IT was International Literacy Day on Wednesday, which put me in mind of this week’s word. The qually, or the Qualifying Examination (known in England as the 11-plus), was an examination for 12-year-olds. The results of this exam determined what level of education children would receive. The exam was discontinued at various times by different local authorities. However, colloquially known as the qually or quallie, the term lives on in popular culture.

For example, the end of primary school learning was marked by a party known to Primary 7 Scots bairns as the qually dance. This rite of passage (unrelated to the exam) is remembered with affection by this writer, recalling his first girlfriend, in the Daily Record of February 1998: “Alison Boyd. She's a pharmacist now, apparently, but I haven't seen her since taking her for fish and chips after our Primary 7 qually dance. She hasn't returned any of my calls.”

Another example from The Herald of July 2000 made its way into the Dictionaries of the Scots Language (DSL): “I decide to work from home but Duncan's crown has fallen out at school and I have to organise a visit to the dentists. Fortunately, I'm able to drive or he would have had a Joe Jordan-like gap in his teeth at his quali dance in the evening.” (Joe Jordan is a Scottish footballer, now manager, who played for Scotland in the 1970s and ‘80s.)

Subsequent research shows that this celebration has a new name, as recorded in this from Edinburgh’s Evening News of June 2012: “Primary school parents are also forking out hundreds for junior’s journey to high school, with the ‘qually dance’ now dubbed the primary prom.”

Scots Word of the Week is written by Pauline Cairns Speitel, Dictionaries of the Scots Language https://dsl.ac.uk.