A Scots Dictionary of Nature

Amanda Thomson

Saraband, £9.99

IF you have ever wanted a word to describe the sound made by walking in wet mud or perhaps that of a quaking bog, then this volume of nature-themed Scots words is a delight to leaf through.

The idea was sparked when Amanda Thomson, a visual artist and lecturer at Glasgow School of Art, was researching a PhD about the forests of Culbin in Moray and the remnant Scots pinewood of Abernethy.

Talking with foresters and ecologists, she was struck by the often-unfamiliar vocabulary they used. "I came across words like gralloch, used by a deerstalker to describe the innards of a dead deer (and the verb to gralloch, which so viscerally describes the task of removing them)," she writes.

READ MORE: Wildlife gardens – top tips to make a home for nature

She found a 19th-century Scottish dictionary in a second-hand bookshop in Edinburgh and was fascinated by the phrases it contained, such as "timmer breeks", meaning a coffin, and "dedechack", the clicking noise made by woodworm in houses.

The author states in A Scots Dictionary of Nature: "I'm not a lexicographer, a linguist, or a historian of the Scottish language, but as an artist I am interested in words and language and how we might describe our world."

Thomson mined old dictionaries for words that are rarely heard, no longer in use or largely forgotten, with the goal of curating and preserving a uniquely Scottish lexicon, one used to describe land, wood, weather, birds, water and walking.

The dictionary, first published in 2018, is a must-have for any lover of the natural world. Words include splorroch (the sound made by walking in wet mud) and babbanqua (a quaking bog).

READ MORE: Wildlife gardens – top tips to make a home for nature

Among its gems are huam (the moan of an owl in the warm days of summer), water-gaw (the fragment of a rainbow, seen in the north or east, that is believed to be a sign of bad weather) and bar-ghaists (a ghost all in white, with large saucer eyes, said to appear near gates or stiles).


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