I was reading Patrick Wright’s LRB review of Hamish Henderson: A Biography, by Timothy Neat (a two-volume biography of a modern poet! ah, Scotland!) when I was struck by this sentence: “He became a passionate song hunter whose research tools included a Rudge 500cc motorbike, a tent, innumerable bottles and a habit of testing the ‘human will’ of his compatriots by ‘doing a Henderson’: a method of sponging that prompted one victim into reviving an obsolete Scots word – ‘to sorn’ was ‘to come for supper and lodge for a month’.” What an excellent word, thought I, and consulted the Dictionary of the Scots Language, where I found more:
I. v. 1. intr. To exact free board and lodging by force or threats, to act as a masterful beggar, to beg importunately (Sc. 1808 Jam.). Now hist. Freq. in phr. to thig and sorn, id. See Thig, v., 4. (1). Vbl.n. sorning, the act or process of exacting free lodging …. Deriv. sor(o)ner, a masterful beggar, a begging vagrant ….
*Bnff. 1700 S.C. Misc. (1846) III. 178:
The Sheriff Deput finds the libell relevant, as declairing them to be holdin, known, and reput to be Egyptians, soroners and vagabonds.
*Lnk. 1718 Minutes J.P.s (S.H.S.) 226:
Robert Scot and John Ker, passing under the name of tinkers was found sorning in the high country.
*Arg. 1721 Stent Bk. Islay (1890) 274:
The frequent Thigging and Sorning of many people both from the Main land Countrey and also the Inhabitants of this Isle.
*Sc. c.1750 T. Somerville Life (1861) 369:
“Sorners”, who, though the name survives, have no modern representatives — persons destitute of a fixed home, and possessing slender means of subsistence, who used to lodge by turns, and for many days, or even weeks, at a time, at the houses of their acquaintances, and were treated with as much attention and generosity as if they had been capable of making a return in kind.
. . .
2. tr. with (up)on or absol.: to scrounge or wheedle free quarters (from), to sponge, abuse or trespass on one’s hospitality, to get a meal out of someone, to act the parasite, to batten on …. Derivs. sorner, a sponger, a self-invited guest, a parasite (Ib.), jocularly: a young scamp, rascal, ¶sornee, one who is looked to for hospitality, sorning, wheedling, sponging.
*Sc. 1725 Ramsay Gentle Shep. iii. iv.:
He gangs about sornan frae place to place.
*Mry. 1740 Elchies Letters (MacWilliam) 123:
Giving both Mrs Grant and you trouble enough without going to sorn upon you.
*Sc. 1797 Scott Letters (Cent. Ed.) I. 86:
As from being a sorner I am becoming a sornee, it is proper to acquaint you that my dwelling is No. 50 Georges Street.
. . .
*Bwk. 1862 J. G. Smith Poems 83:
There were crumpy farles o’ cake an’ souple scones to spare For a’ the gaberlunzies, wha often sornit there.
. . .
*Kcb. 1911 G. M. Gordon Auld Clay Biggin’ 90:
Keepin’ open hoose, aye fillin’ it wi’ quality folk wha sorned upo’ him.
*Sc. 1947 Scots Review (May) 25:
The temptation to sorn on America is almost too strong to be resisted.
3. To scrounge (food), to forage. to feed on (Cai., Ags. 1971).
*Ayr. 1824 A. Crawford Tales of My Grandmother 275:
[He] brak’ into the kail-yard, an’ sorned there for the maist feck o’ twa hours, to the utter destruction o’ the fruit on my three airn-gray groset busses.
*Sc. 1879 P. H. Waddell Isaiah lxi. 6:
Ye sal sorn on the walth o’ the hethen.
*Ayr. 1913 J. Service Memorables 24:
They had either to tether the beasts or let them sorn for their meat.
. . .
[O.Sc. sorryn, night’s lodging, 1365, sorn, = 1., c.1460, = 2., 1575, sorner, 1449, an adaptation of the now only hist. sorren, the service of hospitality required of vassals towards their superiors in Ireland and Scotland, Ir. †sorthan, free quarters, living at free expense.]
I like the word itself a lot, and I like the phrase “to thig and sorn” even more. And once again I am struck with what a great language Scots is for translating; “Ye sal sorn on the walth o’ the hethen” is so much more expressive than “ye shall eat the riches of the Gentiles.”