Scottish words in the garden

Why yirdit, you could ask? Well, in my childhood home I often heard this Scottish word in the garden used to mean covered with earth or just mucky – more or less how you might find yourself after a heavy session in the garden.

Then there was the second meaning of ‘bogged down’, usually literally. It might describe a farm cart that had stuck up to the axles in mud. It was ‘yirdit’. Yes, I get bogged down in my garden sometimes.

In more poetic uses, according to my Scots Dictionary, yird can mean the ground, or the grave or the earth itself, as in Planet Earth. Our poet Robert Burns used it more than once:

‘When lyart leaves bestrew the yird.’

The Jolly Beggars

(Lyart here is streaked or multi-coloured and another etymological by-way.)

And of course yird is also cognate with yard, as in back-yard – so here we are back at earth and garden again.

And our Scandinavian friends, Danish and Norwegian, have their own word ‘jord’, meaning earth. So, in short – that’s why yirdit.

So, I hope you enjoy getting yirdit, both out of doors and right here.

Glossary of Scottish words

  • as Yirdit isn’t the only word you might find.

Bield: shelter. (Fleece might do if you weighed it down.)

Coorse: how we say ‘coarse’ in the sense of harsh or wicked.

Doo, (often) cushie doo: pigeon, cf ‘dove’ (often) cushat dove. Wait, has anyone ever said ‘cushat dove’ since PG Wodehouse?

Fashed: upset. As in ‘Dinna fash yersel’ – don’t get worked up.

Fusionless: (pronounced ‘foo-zhin-liss’) lethargic, limited in power. Like a petrol mower when it needs servicing.

Gallus: daring, cheeky; like garden pigeons or horsetail roots.

Gloaming: half-light or twilight. Hopeless time for gardening.

Graip: digging fork. Multi-pronged. Neptune possibly had one, though not for gardening.

Horny gollach: forkie-tail. No? Clip-shears. No again? OK, it’s an earwig.

Howk: to dig or pull up. Tattie-howkers were the squad potato farmers hired at harvesting time.

Loon: boy. The orra loon was the spare hand on the farm, often the youngest. Orra? Oh, that means spare or sometimes just plain uncouth.

Midden: (originally) a kind of agricultural rubbish dump. Can also describe a teenager’s bedroom. Or our garden shed.

Muckle: large. Och, I’m sure you knew this.

Oxter: armpit. Redwings (a kind of upmarket thrush) have red oxters.

Penn (pend): originally an archway. We used it to mean the outside covered passageway linking the back and front of the house.

Rax: (v) to strain; to stretch out or reach.

Scunner: ‘fed-up-ness’. As verb, to be put off or sickened of something. ‘I’m scunnered trying to grow winter lettuce.’

Scutter: a finicky job, a faff. (As verb) to mess about without achieving a lot. Like trying to get poinsettia bracts to colour up in their second year.

Sharn: cow-dung. Sharny-dubs: cow-dung and mud. Nice.

Sheuch (in): to cover with soil temporarily or hastily.

Slaister: a mess. What happens when working with wet cement or mud perhaps. Or when you try to make hypertufa.

Slater: a wood-louse.

Slather: to coat excessively.

Stravaig: to wander about. Pronounced ‘stra-vaig’, with emphasis on second syllable.

Swikkin: cheating. Also verb ‘to swick’ (somebody). Using plastic grass is definitely swikkin. (And the height of vulgarity.)

Thrawn: stubborn, like dandelion roots, or Border terriers.

Weel happit: Properly dressed or well protected for the conditions. The blue plumbago with fleece round it might be weel happit for the winter. On the other hand, possibly not.

Yokit: Set up for work or in harness (cf ‘yoked’). Yokin time – start of day – is the opposite of lousin time (cf ‘loosening’) – end of day – on the farm ie when the horses were yoked up or unyoked.