Adam Jack Aitken, MA, DPhil; lexicographer and leading expert on the Scots language; born June 19, 1921; died February 11, 1998

TUCKED into my copy of The Nuttis Schell, the volume in honour of A J Aitken that Iseabail Macleod and I edited in 1987, there are notes towards this obituary. Some are from Jack himself, small corrections to the story of his life as recounted in the introduction to that book. For Jack was a man who looked to the future, with earnestness, confidence, and realism - as befitted someone who was not just a magnificent scholar but a fine human being. And a stickler for detail.

Jack Aitken died at his desk

at home, aged 77. There were years, decades, of scholarship left in his fertile mind, but his heart by-pass operation had already given him nearly 20 years of extra life and could take him no further. In him, Scotland loses its greatest ever expert on the Lowland Scots tongue.

Following service in the Royal Artillery from 1941 to 1945, Jack Aitken graduated from Edinburgh University with First Class Honours in English Language and Literature in 1947. In 1948 he began work as assistant to Sir William Craigie on A Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue, becoming editor in 1956 and continuing until his retirement in 1986. The remaining staff hope to complete this monumental work by the millennium.

It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of DOST for Scottish history and culture. It is the definitive record of the Scots language up to the year 1700, covering its period of greatest flowering when it was used for everything from Acts of Parliament to private diaries, from courtly poetry to colliery records.

When he took charge, Jack Aitken instituted a programme of reading, expanding the range of materials covered so as to provide the fullest possible glossary. Historians dealing with every kind of Older Scots manuscript in future can reasonably hope DOST has been there and can tell them what each word means.

Nevertheless, Jack Aitken himself said the achievement of which he had been most proud was having created Scots as a university teaching subject. From 1948 to 1979, alongside his dictionary work, he taught courses on Scots in the Department of English Language at the University of Edinburgh. The handouts that he produced then were for many years the only clear summaries of Scots vocabulary, pronunciation, orthography, grammar, and stylistics, and they circulated widely among scholars.

Over the years, he published extensively on the subject, spoke at countless conferences, and tirelessly promoted scholarship in Scots and lexicography at home and abroad. James Kinsley fondly recalled the impact Jack made on an international conference in 1975 when he gave a paper on the correct pronunciation of Older Scots: ''Native scholars were disconcerted; non-Scots were in disarray. The bars and lounges were for a time thinly peopled, as those with papers still to read struggled in decent

privacy to relearn their lines.''

A J Aitken was prolific of research ideas, and unstintingly generous with his time, whether in committee work or in helping individual scholars. His home in Edinburgh was a magnet for those interested in Scots and his efforts helped to create the present enthusiasm for its study in North America and Europe.

One of his favourite photographs of himself was a holiday snap of him scrambling under a fence somewhere up a Scottish hillside. On it his American colleague, Richard Bailey, had written: ''A J Aitken 'comesna intil the bucht at the yett, but sclims in somegate else'.'' The quote from Lorimer's New Testament (John 10.2) tickled his pawky sense of humour, but in truth Jack Aitken was as honest, kind, modest, and generous a person as ever God put breath in.

Lifted out of a childhood of poverty and neglect by a good Scottish education, he loved learning, and it was this love for the pearl of knowledge that he instilled in his students. Like Gavin Douglas, one of his favourite poets, he was motivated by ''afald diligence'':

And thoct I wery was, me list not tyre,

Full laith to leif our wark swa in the myre

Within my mynde compassyng thocht I so:

Na thing is done quhil ocht remanys ado.