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Scots Word

Clamjamfry

flower clamjamfry
Some clamjamfries (occasionally clanjamfries) of people are cheerful and inclusive occasions, such as that described in a Robert Buchanan poem of 1901 "The hale clamjamphrey were fittin' it tae and heel wi' unbounded delight". The Herald newspaper in July 1999 describes another joyful assembly, this time for the opening of the Scottish Parliament: "As the last of the children's banners swept down the Mound, the guests, by now a wholly disordered clamjamfrey, ambled back up the hill for their lunch in Parliament Hall".

Other clamjamfries are less well appreciated and many partying teenagers, making full use of their parents' absence, might relate to a quotation taken from B. R. McIntosh's Scent o' the Broom (1923) "Oh, nocht kens my mither, sae sober and douce, O' sic a clamjamfray kicked up in her hoose".

The word covers all manner of things. As A. W. Blue perceptively remarks in The Quay Head Tryst (1917), "A wumman, ye understaan', sees the whole clamjaffery o' things an raither mair". It can also be narrowed down to mean undesirable odds and ends as shown in this accolade for healthy eating taken from J. Mitchell's Bydand (1918): "An' halesome is the hamely fare in ilka hoose an' ha', For galshachs [unwholesome food] an' clamjamfry trash we canna thole [endure] ava [at all]".

The etymology is obscure but it is one of these words that meaning just seems to tumble out in a motley mixter-maxter to cover everything from riotous crowds, through to trivial nonsense. The last quotation, from Chapman (1986), edited by Joy Hendry, celebrates its poetic qualities in this description given by Harvey Holton of autumn "dauncean simmer's daith in a clanjamfrie o colours".

Be sure to visit the Dictionary of the Scots Language website for more information on clamjamfry and any of the other Scots words used in this article.