USEFUL SCOTS WORDS.

Betty Kirkpatrick, “the former editor of several classic reference books, including Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus,” is doing a nice series of “Useful Scots words” for the Caledonian Mercury; they don’t seem to have a convenient group URL, but you can do pretty well with a site search on her name. Here, for instance, is her March 27 piece on boorach:

Boorach means mess, a state of great untidiness or confusion – like guddle but more so.
A good example of a boorach is the kitchen of an enthusiastic but disorganised cook who leaves the kitchen sink and cooker hob piled high with every single pan and utensil in the place and the worktops a sea of half-spilt packets and bottles and dirty plates. A boorach can also be applied to a scheme, often one involving several people, that might have started out as well-intentioned but got horribly complicated and ended up in an almighty muddle. Several official schemes turn out to be boorachs…
As is the case with many Scots words, boorach has several alternative forms, including bourach. The ch is, of course, pronounced in the same way as the ch of loch. I had always assumed that the word was Gaelic in origin and was associated with the Gaelic word burach, to dig up. However, I see that an Old English connection has been suggested.
Before it came to mean a shambles, it meant a mound or a heap of something, such as stones or peat. Then it came to mean a crowd or group. It also took on the meaning of a particularly humble dwelling house and developed into a play house, often of sand, built by children. It has had an eventful life.
The word boorach was very familiar to me when I was a child, but I have not heard it for a long time. I hope it is still alive and well.

I like that combination of the personal and the lexicographical. Thanks, Huw!

Comments

  1. John Emerson says:

    I have a hundred different words for boorach..

  2. I have often curled up of late with my copy of The Concise Scots Dictionary. It really does make for intoxicating reading. I often wish for more resources for the full-fledged learning of the Scots language.

  3. Here’s a link to the tag associated with all the Scots Word posts.
    http://caledonianmercury.com/tag/useful-scots-word

  4. dearieme says:

    I wouldn’t use “guddle” of the mess on a desk. I’d more likely refer to it as a midden. Or even a stramash. I have heard people say “guddle” of an act of incompetence or clumsiness – say, dropping a catch – but I’d be more likely to say that someone maffled a catch. I’d reserve “guddling” for searching with your hands underwater, and specifically for hand-catching trout. I’ve never heard “boorach” at all.

  5. David Lindley says:

    My father, who grew up in Derbyshire and had no Scots connections that I know of, would use ‘guddle’ to mean hunting around for something in water, as when you had dropped the soap in the bath or a coin in a muddy puddle. I can’t say precisely what the word means, but it definitely had an aqueous connotation, with a strong hint of opacity.

  6. “Boorach” and “bourach” remind me of Eng. barrow (mound) and burrow (foxhole), and also of Ger. Berg (pile, mountain) and bergen (recover [from the earth or mountain], rescue [from any situation of distress]). Kirkpatrick makes the following teasingly vague remark:

    I had always assumed that the word [boorach] was Gaelic in origin and was associated with the Gaelic word burach, to dig up. However, I see that an Old English connection has been suggested.

    What gives ?

  7. “I’d reserve “guddling” for searching with your hands underwater, and specifically for hand-catching trout. ”
    In the Midwest there is a term “noodlin” for fishing for catfish that way. Any trout slow enough to be caught that way would hardly be worth eating. There should be some term for darting your hand into water too fast to see the movement.
    “”Boorach” and “bourach” remind me of Eng. barrow (mound) and burrow (foxhole), and also of Ger. Berg (pile, mountain) and bergen (recover [from the earth or mountain], rescue [from any situation of distress]).”
    Then there has been a semantic shift from an organized structure like a barrow or a mountain to an unorganized heap. I don’t think the word has anything to do with ‘burrow’ since that is also a verb that means to dig a burrow.

  8. dearieme says:

    “Any trout slow enough to be caught that way would hardly be worth eating.” Experience dictates otherwise.

  9. Charles Perry says:

    I once found a wonderful word in a dictionary of Orkney dialect: “to sneester,” meaning to chuckle quietly to oneself.

  10. Then there has been a semantic shift from an organized structure like a barrow or a mountain to an unorganized heap.
    Not according to Kirkpatrick (but that’s my only source of quasi-info about this matter):

    Boorach has several meanings. Before it came to mean a shambles, it meant a mound or a heap of something, such as stones or peat. Then it came to mean a crowd or group. It also took on the meaning of a particularly humble dwelling house and developed into a play house, often of sand, built by children. It has had an eventful life.

    To my way of thinking, “shambles” = “a heap of something” + “Not a Good Thing”.
    There’s nothing particularly organized about either a barrow or a mountain (Berg). According to the OED on barrow:

    1. A mountain, mount, hill, or hillock. (Applied, as the date becomes later, to lower eminences.)
    3. A mound of earth or stones erected in early times over a grave; a grave-mound, a tumulus.
    4. dial. A mound or heap.

    But all this says nothing one way or the other about possible etymological connections. I was jes’ askin’.

  11. “Any trout slow enough to be caught that way would hardly be worth eating.”
    What absolute rubbish. It’s called trout tickling in England. We used to catch them in the Round Pond for lunch.

  12. My autobiography would be I, a Boorach, but I’m too disorganised to ever write one.

  13. John Emerson says:

    In Missouri they catch 50 lb. catfish by hand. They actuall jam their arms down the fish’s throat. You’d want to know how toothy they were before doing that.

  14. “What absolute rubbish. It’s called trout tickling in England.”
    What rubbish. Trout slow enough to be caught like that taste like mud.
    “We used to catch them in the Round Pond for lunch.”
    Pond? Pond? I rest my case. Are you sure they weren’t carp? No appreciable difference probably – fish taste like the water they live in.
    The Atsuge lady who used to lecture at Mt. Lassen National Park said her relatives could catch trout by hand, but she was never fast enough. There certainly was no tickling involved.
    John, the TV show “Dirty Jobs” featured that kind of thing. A boss of mine grew up in Iowa and had a story about an uncle of his using his car to pull catfish, much bigger than 50 lbs, out of creek – he’d lash a line to the bumper and then slip some kind of hook up into the gills. I don’t think that species of catfish has particularly big teeth.

  15. Grumbly Stu,
    MacBain’s Etymological Dictionary (1911 edition) has
    bùrach
    turning up of the earth, digging; from the Scottish bourie, English burrow. The Scottish bourach, enclosure, cluster, knoll, heap, etc., is the English bower.
    http://www.ceantar.org/Dicts/MB2/mb06.html
    The (addictive) Dictionary of the Scottish Language has this on bourie:
    [May be a reduced form of burrow, or a dim. of Bour, n., 1, with extended application.]
    and the following on the etymology of bour:
    [O.Sc. bour, bowr, an inner apartment, a lady’s private apartment; a bower of foliage (D.O.S.T.). O.E. būr, dwelling, from būan, to dwell; O.N. būr.]

  16. Bathrobe says:

    Are there any Scots here who know or use the word “kundie”, which I was told is a little bridge (perhaps makeshift) over a creek or gully (the latter two used in their Australian sense)?

  17. the word “kundie”
    Dictionary of the Scots language:

    CUNDY, CONDY, Cundie, Kundie, Condie: 1 A covered drain, a sewer or the entrance to a drain †2. A passage of the body; a vein. . 3.“Sometimes used to denote a grate, or rather the hole covered by a grate, for receiving dirty water, that it may be conveyed into the common shore [sewer]” 4.“A hole in a stone wall, for the passage of sheep” 5.“An apartment, a place for lodging; more strictly a concealed hole” 6. Mining: (1) the unfilled space between the pack walls after the coal has been removed (2) “in steep long-wall workings, a narrow roadway without rails, down which mineral is rolled to be loaded into hutches at the bottom; a small roadway or aircourse”

    Scots-Online dictionary:

    cundy: n. A covered drain, a sewer or the entrance to a drain. A conduit.

  18. Boorach
    Any relation to Hebrew “baraka”?

  19. Bathrobe in Ulaanbaatar says:

    Thank you Nijma, well found!

  20. We used to put tadpoles in the Round Pond, but I don’t know where you heard that it was a good place to catch trout or goldfish. Ridiculous, have you ever seen the Round Pond?

  21. Any relation to Hebrew “baraka”?
    No.

  22. @ Z. D. Smith – http://www.dsl.ac.uk/dsl/ – Dictionary of the Scots Language (DSL)
    The article on “Skelf” is untagged, so is missed unless you search for the writer’s name. I’ve emailed Stewart there to let him know.

  23. I would have thought the coinage of “archboorach”/”archbourach” to be inevitable, but there are no results on Google.

  24. “Before it came to mean a shambles…” To me the most interesting fact here is that neither Kirkpatrick nor at least one of the commenters would seem to have the vaguest idea what a “shambles” is. Of course, “boorach” could never properly come to mean “a shambles”.

  25. G.W.P.: A shambles has been a mess, per the OED2, since at least 1926; the earlier senses ‘slaughterhouse’ and ‘scene of blood’ may or may not still be current; there are several older senses.

  26. Exactly, JC. Of course, while most of the English speakers in the world do not remember what “a shambles” actually is, it might be worthy of clarification when students of the language-group do not remember. The worst result of this kind of inadvertant mixing and matching that I ever heard was when a conservative political commentor once averred, during a television presentation, that he “had no wish to denigrate the black race”.

  27. How curious that this word is so similar to the Russian word – “bardak” – meaning the same thing. Of course this is likely coincidence, and I’ve always heard that “bardak” comes from Turkish or Azeri, but who knows? Perhaps a visiting Russian overheard it in Aberdeen, and liked it enough to use it at home, but couldn’t quite get the pronunciation right.

  28. I’m afraid the Russian word is from Turkish bardak ‘cup, goblet.’ But I hope that Russian had a good time in Aberdeen.

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