Scandinavian Scots

by Panu Petteri Höglund, phoglund at Åbo Akademi University (abo dot fi)

Being more than half a Scandinavian myself, I have always taken a keen interest in the Scandinavian influence upon Scots. Seeing that Scots usually want to be informed about where their peculiar words come from, but have little access to Scandinavian languages, I decided to compile a short list of Scandinavian cognates of well-known Scots words.

ayeways "always". The initial aye- is probably related to the Old Icelandic ei or ey meaning "always". Even in Modern Icelandic, it is no longer used as an independenr vocabulary item (as it is pronounced similarly to ei "not", itself a literary word which is less common than its synonyms eigi and ekki); it only survives in the compound word eilífur "eternal".

bairn "child". This is one of the most obviously Scandinavian words in Scots, with a cognate - barn - used in practically all Nordic languages.

birk "birch" - compare Swedish björk and Icelandic birkistré.

blaeberry "whortleberry" - compare Swedish blåbär with the same meaning.

corbie "raven". Although a French/Latin etymology is suggested, it is interesting to note that Swedish uses korp (subsequently adopted into Finnish as korppi). However, Icelandic has hrafn, obviously related to the English word, and there is probably no real reason to suppose that Scots and Swedish could not have borrowed the word from Latin/Romance independently.

fey "fated to die" is the same word and has the same meaning as the Icelandic feigur. The Swedish cognate feg means "cowardly" - a natural shift of meaning, but in this particular case not innate to Swedish, but triggered by Low German influence; even Modern Standard German feige means "cowardly".

firth "inlet". Related to Swedish and Norwegian fjord as well as Icelandic fjörður.

flyte "to scold". The Icelandic verb flytja has a cluster of meanings, but one of them is "to recite, to perform".

gar "to make". Obviously related to the Swedish göra, the Icelandic gera, gjöra.

gawk "cuckoo". Related to the Swedish gök, Icelandic gaukur.

graip "gardening fork". This one is related to the Swedish grepe.

graith "tools, equipment". This might be related to the Icelandic greiða, which means both "to pay" (in the sense of tangibly handing over the money for the object you are buying) and "to comb (hair), to put in order". Swedish, on the other hand, has the colloquial plurale tantum grejer "things, tools", but this word does not look very ancient, and I tend to assume it is a borrowing in Swedish.

greet "to cry". In Swedish, gråta, in Icelandic, gráta. The choice of the vowel might be explained by the fact that the past tense singular is grét in Icelandic.

hamesucken "breach of domestic peace" looks rather similar to the Icelandic word for "visit", heimsókn. Related words in Swedish and German have much more negative meanings.

hoast "cough". As far as I know, the Scots word need not be a loan-word from Scandinavian (Swedish hosta, Icelandic hósti) - it can as well be the survival of the common Germanic word, Husten in Standard German.

ken "to know", Swedish känna, German kennen. Even here, I tend to assume that Scots has rather retained an old Germanic word than borrowed from Scandinavian, as the Icelandic kenna, although it can mean "to recognise" (more commonly with the idiom bera kennsl á, which includes a relates noun) is more often used for "to teach" and "to accuse". The normal verb for "to know" in Icelandic is þekkja.

kirk "church". Swedish kyrka, Icelandic kirkja, borrowed into Finnish as kirkko. All words (even the Southern English church) are ultimately of Greek origin. The German Kirche is obviously related.

loup "to leap". Swedish löpa, Icelandic hlaupa, both mean "to run", German laufen is related, and can also mean "to walk", as an opposite to using a vehicle.

lowe "flame". Compare Swedish låga, Icelandic logi.

meat in the sense of "(any) food" has parallels in Swedish (mat), Icelandic (matur), where this word usually means anything edible, and the specific word for edible flesh ís entirely different (Swedish kött, Icelandic kjöt).

nowt "cattle", looks very much related to the Swedish nöt, which is the common generic term for a cow, a bull, or an ox. It has also been borrowed into Finnish as nauta. The cognate Icelandic naut perhaps today means, above all, a bull.

quine, quean, queen "young, marriageable woman". This word's cognates are used in Scandinavian languages simply for "woman", such as the Icelandic kona, which has the genitive plural kvenna; Swedish has kvinna; and Danish has both kone "wife" and kvinde "woman". In fact, even the English word woman is, historically speaking, *queen-man, i.e. "female person", compare Modern Icelandic kvenmenn "women, female persons", plural of kvenmaður "woman, female person", as distinct from karlmenn "men, male persons", plural of karlmaður "man, male person". (Menn is the plural form of the Icelandic maður, which is the same word as English man, and has in Icelandic more the meaning of "human being, person" than of "male person, man" - as we saw, karl - related to the Southern English churl - is less ambiguous.) Quena was also the Old High German word for "woman", but was then ousted by the Middle High German wîp (Modern German: Weib, related to the English wife), which, in its turn, had to give way to Frau (in Middle High German, vrouwe, frouwe could only mean a gentlewoman, a lady).