Printer Friendly

The thistle and the words: Scotland in Late Modern English lexicography.


On 21 October 1773 Robert Fergusson published a satirical poem in the Weekly Magazine with the title 'To Dr Samuel Johnson: Food for a new Edition of his Dictionary' (Boulton 1974/1995: 231-233; Brown 2012: 214-216): in it Fergusson adopted a mock-Augustan style, rich in nonce formations like Scoticanian, Loch-lomondian and usquebalian, imitating what had immediately been perceived as a characteristic of Samuel Johnson's heavily Latinate prose. Nor was this the only reason for Johnson's bad publicity in Scotland, as is well-known; however, even there his work was to prove crucial in many respects.

Starting from the entries in Samuel Johnson's Dictionary (1755), this contribution aims to highlight the main ways in which Scots vocabulary was recorded and discussed in Late Modern dictionaries at a time when a new interest in overseas expansion was developing. In particular, I intend to focus on the image of Scottish culture that was outlined for the envisaged readership, and assess the ways in which this related to other nineteenth-century representations of Scotland, at a time when both emigration and colonial expansion opened up new windows onto distant countries, while Scotland itself was reassessed as an 'exotic' territory.

Within this framework, my study will take into consideration three other landmarks in Late Modern English lexicography: Jamieson's An Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language (1808), Webster's An American Dictionary of the English Language (1828), and Murray's New English Dictionary on Historical Principles (1884-, now the Oxford English Dictionary, or OED). In addition, I intend to discuss other materials, such as diaries, travelogues and correspondence, in order to assess what terms were typically selected to discuss the relationship between 'the old country' and 'the new world'. Such personal documents, together with the lexicographical ones, may provide a useful backdrop against which to outline the main lexical strategies employed to construe a new 'imperial', or in fact an 'independent', identity both at home and abroad.

In Late Modern times linguistic issues were constantly in the foreground. In particular, in nineteenth-century Scotland the idea that Scots was dwindling still had wide circulation, and while literary uses continued to be supported and appreciated, in daily interaction Scots was forcefully discouraged. Popular usage manuals singled out 'provincial' forms to avoid, and scholars only highlighted geographical specificity when it could be related to antiquity and supposedly greater purity (Dossena 2006). Such attitudes traced their roots back to the eighteenth century, around the time when Johnson's Dictionary was published in 1755. On the other hand, the specificity of Scottish culture and scenery made it a useful basis for the construction of an idealized territory of the sublime, where history and tradition could provide a framework for the creation of both familiar yet exotic identities. Particularly in the Scottish diaspora of the nineteenth century, the traits that both literary and non-literary works had highlighted would become the focus of several texts aiming to reconstruct an image of the past that could relate to the new and current one (see Dossena 2012a). In what follows the link between Johnson's Dictionary and this new image will be investigated, concentrating on a selection of lexical items that can be assumed to have acquired iconic status in the idealized representation of Scotland that gained momentum in Victorian times.


Despite the rather fierce critics that Johnson's Dictionary encountered in Scotland, its role in presenting an image of Scottish culture beyond prescriptive dicta and actually influencing later materials is well-worth analyzing. First of all, in Johnson's work about 200 'Scottish' items are specifically indicated (Dossena 2004), although dialectal variation is not discussed in his Plan of a Dictionary (1747) or in the Preface. Although his treatment of Scottish forms is not thorough and systematic, some interesting patterns appear to emerge: for instance, it is remarkable that 'Scotticism', the notoriously proscribing label of the times, never occurs, while the preservation of older forms is often indicated. In practice, Johnson appears to have had an encyclopaedic, antiquarian interest - an interest shown in his support of William Shaw's work on Scots Gaelic (see Curley 1987, Nagashima 1988: 22, and Dossena 2005: 78) and, perhaps even more famously, when in 1769 Johnson encouraged Boswell to compile a dictionary of Scotticisms, a project to which Boswell had given some thought since 1764 (Pottle 1952: 103-104). (2)

Nevertheless, Johnson's work was the target of many attacks: another satirical poem of Fergusson's, 'To the Principal and Professors of the University of St Andrews, on their superb treat to Dr Samuel Johnson', was in Scots, and alluded to the notorious entry on oats: "A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people". (3) James Adams was also very critical of Johnson, whom he called "the Cinic Scotomastic" (1799: 150) in his Vindication of the Scottish Dialect, where he recommended a list of Scots lexical items for adoption into English (Dossena 2005: 85-90), and attributed their semantic richness to the fact that Scots preserved "the Saxon original in spite of the attempts of the Norman invaders and tyrants" (1799: 148). On this point Johnson might in fact have been in agreement, given his complaint that "Our language, for almost a century, has, by the concurrence of many causes, been gradually departing from its original Teutonick character, and deviating towards a Gallick structure and phraseology" (1755: 11--see Dossena 2006). In scelerat, for instance, we recognize Johnson's typically negative attitude towards French borrowings: (4)

SCELERAT, n.s. [French; sceleratus, Latin.] A villain; a wicked wretch. A word introduced unnecessarily from the French by a Scottish author.

Scotland's low opinion of Johnson is probably due more to the items he included and which were either insults or had a negative connotation, such as lag, loon, scam bier, redshank, jilt, giglet, fren and drotchel. In addition, some entries were illustrated with quotations in which a disparaging attitude emerged, as in the case of dirk, in which two lines from Thomas Tickell's 'Imitation of the Prophecy of Nereus' provide a portrait of the stereotypical Highlander:

DIRK, n.s. [an Earse word.] A kind of dagger used in the Highlands of Scotland.

In vain thy hungry mountaineers / Come forth in all their warlike geers, / The shield, the pistol, dirk, and dagger, / In which they daily wont to swagger. Tickell.

On the other hand, the lack of references to Scotland in the definitions of highlander and bagpipe would seem to point to an attitude that goes beyond mere stereotypes. The semantic fields that can be identified around the entries selected for inclusion are also interesting in this respect. Around thirty are on specific features of Highland life and, though sometimes inaccurately, several etymologies or cognate forms are marked E(a)rse. Among such entries we find items referring to Highland weaponry and warfare, which may be related to the Jacobite fear that had spread across England only a short time before the Dictionary was actually started:

FIRECROSS, n.s.[fire and cross.] A token in Scotland for the nation to take arms: the ends thereof burnt black, and in some parts smeared with blood. It is carried like lightning from one place to another. Upon refusal to send it forward, or to rise, the last person who has it shoots the other dead.

MORGLAY, n.s. A deadly weapon. Ains. Glaive and morte, French, and glay mohr, Erse, a two-handed broad-sword, which some centuries ago was the highlander's weapon.

PORTGLAVE, n.s. [porter and glaive, Fr. and Erse.] A sword bearer. Ainsworth.

SKEAN, n.s. [Irish and Erse; sagene, Saxon.] A short sword; a knife.

As regards the entries on Highland dress, it may be interesting to note that --in the fourth edition of the Dictionary - one entry (caddis) was made more accurate, (5) while another (plaid) omitted the reference to the Act of Parliament that forbade the use of Highland garb, i.e. the Act of Proscription (19 Geo. II, ch. 39, sec. 17, 1746):

I CADDIS, n.s. 1. A kind of tape or ribbon. 2. A kind of worm or grub found in a case of straw.

IV CADDIS, n.s.[This word is used in Erse for the variegated cloaths of the Highlanders.]

I PLAID, n.s. A striped or variegated cloth; an outer loose weed worn much by the highlanders in Scotland: there is a particular kind worn too by the women; but both these modes seem now nearly extirpated among them; the one by act of parliament, and the other by adopting the English dresses of the sex.

IV PLAID, n.s. a striped or variegated cloth; an outer loose weed worn much by the highlanders in Scotland: there is a particular kind worn too by the women.

Still on rules and regulations, a fairly lengthy entry concerns a typical aspect of Scottish church life, the stool of repentance, the function and use of which is described in detail:

STOOL, n.s. [stols, Gothick; stol, Saxon; stoel, Dutch.] [...] 3. STOOL of Repentance, or cutty stool, in the kirks of Scotland, is somewhat analogous to the pillory. It is elevated above the congregation. In some places there may be a seat in it; but it is generally without, and the person stands therein who has been guilty of fornication, for three Sundays in the forenoon; and after sermon is called upon by name and surname, the beadle or kirk-officer bringing the offender, if refractory, forwards to his post; and then the preacher proceeds to admonition. Here too are set to publick view adulterers; only these are habited in a coarse canvas, analogous to a hairy or monastick vest, with a hood to it, which they call the sack or sackcloth, and that every Sunday throughout a year, or longer.

Awareness of Scotland's distinctive traits in relation to the church, education and the legal system (three aspects the specificity of which had been preserved after the 1707 Act of Union) also emerges in as many as 23 entries; in addition to kirk and laird we find humanist, humanity, laureation and lere, while in relation to the legal system we find deacon, holograph, incarcerate, and fabricate (quoted with a participial form in -ate, instead of -ated):

To FABRICATE, v.a. [fabricor, Latin.] To forge; to devise falsely. This sense is retained among the Scottish lawyers; for when they suspect a paper to be forged, they say it is fabricate.

There is also an entry marking the analogy between English and Scottish custom, i.e. the use of oyes:

OYES, n.s. [oyez, hear ye, French.] Is the introduction to any proclamation or advertisement given by the publick criers both in England and Scotland. It is thrice repeated.

The entries for algates, ever, eye, glitterand and sell, instead, focus on changing morphology and syntax:

ALGATES, adv.[from all and gate. Skinner. Gate is the same as via; and still used for way in the Scottish dialect.] On any terms; every way: now obsolete.

EVER, adv.[aefre, Saxon.] 8. EVER A. Any: [as ever y, that is, ever ich or ever each is each one, all.] This word is still retained in the Scottish dialect.

EYE, n.s. obsolete plural eyne, now eyes, [auga, Gothick; eag, Saxon; oog, Dutch; ee, Scottish, plur. eene.]

GLITTERAND, Shining; sparkling. A participle used by Chaucer and the old English poets. This participial termination is still retained in Scotland.

SELL, pronoun, [for self.] Sell is retained in Scotland for self and sells in the plural for selves.

As for an idealized picture of Scotland that was to develop in the nineteenth century, centred on scenery, wildlife, legends, and whisky, there are several entries: glen, loch and usquebaugh, but also warlock and second sight:

GLEN, n.s. [gleann, Erse.] A valley; a dale; a depression between two hills. (6)

LOCH, n.s. A lake. Scottish.

SECOND SIGHT, n.s. The power of seeing things future, or things distant: supposed inherent in some of the Scottish islanders.

As he was going out to steal a sheep, he was seised with a fit of second sight: the face of the country presented him with a wide prospect of new scenes, which he had never seen before. Addison's Freeholder. (7)

USQUEBAUGH, n.s. [An Irish and Erse word, which signifies the water of life.] It is a compounded distilled spirit, being drawn on aromaticks; and the Irish sort is particularly distinguished for its pleasant and mild flavour. The Highland sort is somewhat hotter; and, by corruption, in Scottish they call it whisky.

WARLUCK, n.s. [vardlookr, Islandick, a charm; werlog, Saxon, an evil spirit. This etymology was communicated by Mr. Wise.] A male witch; a wizzard. Warluck in Scotland is applied to a man whom the vulgar suppose to be conversant with spirits, as a woman who carries on the same commerce is called a witch: he is supposed to have the invulnerable quality which Dryden mentions, who did not understand the word.

He was no warluck, as the Scots commonly call such men, who they say are iron free or lead free. Dryden.

These entries occur alongside overt Scotticisms that are still acknowledged as such today (Aitken 1984: 105-108): it is the case of auld, bonny, and wee, but also of bannock. We even come across a Scots proverb and a dialectal phrase in the entries for leverook and luff:

LEVEROOK, n.s. [lafere, Saxon.] This word is retained in Scotland, and denotes the lark.

If the lufft faa 'twill smoore aw the leverooks. Scotch Prov.

LUFF, n.s. [in Scotland.] The palm of the hand; as, clap me arles in my luff.

Other instances of non-stigmatized entries are in baubee, blate, dornick,

to flit, gear and haggess, which is recognized as a characteristic element of Scottish cuisine:

HAGGESS, n.s. [from hog or hack.] A mass of meat, generally pork chopped, and inclosed in a membrane. In Scotland it is commonly made in a sheep's maw of the entrails of the same animal, cut small, with suet and spices.

Although Johnson claimed he was "not answerable for all the words in [his] Dictionary" (Boswell 1786/1996: 367), and indeed as many as five of his six amanuenses (Francis Stewart, Alexander Macbean, William Macbean, Robert Shiels and Mr Maitland) were Scots (Reddick 1990: 37), other sources (Reddick 1990: 191; 218) suggest that he did select the items which had been suggested. Importantly, his attention to specific aspects of Scottish life and culture anticipated what later works would make even more remarkable in the construction of a lasting image of Scotland.


3.1. John Jamieson

John Jamieson's Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language appeared in two volumes in 18088 (see Kidd 1993: 251, Dossena 2006 and 2008, and Rennie 2012b), and first identified the specificity of Scottish vocabulary in the legal register. In addition, he also stated that his work would "serve to mark the difference between words which may be called classical, and others merely colloquial; and between both of these, as far as they are proper, and such as belong to a still lower class, being mere corruptions, cant terms, or puerilities" (1808: ii). A few examples are the following:

ACTUAL, adj. An actual minister, or an actual man, a phrase still used by the vulgar to denote one who is in full orders as a minister of the gospel.

ADAM'S WINE, A cant phrase for water as a beverage, our first father being supposed to have known nothing more powerful.

BAPPER, s. A vulgar, ludicrous designation for a baker.

To CHEW, V. a. To stew, Lanarks.; a corrupt provincialism.

To HANDLE THE DUST, To receive money; a cant phrase, Kinross.

Jamieson's attention to social varieties of Scots was thus a turning point in the history of lexicography. As for explanations that relied on Boswell's or Johnson's works, Jamieson occasionally corrected the latter, as in the entries for up and whisky.

UP, adv. 1. Denoting the state of being open, "Set up the door," open the door. [...] 2. Used to denote the vacation of a court, or rising of a meeting of any kind. The Session is up, the Court of Session is not meeting at present, S. This phrase is also used by E. writers, although overlooked by Dr. Johnson.

WHISKY, s. A species of ardent spirits, distilled from malt, S. Dr. Johnson observes that Usquebaugh is "an Irish and Erse [Gael.] word, which signifies 'the water of life'." I know not how the learned lexicographer had adopted the idea of its "being drawn on aromatics," unless it had been from the occasional flavour of the peat-reek. Perhaps Dr. Johnson meant Bilters, a dram much used in the Highlands as a stomachic, made from an infusion of aromatic herbs and whisky.

Jamieson also gave attention to Highland dress, weaponry and fare:

CLAYMORE, s. 1. Used for a two-handed sword. 2. The common basket-hilted broad-sword worn by Highlanders, S. This has long been the appropriate signification.

KILT, Kelt, s. A loose dress worn by Highlanders, extending from the belly to the knee, in the form of a petticoat, S. Boswell.

GLENLIVAT, s. The name given to a very fine kind of Highland usquebaugh, from the northern district in which it is distilled, S. Glenlivet, Stat. Account.

SKEAN, Skein, Skene, s. A dirk; a short dagger; a knife which serves either for stabbing or carving.

SKREIGH, A cant term for usquebaugh, Loth.

As his dictionary deliberately set out to map the Scots language, such choices are not unpredictable. It is however interesting to see how definitions change and what traits are highlighted. In the abridged edition of 1818, for instance, second sight is not defined, to fabricate is offered in the definition of to skrift, while cutty stool is given a much shorter definition than in Johnson's Dictionary, presumably on the assumption that the envisaged audience would not require extensive explanations:

CUTTY-STOOL, s. [...] 2. The stool of repentance, S. V. Kittie. Sir J. Sinclair. From cutty, kittie, a light woman.

On the other hand, a more detailed definition is given of loch, though glen is not even listed as a separate entry:

LOCH, LOUCH, s. 1. A lake, S. Barbour. 2. An arm of the sea, S. Boswell. Isl. laug, Su. G. log, Ir. louch, C. B. Ihugh, a lake, id.; also Gael, loch, an arm of the sea.

Jamieson does not define firecross either; for dirk, he employs the older spelling durk, (9) and haggis occurs in the entry for jaudie ("1. The stomach of a hog, Roxb. 2. A pudding of oat-meal and hogs' lard, with onions and pepper, inclosed in a sow's stomach, Loth. S. A. Gl. Sibb"), but the specific entry is spelt differently:

HAGGIES, s. A dish commonly made in a sheep's maw, of its lungs, heart and liver, minced with suet, onions, salt and pepper; or of oat-meal, mixed with the latter, without any animal food, S. From hag, q. to chop. Dunbar

Spelling also differs in the case of leverook, as Jamieson uses laverok, lauerok ("The lark, S. often q. lerrik, larick. Complaynt S."). Clearly, these may appear to be fairly superficial differences; however, they are indicative of the greater accuracy witnessed in Jamieson's Dictionary in relation to Scottish items. Not only was his work more focussed and extensive, it was also addressed to a different audience, presumably much more informed concerning Scottish culture. Moreover, it set itself in the context of the controversies on the origins of Scots, which made the dictionary's philological approach much more relevant (see Dossena 2006). Finally, in the same years, the success of Sir Walter Scott's works were to contribute to yet another approach to Scotland's past, and by the time other dictionaries were published the cultural framework relating to it had changed again.

The fashionable search for the picturesque and the sublime, which had begun with the publication of Ossian's poems and peaked with the discovery of 'Fingal's Cave' in 1772, (10) would inspire artists, composers like Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, (11) and several imitators (Mitchell 1999: 160). Mendelssohn also met Sir Walter Scott, whose literary popularity was enhanced by his role in the rediscovery of the Scottish regalia in 1818 and in the organization of George IV's visit to Scotland in 1822, the first royal stay since James VII and II's one in 1681/82. Twenty years later Queen Victoria also 'discovered' the Highlands and helped establish a glamourised and romanticised idea of Highland life that certainly appealed to the wide southern public. Indeed, numerous travelogues were published throughout the nineteenth century, and continental commentators like Theodor Fontane actually referred to Scott's Rob Roy and The Fair Maid of Perth (1860/1989: 129, 159).

As for language, differences between English and Scots were typically seen as a source of puzzlement and indeed amusement for English visitors (Dossena 2005: ch. 6), often emphasizing the traits that hindered intelligibility between the two varieties. However, James Murray, editor of the New English Dictionary, challenged Jamieson's (and many others') view of Scots as a language, thus contributing to a controversy that still continues even today, and that may be expected to have had an impact on his treatment of Scottish entries.

3.2. James Murray

Today's OED includes as many as 1852 quotations from Jamieson's Dictionary, as opposed to 1180 from Johnson's Dictionary (though Johnson's other works account for another 3866 quotations). Among the entries in which Jamieson's Dictionary is quoted we find, for instance, birl: "v.2 [...] 3. trans. To cause anything to rotate rapidly; to spin (a coin in the air or on the table); [...]". He is also cited in the entries for the verb to gloam, for clash-clash (idle gossip), for werewolf in the sense of "A puny child or an ill-grown person of whatever age", and for fairy-hillocks, "verdant knolls [...] from the vulgar idea that these were anciently inhabited by the fairies, or that they used to dance there". However, the items that Johnson had labelled as specifically Scottish do not seem to be defined on the basis of what is found in Jamieson's work.

As for Johnson, his definition of scrambler as "a bold intruder upon one's generosity or table" follows four literary citations from the sixteenth century and an example from James Kelly's 1721 proverb collection. Other Scottish entries from Johnson's Dictionary are indirectly cited in quotations taken from his Journey to the Western Islands. This is the case, for instance, of taisch, for which Boswell is also quoted:

TAISCH [...] The phantom or apparition of a living person who is about to die; also, in more general sense, a phantom or vision of second sight. 1773 J. Boswell Jrnl. 7 Sept, in Jrnl. Tour Hebrides (1785) 180 Some women [...] said to him, they had heard two taiscks, (that is, two voices of persons about to die,) and what was remarkable, one of them was an English taisch, which they never heard before.

1775 Johnson Journey W. Islands 250 By the term Second sight, seems to be meant a mode of seeing, superadded to that which Nature generally bestows. In the Earse it is called Taisch; which signifies likewise a spectre, or a vision.

Johnson's Journey also contributes quotations for the definition of Kirk of Scotland, oar-song, and sennachie, for which the next quotation in the OED is taken from Scott's Chronicles of the Canongate:

SENNACHIE, n. [...] In Ireland and the Scottish Highlands: One professionally occupied in the study and transmission of traditional history, genealogy, and legend; now chiefly Sc. a Gaelic teller of legendary romances.

1775 Johnson Journey W. Islands 258. A great family had a Bard and a Senachi, who were the poet and historian of the house.

1827 Scott Highland Widow in Chron. Canongate 1st Ser. I. xi. 212. Her stores of legendary history [...] were augmented by an unusual acquaintance with the songs of ancient bards, and traditions of the most approved Seannachies and tellers of tales.

As a matter of fact, the OED identifies Scottish forms not only on account of their geographical specificity and of their rarity, but also of their literary and historical quality (see Dossena, submitted), thus highlighting the value of the Scottish literary tradition in the construction of a persistent image of Scots as a language (or perhaps as a variety) and of Scotland itself.

An overview of the sources employed in the OED shows that Sir Walter Scott actually ranks third, after The Times and Shakespeare, among the most frequently quoted sources; the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society and Encyclopedia Britannica rank fourth and fifth respectively. As for other Scottish authors, Gavin Douglas is in the 65th place, while Robert Bums is 120th. Jamieson is 242nd, preceded by Barbour (130th), Stevenson (135th) and Dunbar (138th). As for Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, which ranks 22nd, it has a total of 7663 quotations (about 0.24% of all OED quotations), and it is the top Scottish source as for quotations providing first evidence of a word (937) and quotations providing first evidence of a particular meaning (2359), though in the latter case it is immediately followed by Scott (2210). Among such entries we find encyclopaedic, first recorded in 1824, dashy, from 1822, and Byronic, from 1823; as for first instances of meaning, we have Americanize (1824), corporeal (1826), and galore (1848).

If we now focus again on items defined by Johnson as specifically Scottish, further remarks are in order. Kilt, for example, is illustrated with a quotation from the 1746 Act of Parliament to which Johnson had referred in the first edition of his dictionary, but without contextual elements explaining its purpose:

KILT, n. A part of the modern Highland dress, consisting of a skirt or petticoat reaching from the waist to the knee: it is usually made of tartan cloth, and is deeply plaited round the back and sides; hence, any similar article of dress worn in other countries.

1746 Act 19 & 21 Geo. II c. 39 [section] 17 The ... philebeg or little kilt.

Claymore, instead, is illustrated quoting both Boswell and Johnson, though not the latter's dictionary, and neither author is mentioned in the entries for fire-cross, cutty stool, fabricate and haggis:

CLAYMORE, n. a. Hist. The two-edged broadsword of the ancient Scottish Highlanders. Also (inexactly, but very commonly) the basket-hilted broadsword introduced in 16th c., which was frequently single-edged.(The claymore was not, except in extraordinary instances, two-handed.) [...]

1773 J. Boswell Jrnl. 15 Sept, in Jrnl. Tour Hebrides (1785) 255 The broad-sword now used..called the Glaymore, (i.e. the great sword). 1775 Johnson Journey W. Islands 264 Their arms were anciently the Glaymore, [etc.].

However, as we saw, Scottish authors appear to have given a considerable contribution to the OED, and it is well-known that the specificity of Scottish vocabulary also played an important part in the identification of American English, as in 1781 John Witherspoon (himself a graduate of the University of Edinburgh) had modelled his definition of "Americanism" on that of "Scotticism" (see the entry for the former in the OED). Scots vocabulary in American dictionaries is thus worth investigating, at least in very preliminary ways.

3.3. Noah Webster

Noah Webster's patriotic intentions in promoting spelling reforms, publishing a grammar and a reader, and finally compiling A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language (1806), were made explicit in the title of the expanded edition, An American Dictionary of the English Language, which appeared in 1828. As with Jamieson, geographical distribution and cultural specificity were seen to be sides of the same coin (see Dossena 2012a and 2012b). As in the case of the OED, no references to Scotland are made in the entry for fabricate-, nor is it mentioned in glen and even usquebaugh, while cutty stool and firecross are not listed at all; on the other hand, the specificity of Scots usage appears in the entries for loch, bagpipe, kilt, tartan, kirk, haggis and moss-trooper ("a marauder of the border country between England and Scotland")--a few examples are given below:

BAGPIPE, n. A musical instrument used in Scotland.

GLEN, n. A valley; a dale; a depression or space between hills.

KILT, n. A kind of short petticoat worn by the highlanders of Scotland.

KIRK, n. [...] 2. The established church in Scotland.

LOCH, n. A lake; a bay or arm of the sea; used in Scotland.

USQUEBAUGH, n. A compound distilled spirit. From this word, by corruption, we have whiskey. (12)

While it is of course predictable to find references to Scotland also in the entries for Erse and Gaelic, Highlander and Scotchman, the ways in which the entries for whig and yankee appear to differ in the 1828 and in the 1868 editions is quite interesting. As the century progresses, the link with Scotland is emphasized in the political connotation of the term whig, so that supporters of the American Revolution are offered a connection with Scottish Covenanters and their opposition to the English crown, while in the case of yankee the association is with an epithet which is not quite insulting--in fact, the Dictionary of the Scots Language (DSL) gives yanker as a derivative of yank: "a smart agile woman or man".


1828 [origin uncertain.] One of a political party which had its origin in England in the seventeenth century, in the reign of Charles I. or II., when great contests existed respecting the royal prerogatives and the rights of the people. Those who supported the king in his high claims, were called tories, and the advocates of popular rights were called whigs. During the revolution in the United States, the friends and supporters of the war and the principles of the revolution, were called whigs, and those who opposed them, were called tories and royalists.

1868 [From whig, whey, which the Scottish Covenanters used to drink, and hence a name given to them, or fr. Scot, whiggamore, one who drives horses, contr. to whig. In 1648, a party of these people marched to Edinburgh to oppose the king; hence the name was given to the party opposed to the court.] [...] 2. A friend and supporter of the American Revolution.


1828 A corrupt pronunciation of the word English by the native Indians of America.

1868 [Said to be a corrupt Ind. pron. of English, or of the Fr. Anglais. According to Dr. Wm. Gordon, it was a cant word in Cambridge, Mass., as early as 1713, meaning excellent. He supposes that it was at length taken up in other parts of the country, and applied to New Englanders generally, as a term of slight reproach. Cf. Scot, yankie, a sharp, clever, and rather bold woman.] A citizen of New England; also a citizen of the Northern States;--a cant name, applied by foreigners to all inhabitants of the United States.

Finally, in the 1868 edition an appendix of proverbs and sayings includes the famous Scottish motto Nemo me impune lacessit.

The reasons underpinning such choices would require to be investigated in much greater depth, which is of course beyond the scope of this study. What is certainly relevant is the possible connection existing between a certain perception of Scotland as a land where freedom and independence have always been valued, and an approach to lexicography whose mission was (also) patriotic.


Apart from Webster's militant view, the image of Scotland that was to become stereotypical on both sides of the Atlantic in the course of the nineteenth century is--as we saw above--greatly indebted to literary works. (13) This romanticized image was sometimes evoked in the diaries and correspondence of ordinary people; emigrants, in particular, employed literary references to create a setting in which common ground could be established with their readers (see Dossena 2008). Travelogues, pieces of journalism and literary criticism also contributed to the creation of a 'Scotland of the heart', with its traditions being re-forged in the Scottish diaspora even as they dwindled in the 'old country' for a variety of reasons: from the Clearances, to the Industrial Revolution, to the social and political changes that made Victorian times such a crucial step towards contemporaneity (see, for instance, Berthoff 1982, McGuirk 1997 and Dossena 2012b).

In this respect it may be worth investigating uses of specific lexical items in the Corpus of Modern Scottish Writing (CMSW), an electronic corpus of written and printed texts from the period 1700-1945, containing, co. 5.5 million words of text in over 350 documents overall. Excluding literary materials and focussing on nineteenth-century texts, we see that items that were singled out in dictionaries as markers of Scottish culture (kilt, haggis, glen, loch, dirk, claymore, tartan) do not occur in journalistic texts, in which Scotland itself only occurs 39 times in an article in Blackwood's Magazine (vol. 46, no. 289, of 1839), mostly in the collocation 'Church of Scotland'. In expository prose and personal writing, instead, the picture is somewhat different. This section comprises 852,374 words (i.e., 15.7% of the corpus), so it is much more representative than journalism, which accounts for 0.3% of the corpus. In addition to personal correspondence and diaries, it comprises travelogues, memoirs and autobiographies: i.e., documents in which subjective views are presented in such a way that they may be recognized, understood and shared by the readership.

In this group of texts it is immediately striking to see that claymore, that emblem of Highland warfare that had been so relevant for Johnson--both in his own dictionary and in the quotation employed by Murray--does not occur in any text--see Table 1 below. However, the eighteenth-century literary tradition is exemplified by references to Robert Bums in as many as eight texts: an indication that, by then, Bums had become a real symbol of Scottish poetry, both in Scotland and--even more importantly--in the diaspora (McGuirk 2007).

Other indicators of diatopic specificity are of course placenames, in which Loch and Glen occur as elements of fixed collocations; however, they also occur in descriptions that are clearly evocative of the picturesque Highland settings so popular with the reading public of the time:

A review of your native mountains, of their heights of grey sublimity, and their dark woody glens would now inspire you with more noble enthusiasm than all the [...] classic shores of Greece.

(CMSW, Letter from Hogg to Byron, 14.08.1814)

Days might be pleasantly spent in exploring the sequestered glens, the grottos, and hanging grounds, alternately covered with woods and cultivation, which either retire in shades, or meet the eye in this favoured spot.

(CMSW, Elizabeth Isabella Spence, Letters from the North Highlands, 1816)

A sheep path running along by the side of the burn which fed these picturesque small lochs was a favourite walk of aunt Mary's [...]; many lochs of various sizes spread their tranquil waters here and there in lonely beauty.

(CMSW, Elizabeth Grant, Memoirs of a Highland Lady, 1898)

Two ladies' travelogues also comment on clothes, again stressing the most 'picturesque' traits:

Great numbers of the common people, clad in bright and shewy tartan, their usual dress of ceremony, [...]. The women, [...], not ungracefully habited in the old Scottish costume, the most distinguished part of which was the plaid, so adjusted, as to have exactly the appearance, when drawn over the head, of the drapery of the vistal virgins, such as we see on medals and ancient statues. Ladies wore them in silk of a tartan pattern, lined with pink in front, and sometimes brought forward, to veil the face from the weather;

(CMSW, Elizabeth Isabella Spence, Letters from the North Highlands, 1816)

Old grey-haired rough-visaged men that had known my grandfather and great-grandfather, black, red, and fair hair, belonging to such as were in the prime of life, younger men, lads, boys--all in the tartan. The plaid as a wrap, the plaid as a drapery, with kilt to match on some, blue trews on others, blue jackets on all. The women were plaided too, an outside shawl was seen on none, though the wives wore a large handkerchief under the plaid, and looked picturesquely matronly in their very high white caps.

(CMSW, Elizabeth Grant, Memoirs of a Highland Lady, 1898)

As for references to the authors that nineteenth-century readers considered real emblems of Scottish literature, Robert Burns and Walter Scott, they frequently feature in contexts that emphasize their importance in this respect: Burns, for example, is cited in this light in three works written by women (Elizabeth Isabella Spence, Letters from the North Highlands, 1816; Elizabeth Grant, Memoirs of a Highland Lady, 1898; and Margaret Oliphant's Annals of a Publishing House, 1897), and in James Nasmyth's Autobiographical Account (1850). In addition, reference to his "powerful poetical genius" is made in Sir Walter Scott's Manuscript Review of Lord Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage III and The Prisoner of Chillon, of 1830.

Burns appears to have been more captivated with this spot, than any other object that met his view during his northern tour. The steep and rugged aspect of the everlasting barriers which frown over this stream, whose rough music, like his own, will be heard whilst time endures, seemed to be congenial to his daring genius, and the sublime melancholy which was the native habit of his mind. Those flashes of humour, which occasionally threw a vivid brightness across the gloom, were mere temporary sallies, of what, to a close observer, served only to make the darkness more visible. His imagination appears to have luxuriated among those deep recesses, resounding waters, and rocky barriers.

(CMSW, Elizabeth Isabella Spence, Letters from the North Highlands, 1816)

Burns was so impressed with the beauty of the morning that he put his hand on my fathers arm and said. Nasmyth it'l never do to go to bed in such a lively morning as this! let's away and walk out to Roslin Castle [...] and on reaching Roslin they went down under the grand Norman arch of the castle where Burns stood rapt in admiration of the scene. (CMSW, James Nasmyth's Autobiographical Account, 1850)

Scott is cited much more frequently, first of all in James Hogg's letters, but it is striking to see the references found in Zacharias Collin's Essay on the Scoto-English Dialect (1862) and in David Livingstone's Missionary Travels (1866), where Scott's prose is presented as a benchmark of Scottish eloquence and as a repository of Scottish lore.

the instinctive feeling of the Gael, that he once will be altogether driven out of his territory by the "Sassenach', his inveterate hatred to the latter, so admirably painted by Sir WALTER SCOTT in the Lady of the Lake and Waverley, and often alluded to by the old writers, leads its origin. (CMSW, Zacharias Collin's Essay on the Scoto-English Dialect (1862)

my grandfather was a small farmer in Ulva, where my father was born. It is one of that cluster of the Hebrides thus described by Walter Scott

"And Ulva dark and Colonsay

"And all the group of islets gay

"That guard famed Staffa round."

My grandfather who was intimately acquainted with all the traditionary tales which that great poet has since made use of in the "Tales of a grandfather" and other works, long before their publication, I remember listening to with delight as a boy.

(CMSW, David Livingstone's Missionary Travels 1866)

Readers were clearly expected to be familiar with these literary references, for which no further explanation was assumed to be required, and which could thus form significant common ground.


Twenty-five years after Murison's overview (1987), scholars are taking stock of the history of Scottish lexicography: Dareau & Macleod (2009) and Macleod & McClure (2012), for instance, provide an account of the main stages in this field, summarizing the shift from descriptive to prescriptive and then back to descriptive approaches. This, however, may be fruitfully supplemented with an investigation of the relationship between dictionaries and the cultural framework in which they were planned, organized and published. As I have attempted to show, the selection of items, quotations illustrating them, and changes between editions may be indicative of the approach taken by lexicographers in relation to the object of their definitions. Far from being neutral, such choices are in fact a function of the culture of the times. This very strong relationship with an overall approach to culture is evident in the ways in which literary texts and authors play a very significant role in the definition of lexical items or indeed in their implicit use, in the assumption that readers will understand and share the intertextual reference. Vocabulary thus becomes an invaluable marker of shared identity, when individual items function as tokens of the image being conveyed and mutually constructed, regardless of geographical or temporal distance.


Primary sources

Adams, James. 1799. The Pronunciation of the English Language. Edinburgh: printed for the author by J. Moir.

Boswell, James. 1786. The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides. In Ian MacGowan (ed.) 1996. Journey to the Hebrides. Edinburgh: Canongate, 147-486.

Corpus of Modern Scottish Writing (CMSW), (accessed May 2013).

Dictionary of the Scots Language (DSL), (accessed May 2013).

Fontane, Theodor. 1860/1989. Jenseit des Tweed. Bilder und Briefe aus Schottland. Frankfurt a. M.: Insel.

Jamieson, John. 1808. An Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language [...] to which is prefixed A Dissertation on the Origin of the Scottish Language. Edinburgh: printed at the University Press for W. Creech, A. Constable, and W. Blackwood.

Johnson, Samuel. 1755. A Dictionary' of the English Language. London: printed by W. Strahan, for J. and P. Knapton.

Johnson, Samuel. 1775. A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland. In Ian MacGowan (ed.) 1996. Journey to the Hebrides. Edinburgh: Canongate, 3-145.

Murray, James A. H. 1884-. The New English Dictionary on Historical Principles. Oxford: Clarendon.

Webster, Noah. 1828. An American Dictionary of the English Language. New York: Converse.

Secondary sources

Aitken, Adam Jack. 1984. 'Scottish Accents and Dialects'. In Peter Trudgill (ed.), Language in the British Isles. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 94-114.

Berthoff, Rowland. 1982. 'Under the Kilt: Variations on the Scottish-American Ground'. Journal of American Ethnic History 1 (2): 5-34.

Boulton, James T. (ed.) 1971/1995. Samuel Johnson: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge.

Brown, Rhona. 2012. Robert Fergusson and the Scottish Periodical Press. Farnham: Ashgate.

Bray, Elizabeth. 1986/1996. The Discovery of the Hebrides: Voyages to the Western Isles 1745-1883. Glasgow: Collins; Edinburgh: Birlinn.

Curley, Thomas M. 1987. 'Johnson's Last Word on Ossian: Ghostwriting for William Shaw'. In Jennifer J. Carter and Joan H. Pittock (eds). Aberdeen and the Enlightenment. Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 375-131.

Dareau, Margaret G. and Iseabail Macleod. 2009. 'Dictionaries of Scots'. In A. P. Cowie (ed.). The Oxford History of English Lexicography. Volume I: Oxford: Oxford University Press, 302-325.

Dossena, Marina. 2004. 'Scotticisms in Johnson's Dictionary. A Lexicographer's Perceptions of a Sociolinguistic Change in Progress'. In Ermanno Barisone, Luisa Maggioni and Paola Tomaghi (eds). The History of English and the Dynamics of Power. Alessandria: Dell'Orso, 137-153.

Dossena, Marina. 2005. Scotticisms in Grammar and Vocabulary. Edinburgh: John Donald (Birlinn).

Dossena, Marina. 2006. "'The Cinic Scotomastic"?: Johnson, his Commentators, Scots, French, and the Story of English'. Textus, 19(1), Special issue on Samuel Johnson's Dictionary and the Eighteenth-century World of Words, a cura di Giovanni Iamartino e Robert DeMaria, 51-68.

Dossena, Marina. 2008. "'Many strange and peculiar affairs": Description, Narration and Evaluation in Scottish Emigrants' Letters of the Nineteenth Century'. Scottish Language 27: 1-18.

Dossena, Marina. 2012a. 'Late Modern English--Semantics and Lexicon'. In Alexander Bergs and Laurel Brinton (eds). HSK 34.1--English Historical Linguistics - An International Handbook. Berlin: De Gruyter, vol. 1, 887-900.

Dossena, Marina. 2012b. "'A highly poetical language"? Scots, Burns, Patriotism and Evaluative Language in Nineteenth-century Literary Reviews and Articles'. In Carol Percy and Mary Catherine Davidson (eds). The Languages of Nation: Attitudes and Norms. Bristol: Multilingual Matters, 99-119.

Dossena, Marina, submitted. 'The Lexicography of Scots at the Intersection of Monolingual and Bilingual Dictionaries'. In Massimo Sturiale et al. (eds). Norm and Usage in Bilingual Lexicography: 16th-21st Century.

Hudson, V.B. 1946. 'Johnson and the Scots'. The Times Literary Supplement, 13 April 1946.

Kidd, Colin. 1993. Subverting Scotland's Past: Scottish Whig Historians and the Creation of an Anglo-British Identity, 1689-c. 1830. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Macleod, Iseabail and J. Derrick McClure (eds). 2012. Scotland in Definition: A History of Scottish Dictionaries. Edinburgh: John Donald (Birlinn).

McGuirk, Carol. 1997. 'Haunted by Authority: Nineteenth-century American Constructions of Robert Burns and Scotland'. In Robert Crawford (ed.) Robert Burns and Cultural Authority. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 136-158.

McGuirk, Carol. 2007. 'The Crone, the Prince, and the Exiled Heart: Burns's Highlands and Burns's Scotland'. Studies in Scottish Literature 35-36: 184-201.

McKim, Anne. 2010. "'Wild Men" and "Wild Notions": Challenging Prejudices about Scotland in Early Eighteenth-Century Travel Writing'. In J. Derrick McClure, Karoline Szatek-Tudor and Rosa E. Penna (eds) "What Countrey's This? And Whither Are We Gone? ": Papers presented at the Twelfth International Conference on the Literature of Region and Nation (Aberdeen University, 30th July-2nd August 2008). Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 118-134.

Mitchell, Sebastian. 1999. 'James Macpherson's Ossian and the Empire of Sentiment'. British Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies 22 (2): 155-171.

Murison, David, 1987. 'Scottish Lexicography'. In Caroline Macafee and Iseabail Macleod (eds). The Nuttis Schell: Essays on the Scots Language presented to A. J. Aitken. Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 17-24.

Nagashima, Daisuke. 1988. Johnson the Philologist. Osaka: Kansai University of Foreign Studies.

Pottle, Frederick A. (ed.) 1952. Boswell in Holland, 1763-1764. London: Heinemann.

Reddick, Allen. 1990. The Making of Johnson's Dictionary 1746-1773. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rennie, Susan. 2011. 'Boswell's Scottish Dictionary Rediscovered.' Dictionaries: Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America 32: 94-110.

Rennie, Susan. 2012a. 'Boswell's Dictionary Update'. Dictionaries: Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America 33: 205-207.

Rennie, Susan. 2012b. Jamieson's Dictionary of Scots: The Story of the First Historical Dictionary of the Scots Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wimsatt, William K. 1946. 'Johnson and Scots'. The Times Literary Supplement, 9 March 1946.

University of Bergamo


(1) An earlier version of this article was presented at a round table within the Eighteenth-Century Scottish Studies Society Joint Conference with the International Adam Smith Society (Scotland, Europe and Empire in the Age of Adam Smith and Beyond, University of Paris, Sorbonne, 3-6 July 2013). I am grateful to Susan Rennie and Iseabail Macleod, who also contributed to the round table, and to the Editor and anonymous referees of Scottish Language, for their useful comments. Any remaining shortcomings are my sole responsibility.

(2) Boswell's materials were recently rediscovered in Oxford: see Rennie (2011 and 2012a).

(3) This is often quoted as the epitome of Johnsonian antipathy for Scottish lifestyle and vocabulary; however, in Boswell's account of his tour of Scotland with Johnson this entry is referred to as "a joke" (Boswell 1786/1996: 395; Dossena 2004).

(4) See also the Preface to the dictionary, where the blame is put on "translators, whose idleness and ignorance, if it be suffered to proceed, will reduce us to babble a dialect of France."

(5) Also in the case of roe, humanist and humanity the fourth edition is more accurate in terms of their diatopic specificity. Other entries that were revised and made more exact were lere, to atone, fren, and to reck. While glead ("a buzzard hawk; a kite. It retains that name in Scotland") was omitted in the fourth edition, this included two items that had not featured in the first one: FAND. for found. It is retained in Scotland. PENNER. n.s. [from pen.] 1. A writer. 2. A pencase. [...]. So it is called in Scotland.

(6) The geographical specificity of the lexical item is mentioned in a letter to Mrs Thrale of 21.09.1773: "About noon we came to a small glen, so they call a valley". (OED, glen, s.v.)

(7) As in the case of dirk, the disparaging comment is in the quotation, not the definition (see also Wimsatt 1946 and Hudson 1946).

(8) A Supplement of two further volumes was published in 1825, then an edition in two volumes appeared in 1840; a four-volume edition was issued with additions in 1879-1882 and another Supplement was released in 1887.

(9) Also Webster used the older spelling in the explanation, but not in the headword --see below.

(10) Joseph Banks immediately commented on his discovery saying that "There is a cave [...] which the natives call the Cave of Fingal". This was probably a misunderstanding, but it met the public's expectations: Bray (1986/1996: 97) even suggests that this may have played a part in Johnson's decision to visit Scotland the following year.

(11) Mendelssohn visited Scotland in the summer of 1829 and his correspondence is rich in poetic accounts of his experience: in a letter from the Hebrides he even noted down the opening bars of the Overture also known as Fingal's Cave, first performed in London in 1832. He then dedicated his Symphony No. 3 in A Minor-Major, or Scottish Symphony, to Queen Victoria, who also visited Staffa in 1847.

(12) Note the distinctive spelling adopted by Webster. His American dictionary appears to have contributed as many as 1451 quotations to the OED: 427 for first evidence of a word (e.g., conversationism), and 957 for first evidence of sense (e.g., crucible).

(13) On comments in earlier travel narratives see McKim (2010).
Table 1: Instances of selected items in CMSW.

Item                          Occurrences   No. of texts

Loch (including placenames)       106            5
Glen (including placenames)       59             8
Glens                             17             4
Tartan                            16             3
Lochs                             11             2
Kilt                               6             2
Haggis                             2             2
Claymore                           0             0
COPYRIGHT 2012 Association for Scottish Literary Studies
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2012 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Dossena, Marina
Publication:Scottish Language
Date:Jan 1, 2012
Previous Article:Brose, Atholl Brose, Spurtle and Thivel.
Next Article:An examination of the use of language in three intercultural team projects in a Scottish university.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters