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Scots word

Stour n. and v. flying, swirling dust, dust in motion

You can guarantee that clearing out and tidying up always creates a lot of stour and this can prove troublesome to anyone who is allergic to dust. The Herald newspaper of the 13th March 2000 makes reference to the word:

A slight shadowing on the wall above one radiator prompts skoosh with spray bleach cleaner followed by creation of astonishingly obvious circles of cleanliness — and correspondingly blatant clinging stoor.

The use of the word for dust has been with us for centuries as is shown in the following quotation from the 15th century Buik of Alexander: 'Sic ane stour attour thame stude That euin vp to the lyft it ȝude'.

Descriptions using the word stour often suggest dust in motion, swirling and flying about. Stour is used across the country in this way but in the N.E. of Scotland you might use the word stew instead. Swirling dust can conceal and confuse. You might have heard expressions containing this idea such as 'throw stour in yer een', meaning to hoodwink or deceive. Vanishing in a cloud of dust also indicates speed as J. H. Bone indicates in The Crystal Set (1924): 'Ye couldna see him for stour when the polis arrived.'

When the word stour is used in the world of work, it often comes with a health warning. You can read about the effects on workers in the report Children in Mines (1842): 'I left the factory work, as the stour made me hoarse.' And in the textile-milling industry, it becomes part of the machinery in the compound stour box which was a box on a carding-machine for collecting the fine fibres or fluff from the flax.

With the addition of the suffixes -fu and -ie, as well as -y, it can be used as an adjective. The term stoury lungs is used appositely in Pulse (June 1961) as a term for pneumoconiosis and silicosis.

In the Herald (1992):

Yet about a quarter (up to 50,000) of the one-time population were engaged in that stoorie industry. It affected every aspect of city life. Jute made Dundee a divided place of rich and poor.

Stourfu and stourie come to mean noisy or stirring. R. W. Thom used it in this way in his poem The Courtship and Wedding o' Jock o' the Knowe (1878): 'The stourfu' strain O' bagpipe blawer or fiddler or fifer'.

Another interesting use of the word is for individuals who cause trouble or for children who are troublesome. The example from A. G. Murdochís Lilts on the Doric Lyre (1873) illustrates: 'Tween stoorie-woorie wife an' weans, Wow! but I'm corner'd fairly'. It was common in Dumfries too, indicating in J. Patonís Castlebraes (1898) that the lad was up to no good: 'Syne as a stoorie laddie I began tae speel the Auld Castle Wa's'.

Stourie fit originally meant a dust-stained traveller, one who arrives in a strange place after a journey on foot, a stranger. In Falkland and Peebles specifically it is used to describe a resident who is not a native of the town, an incomer. In June 1962 the Scots Magazine (212) reported:

It used to be said that "stoury feet", or incomers, had to live for three generations before being accepted as Falkland folk.

It is perhaps not surprising to find the use of the word as a verb in expressions such as to stour aff meaning to make off quickly as you can imagine the dust flying. Examples of verbal use in Edinburgh have been recorded such as: 'He gaed stoorin alang on his bike' (1940).

The word stourer can also mean a bustling person and it can mean to spray with dust or to raise dust as described in the Buchan Observer (1971): 'The kye were wading to their bellies in grass but still he stoured it [fertiliser] on'.

A modern coinage is stour soukin for vacuum cleaning which is used by Ellie McDonald (Pathfinder, 2000):

This is yer Muse talkin.
Ye're on yer final warnin.
Nae mair sclatchin i the kitchen,
nae mair hingin out the washin,
nae mair stour soukin.
This is yer Muse talkin
fae the wyste paper basket.

The Scottish fairy tale Whuppity Stoorie is in William and Robert Chambersí book Popular Rhymes, Fireside stories and Amusements, of Scotland (1842). A mother has to find out the fairyís name to avoid the fairy claiming her baby after the fairy helped the mother save her dying sow. The fairyís name of course is Whuppity Stoorie and she is shrouded in mystery. You might know other versions of this tale. Let us know if you have any additional quotations involving the word stour or stourie for us which show these different nuances of the word.

Be sure to visit the Dictionary of the Scots Language at www.dsl.ac.uk for more information about the word or other words used in this article.