds like ascend, authorise, cognition, intricate, liberateliterature, narrative, particular, relevant and superlative.

Did Scots borrae this wirdstock direct frae the French or Latin? Or did this pairt o wir lexis come via English whan English teuk ower frae Scots as the ‘prestige’ language?1 Or deed wis it by wey o direct contact wi the language o England whan Scotland and England wis yet baith independent states? Or aiblins the Latinate lexis wis aaready pairt o (Northren) Middle English whan Scots stertit tae gang its ain gate and become a language in its ain richt?

I’m jalousin your average punter, e’en if they’r a Scots speaker, consíders thir Romance wirds tae be English, or at least Scots but no hivin been borraed separate frae English. Or mebbe they dinna gie it muckle thocht. Whativer, I wantit tae redd up the maiter, e’en if juist for my ain peace o mind!

Lat’s hae a deek at what the scholarship says.

In ‘Older Scots Lexis’ in The Edinburgh History of the Scots Language, Caroline Macafee notes anent earlier French lends:

Aitken (1954) makes the important point that the Old Norse loans found in Scots ([…] leaving aside Caithness and the Northern Isles) are almost all found likewise in the dialects of the north of England. This is in contrast to direct borrowing from other languages such as Middle Dutch and Anglo-Norman [i.e. French], where the loans into Scots are independent of the influence of these languages in England.’2

As weel as thir Anglo-Norman borraeins, ye haed líterar lends frae Central French that wis made ‘either directly or through English poets such as Chaucer.’3 And ye haed later lends frae French aiblins as an affcome o the Auld Alliance: bonailie, caddie, effeir, fash, gardyloo, hogmanay, purpie and vaig, tae name a wheen.4

Anent Latin lendwirds (that wis aften mediatit by French5):

Apart from Scots legal terms, most Latin loans into Scots are also attested in some form in Middle English or Early Modern English, whether before or after their appearance in Scots.6

Examples o wirds recordit in Scots afore English includes allocate, commiseration, emendation, immediate, intricate, location, modern, narrate, narrative, occur, registration, remit, supplier, ticket and relevant.7 8

Here’s what Jack Aitken said in 1982 anent datings o Latin lends in Scots:

[T]he dictionary [DOST] contains thousands of antedatings of Scottish phenomena over the OED, partly perhaps because we still lack an Early Modern English Dictionary but partly also because Scots did in fact come first in lots of individual items and details. For example, it is possible to assemble a large number of Latin-derived words in which DOST antedates OED and for some of these this is certainly because Scots anticipated English in borrowing them, including such familiar words as commiseration, emendation, immediate, intricate, liquidate, location, narrative, occult, occur and the adjective and noun pagan.9

And frae the introduction tae the 2017 ootgie o the Concise Scots Dictionary (CSD):

Borrowing from Latin was in Older Scots frequently carried out independently of English. Many words of Latin origin were borrowed into the two languages at widely different dates and often in strikingly different meanings, with examples including: liquid, liquidate, local, locality and narrative.10

I’v leukit up the skaired Romance lendwirds we’r speakin aboot in the new CSD11, as weel as in DOST12 and OED13, and they uphaud what we’v aaready notit abuin. And whaur a Latinate wird leuks tae hiv entert Scots by wey o English (e.g. education14, indict, information, partial, particular, possible, receipt and question), CSD2 gies the English (whiles alang wi the Latin) origin.

Sae it leuks like Scots haes eneuch direct Romance lendwirds for us no tae hae tae fash (if ye’r a body that fashes ower siccan things). O coorse, it shouldna really maiter whaur Scots got the wirds frae, and mebbe is disna. But the language is that misunnerstuid the day — and fowk is aye sayin it’s juist English or whativer — that ettlin efter a better conception o it is nae bad thing, na?

Gettin back tae the ‘considerable body of distinctive formal Latinate diction which [Scots] did not share with English’ frae the Tulloch quote that the stert o this post, I’v pitten thegither a table o some o thir, alang wi my ain examples o weys they could be uised in a modren context. As weel as the differs in the wirds theirsels, note that aften whaur Scots daes hae the same wird as in English, the past participle15 o the verb is the same as the basic verb mak itsel. (No includit in the table is the puckle Scots Latinate wirds that’s still in uiss the day16, siclike as bejan, depute, dominie, dux, janitor, leet, rectorsederunt and servitor.)

English Grammatical function Scot maik Formal Scots context example
accommodate, accommodated v, pp accommodate The lave wis accommodate in the adjacent meetin room.
allocate, allocated v, pp allocate Aa students is allocate £100 o prent credit at the stert o ilka semester.
append v appense The data tables is appensed tae this chaipter.
associate, associated v, pp associate Antimony is widely diffused oot-throu Australia, and is whiles fund associate wi gowd; She haes been associate wi the project frae the first.
avoid v evite Road uisers wis advised tae evite traivelin unless deemed necessar.
calculation n calcul The calcul wis aff tae a significant degree.17
circumvent v circumvene He wis fund tae hiv circumvened regulations.
decree n, v decrete The preses pat forrit a nummer o decretes.
distribute, distributed v, pp distribute The jurnal is distribute til institutions oot-throu the warld.
educate, educated v, pp educate He wis educate at Glesca, graduatin wi a Masters in Civil Engineering.
excess (amount), increase n excrescence China haes a excrescence o tred wi the United States; He haed a excrescence o stress in his life.
exempt v exeem Laich earners wis exeemed frae peyin the tax.
expound v expone Lat me expone on that idea for tae clarify what I mean.
imprison, imprisoned v, pp incarcerate He wis incarcerate for life efter hivin been fund guilty o wilfu fire raising.
in accordance with adv conform tae The app haes been designed and biggit conform tae GDPR regulations.
insert, inserted v, pp insert A clause wis insert intae the bill.
interpose v interpone The polis haed tae interpone theirsels atween the twa groups o fitba fans.
liberate, liberated v, pp liberate The hydrogen is liberate at the anode.
make public v propale The information wis propaled efter a Freedom o Information request.
v, pp matriculate The students wis aa matriculate by the end o September.
necessary adj necessar The necessar preparations haes been made.
notorious adj notour The landlord wis notour for no returnin deposits.
oppose v oppone The majority o the population opponed increasin taxes.
ordinary adj ordinar Unner ordinar circumstances employees wisna expectit tae wirk owertime.
pertain v effeir The comatee spak anent maiters effeirin tae health policy.
propose v propone I wad like tae propone a motion tae the comatee.
ratify v, pp homologate The policy haes been homologate by the European Pairlament.
registered adj, pp registrate The uiser wis registrate on the sýstem last year.
remedy n, v remeid A herbal remeid micht be wirth considerin; We’ll need tae remeid the technical issues afore launchin the product.
restore, respond v repone I wad appreciate if ye could repone my access richts tae the skaired drive; Anent my repone o 20 Mairch, […]
restrain v compesce The opposition threapit public ootlay haed tae be compesced.
secretary n secretar Please contact the course secretar for mair information.
situate, situated v, pp situate The hotel is situate in a convenient location.
subtract v deduce Expenses haes yet tae be deduced.
surplus n superplus There haes been a budget superplus three year efter ither.18
terminate v, pp terminate The supplier contract wis terminate early.
timely adj timeous Please mak shuir rent is peyed in a timeous mainer.
promote v promove A cultur o furthiness wis promoved across aa functions o the business.

Ye could e’en uise a puckle o the Scots maks in amang your Scottish English. Nixt time ye want tae say ‘timely’, hou no say ‘timeous’ insteid? Or what aboot pittin a cheeky Scots past participle intae your nixt bit scrieve?19 For mysel, I think I micht uise calcul insteid o calculation frae nou on, alang wi a wheen o thae braw past participles. The wirds is there for us tae uise, sae what for div we no juist uise them?


  1. In terms o the written language, this process stertit tae gaither speed in the seicont hauf o the 17t century.
  2. C. I. Macafee, ‘Older Scots Lexis,’ in The Edinburgh History of the Scots Language, ed. Charles Jones (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997), 201.
  3. Macafee, Older Scots, 206.
  4. David Murison, The Guid Scots Tongue, 1977, 1978 (Edinburgh: The Mercat Press), 52.
  5. Macafee, Older Scots, 196.
  6. Macafee, Older Scots, 198.
  7. Macafee, Older Scots, 198, and DOST, OED.
  8. Macafee (Older Scots, 198) notes that ‘[t]wo well-known words, allocate and narrative, are so well established in Scots before their first appearance in texts from England that they should probably be regarded as loans from Scots into English.’
  9. A. J. Aitken (1982, 2015) ‘DOST: how we make it and what’s in it’ in †A. J. Aitken, ed. Caroline Macafee, ‘Collected Writings on the Scots Language’ (2015), accessed online at the Centre for the Scots Leid on 1 Januar 2019. Originally furthset Dictionaries 4 (1982), 42–64.
  10. A. J. Aitken, revised by Chris Robinson, Jeremy Smith, Pauline Cairns Speitel, Alison Grant, Ann Ferguson and Margaret Mackay, Concise Scots Dictionary, 2nt edition, (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2017), xix.
  11. This is the latest scholarship anent Scots etymology.
  12. Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue, pairt o the Dictionar o the Scots Leid, online.
  13. Oxford English Dictionary, online.
  14. But no the verb tae educate.
  15. But no aye the past tense. A simple rule wad be juist tae uise the -it endin for past tenses.
  16. By this I mean anes that haes partícular meanins in Modren Scots that’s no the same as in English.
  17. Calcul is the modren French wird, tae.
  18. ‘Superplus’ is frae the medieval Latin.
  19. I uised registrate no lang syne.