SKAIL has many meanings in the Dictionaries of the Scots Language (DSL), but today I want to concentrate on the sense, “to shed, to spill accidentally, to let fall from an overflowing or leaking container”; “to shed tears”. Its origins, as with many of our Scots words, are obscure, but is possibly of Scandinavian origin.

An early example of the weeping sense comes from the 16th-century Bellenden Manuscript: “Hir siluer teiris skalit on the schowris”. The skailing of blood is also noted in this poem of 1788 by Ebenezer Picken: “The warlike swarm, Wha wad hae skail’d their hettest blude…”

Moving on to more modern times but staying in poetic mode, Raymond Vettese writes in 1988: “He’s skailt on the bar’s formica bleck, a puckle gowden draps o whisky”. Liz Lochhead also remarks on the perils of the hospitality trade in her Bagpipe Muzak (1991): “…my heart's been roasted wi' the eejits I get working on the next station to me. Skitin' about the flair scalin’ gazpacho down the back of some poor guy’s new Matinique shirt, can’t carry more than three plates at one time — pathetic”.

Into the 21st century and this tale of woe is related by a lorry driver in the Scotsman of October 2001: “There's no an awfy lot o’ room in thon cabs and the ither lad is a big man tae, so what wi’ that an tryin' no tae skail wan o’ the cans whase lid wis lost, we kinda got fankled up wi’ ane another”.

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