Scots Word of the Week: Jotter

THURSDAY was World Book Day, and it put me in mind of this week’s word. Although shared with English, the origin of jot and jotter appears to be Scots. The Dictionary of the Scots Language (DSL) gives us “to write down hastily and briefly” and also “a note, memorandum, now especially applied to a pupil’s rough exercise book”.

Jotter was originally very informal, as in the following example from Aberdeen in the Reports of Cases in the High Court of Justiciary (1854): “Not book-keeping, only a jotter, only a memorandum; every one keeps a jotter as he likes”. By 1915 the term is being applied to a school exercise book, as illustrated in A S Neil’s 1915 Dominie’s Log: “Neatness of method and penmanship in copy-book and jotter”. During my Mum’s school days, pupils got extra marks for the neatest jotters.

In these times of home-schooling, jotters are still a staple in our education system - as this parent laments in the Sunday Mail of 17 January 2021: “Work has to be submitted online or sent to the class teacher with attachments. But the printer has died. I find myself longing for jotters pencils and real books”.

However, to get one’s jotters means something else. The DSL bluntly states it is: “To get the sack.”. This is still in use today – especially in the world of football – as the following from the Daily Record of 15 December 2020 shows: “Ally McCoise will argue until his dying day that he didn't walk away from Rangers six years ago today. Put aside whether he resigned – and he is adamant he didn’t – he was placed on gardening leave or got his jotters”.

Scots Word of the Week is written by Pauline Cairns Speitel, Dictionaries of the Scots Language