WE live in challenging times but do not despair. The Scots language in all its colourful glory will come to the rescue. Fed up with the political chaos? Call it a boorach and you’ll feel much better. Sick of the TV debates? Have a shout at the bunch of blellums and all their mince.

And if you want more, try this extract from the new book 100 Favourite Scots Words. For over a decade, The Herald has published the Scottish Language Dictionaries’ Scots Word of the Week and the new book gathers some of the best. The words demonstrate the breadth and diversity of the Scots language. And who knows, they might just get you through the election.

BLELLUM noun an idle, ignorant, talkative man

That blellum is still used or known at all is largely due to Robert Burns’ epic poem Tam o’ Shanter penned in 1790 where Tam is described as a ‘blethering, blustering, drunken blellum’. In so few words, we have a picture of a talkative, sometimes boastful, possibly diminutive, man.

Its use in Scots is not confined to Burns. The Dictionary of the Scots Language reveals that the word also appears in John MacTaggart’s Gallovidian Encyclopedia of 1824 where he defines it as ‘an ignorant talkative fellow.’ From Lanark in 1895, William Stewart in his Lilts and Larks frae Larkie describes a character in the terms: ‘Thus he raved, the senseless blellum.’ Although many recent usages do indeed refer to Tam, there are some instances which do not. Pete Fortune writing in the anthology A Tongue in Yer Heid (1994) describes a character thus: ‘In face auld Tosh (bad auld blellum he is, mind ye)…’

This seems to call into question the veracity of whatever Auld Tosh was about to say. Regarding the etymology, The Dictionary of the Scots Language suggests that it is perhaps a conflation of English ‘blabbe, A gurgling noise with the lips in a liquid and skellum, A worthless fellow, scamp, scoundrel, rogue, now sometimes used playfully to a young boy. ’

ANNAKER’S MIDDEN noun a mess, a shambles

The Dictionary of the Scots Language’s earliest example of the above phrase used in this sense is from central Scotland in 1962. This was firstly interpreted in the dictionary as ‘a knacker’s midden. ’

Later research suggested that it originated instead from: ‘Annacker’s, a Glasgow pork butcher from 1853 to 1942; their messy bins were frequently raked through by the poor.’ Michael Munro in his Patter, Another Blast, from 1988 traces the origin to a firm of pork butchers, sausage makers and ham-curers: ‘Founded in 1853, at its height it was a chain of 16 branches all over the city.’ The company also owned a sausage factory, the last location of which was Napiershall Street (near St George’s Cross).

A quotation from Edinburgh in 1959 shows that as it spread eastwards, the phrase had developed an extended meaning: ‘There’s the Knacker’s midden at it again. Said of a person who is voracious. ’

However, the original meaning of a scene of general chaos is still very much with us, as illustrated by an example from a guide to Scottish speech in the Daily Mail of September 16, 2005: ‘ANNACKER’S MIDDEN: A mess, a dreadful muddle. ’

Greg Hemphill and Ford Kiernan writing in Still Game from 2004 describe a house after a ‘flitting’ as: ‘Look at this. It’s like Annicker’s Midden. ’

WIDDERSHINS adverb in the wrong direction

This comes from Middle Low German weddersinnes or Middle Dutch wedersins. In the early quotations we have, it frequently refers to hair standing widdershins in response to some alarming experience ‘that will gar all their hearts tremble and their haire start widdershin’ (David Calderwood’s History of the Kirk of Scotland 1570).

In other contexts, there is no doubt what the wrong direction usually is. The Scotsman (1989) gives us a clue, pointing out an error made by a well-known weather presenter: ‘He at least should know that wind round anti-cyclones goes widdershins. ’ Going counterclockwise or against the motion of the sun is not only wrong but inauspicious. Sir Walter Scott in the Fair Maid of Perth (1828) describes: ‘A very ancient custom which consists in going three times round the body of a dead or living person, imploring blessing upon him. The Deasil1 must be performed sun-ways… If misfortune is imprecated, the party moves withershins. ’

We find a lot of evidence in accounts of witchcraft, such as this 1697 quotation from A History of the Witches of Renfrewshire: ‘Upon the pronouncing of some words, and turning himself about wider-shins, that is turning himself round from the right hand to the left, contrary to the natural course of the sun. ’

The New Statistical Account (1845) records that Shetland fishermen, ‘when about to proceed to the fishing, think they would have bad luck, if they were to row the boat “withershins” about. ’ However, on a romantic note, the poet Allan Ransay declares (1724): ‘The starns shall gang withershins ere I deceive thee. ’

BOORACH noun a mound, an untidy heap

The SNP's Ian Blackford memorably called Brexit a clusterbourach but boorach’s etymology is in itself a right boorach. The Gaelic word búrach (a digging) appears in The Dictionary of the Scots Language under the entry ‘boorag’, defined as a piece of turf used as peat or for roofing, and illustrated by David Stephen in Gleanings in the North (1891) with this colourful quotation involving damage to daughter and dog: ‘Maister Jolly, yin gigglegawkie, fat ye ca’ m’ son, dangs bowarag in my dochter’s e’e, and tramped ’po’ my folpey’s feet’. Gaelic búrach comes from English burrow (a heap or mound), from Old English beorg.

The dictionary is less clear on the derivation of boorach. It may be from beorg, but it has been suggested that it may be related to Old English bur (a dwelling) or burg (a fortified place), which gives us burgh. Whatever the source, we find it as a mound or a heap of stones in Alexander Gray’s Arrows (1932): ‘He has struck his fit on a bourock; he trippit and slippit, and syne He fell. ’

James Brown in The Round Table Club (1873) tells us: ‘twenty deid deer waur coontit, a’ lyin’ in a boorach thegither. ’ John Black in Melodies and Memories (1909) describes seasonal cheer: ‘O’ holly leaves wi’ berries bricht, An’ bouracks big o’ cake an’ bun To grace the feasts an’ spice the fun. ’

Frequently, boorachs are untidy, hence the use of the word to describe a teenager’s bedroom or, more figuratively, avant-garde music: ‘a new- fangled music’s juist a bourock’ as TS Cairncross declares in the Scots Magazine (1928).

In Mairi Hedderwick’s Katie Morag Delivers the Mail (1997), Grannie says: ‘Well, this is a fine boorach you’ve got yourself into, Katie Morag. ’ I know it as a crowd, huddle or cluster, like ES Rae in the Banffshire Journal (1920): ‘An’ boorichs black o’ crawin’ clamrin’ craws. ’

DICHT verb to wipe, clean, put in good order

Nowadays, dicht is usually used in the sense of to wipe. The Aberdeen Makar, Sheena Blackhall, uses it frequently. In The Bonsai Grower (1998), we read of mothers ‘dichtin bibbly snoots’. In the DSL, it is still found in related senses such as to polish, clean or sweep. Edinburgh Burgh Records (1530) note the requirement that ‘euery man and woman dicht and mak clene befor ther durris1 and closis’. Stirling’s defences were well cared for, because the Burgh Records (1651) contain an entry ‘For thrie sheep skins to dight the cannon’.

The parent Old English word dihtan had a wider range of meanings, several of which were shared by Scots and English until the word became obsolete in English in the 16th century.

It often meant to dress or decorate. Robert Henryson in the late 15th century describes a magnificent ‘croun of massie gold… With… mony diueris dyamontis dicht. ’ According to the lexicographer, John Jamieson (1808): ‘A discourse is said to be weil dicht, when the subject is well handled.’ Dicht could also mean to sift or winnow grain and, in Angus, in the mid-20th century, a strong wind could still be described as ‘A wind at wid dicht bere’.

Food can also be dichtit, hence a hospitable proverb from David Fergusson’s collection (1641): ‘A friend’s dinner is soon dight.’ Another proverb drew upon the habit that hens have of wiping their beaks before going to roost.

So, we get this political comment from James Ballantine’s The Gaberlunzie’s Wallet (1843): ‘Wha’s to be prime minister say ye? Charlie Fox? Troth man, that’s good news indeed… Troth an’ Billie Pitt may now e’en dight his neb and flee up.’ If you want to tell someone to take a look at themselves before criticising others, you might say ‘Dicht yer ain door stane’. Perhaps a lesson for our politicians?

ETTLE verb to intend, plan, aim

This word comes from Old Norse ætla and makes its first appearance in Scots around 1400 in John Barbour’s Troy Book. On balance, ettlin in the DSL seems predominantly directed towards mischief but this bias could be because of splendid examples from court records. The Council Register of the Burgh of Aberdeen alone gives us: ‘He… drew furth his dager, aitling to hawe strukin the said officier thairwith’ (1605) and, involving an unusual weapon, ‘For etling to strik the said Issobell with ane brasin pan’ (1643).

The sense sometimes drifts into ‘aim’ as in A Ross’ late 18th century Fortunate Shepherd: ‘A gentle squire of freely gentle cast, Of sweet address, an’ skill’d in courting art, That well coud ettle Cupid’s winning dart’, hence J Kelly’s Proverbs (1721): ‘Oft Etle, whiles hit. This he explains as; “People who have made many Tryals to do a Thing, may hit right at last.”’

Burns uses it as a noun in Tam o’ Shanter in which, ‘Nannie… flew at Tam wi’ furious ettle’ and this determined declaration comes from James Stewart’s Sketches o Scottish Character (1857): ‘An’ I winna be put frae my ettle, Not e’en by auld Hornie himsel’.

A similar determination lies behind this ambitious imperative from John Galt’s The Provost: ‘Ye’re ettling at the magistracy… and I’ll no let ye rest if ye dinna mak’ me a bailie’s wife or a’ be done. ’ A more modest and understandable desire is expressed in P Macgillivray’s Bog-Myrtle and Peat Reek (1922): ‘An’ aye we ettle’t the ither dram, Wi’ dry oatcakes for a foond.’

To end on a thoughtful note, here is a sentiment from JL Waugh’s Robbie Doo (1910): ‘Hope! ay, it’s the ettler o’ youth and the solace o’ age: lose it, and the first’s a failure and the last a burden. ’

MINCE noun nonsense, rubbish

Apart from haggis, mince and tatties is one of Scotland’s iconic national dishes which has nurtured many generations. Mince is so embedded in the national psyche that it has developed many unusual and inexplicable meanings. It features in insults such as: ‘He talks a lot o mince’ (Michael Munro, The Original Patter, 1985) or if ‘yer heid’s fu o mince’, you’re either very confused or a complete fool, as illustrated by this example from The Observer: ‘…if tensions move the pace on to straight urban demotic, our respected Minister [David Blunkett] can expect to be told his heid’s full of mince, or called, most woundingly, a numpty. ’ (10 August 1997) and, staying with politics, the Daily Record of April 23, 2015, tells voters that ‘Only you can decide who’s talking mince. ’

A stupid person or persons can be described as being as ‘thick as mince’, as Hardeep Singh Kohli writes: ‘Today’s Tories, for all their privilege and erudite education, are arguably the least able coterie of Conservatives we have ever had in power. Basically, they are thick as mince. ’ (Sunday Herald, 6 December 2015)

Finally, if someone is listless, idle or untidy, they are accused of being like a pound of mince: ‘… this frequenting of the Empress every afternoon and sitting about the house like a pound o mince isnae helping anybody. ’ (The Independent on Sunday, 26 June 2011) And an Edinburgh informant from 2005 tells an untidy person: ‘Yer claes are hingin like a pun o mince. ’

SCOOBY noun a clue

Rhyming slang is sometimes thought to be strictly the domain of the Cockney but it has been utilised as a device by Scots speakers too. Scooby Doo, the cartoon character created for the Hanna-Barbera Productions in 1969, is an addition in the second edition of the Concise Scots Dictionary because, as far as we can ascertain, in the early 1990s his name was used as the rhyming slang for ‘clue’.

Although we cannot find any examples of his name in full, it seems always to be shortened to ‘Scooby’ as in ‘I haven’t got a scooby’.

The earliest example that we have in our research records comes from The Herald of May 14, 1993: ‘Your lawyer telling youse that he husnae a scooby and youse can jist take a wee tirravie1 tae yersel.’ The fact that the term is used in print in a national newspaper illustrates that it was in common enough use to be understood by the general public but as with many new Scots words finding evidence in print is very difficult.

Many of the current examples seem to be concerned with our national obsession with football as this example from Grant Stott writing in the Edinburgh Evening News of January 24, 2011: ‘If I had a pound for every time someone has asked me or texted me the question, “Big man, what’s happening with yer team?” I’d have?… well, a few quid now. And the answer is always the same. I haven’t got a Scooby. ’ There is as ever, as with much of research, a hunt on for earlier examples of this phrase.

SPEEL verb to climb, clamber

The derivation of this word is obscure; the earliest recorded meaning in the Dictionary of the Scots Language is: ‘to perform as an acrobat’ and dates from 1503. Later, it widens its meaning to include ‘To mount, ascend to a height by climbing; to climb, clamber…’ The OED suggests that it may originally derive from ‘older Flemish or Low German speler (German: spieler) player, actor. ’

At Christmas and other times when party invitations are forthcoming, speel comes to mind as a candidate for The Herald's Word of the Week because of a reply in verse given by Robert Burns, writing in 1786, to just such an invitation: ‘Sir, Yours this moment I unseal, And faith I’m gay and hearty! To tell the truth and shame the deil, I am as fou as Bartie: But Foorsday, sir, my promise leal, Expect me o‘ your partie, If on a beastie I can speel, Or hurl in a cartie. Yours, Robert Burns. Mauchline, Monday night, 10 o’clock.’

The verse creates a clear mental picture of a slightly tipsy Burns trying to clamber onto his horse. Most other examples in the DSL are centred round scaling less mobile objects than horses. In 1950, O Douglas in Farewell to Priorsford wrote: ‘Naebody had ever tried to spiel thae rocks. ’ Figurative uses are well documented too. The following is from RW Thom’s Jock o Knowe: ‘Tam Gripper, then nae laird atweel, Maun up the social ladder speel.’ (Dumfries, 1877)

SCUNNERED: How many of us will be feeling by the time this General Election campaign is over.

100 Favourite Scots Words, edited by Pauline Cairns Speitel, is published by Luath at £7.99