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Scots word

Hoasts and neeses

This is a good time of year to have ready some Scots words to describe winter ailments, before that niggling keuch or kicher (tickly cough) develops into a full kirkyaird hoast (the cough that carries you off). That Scots velar sound, spelled ch, really comes into its own at this time of the year. Just as onomatopoeic as keuch and kicher is clorach, which means to clear the throat noisily and a blocher, peuch or pyocher is a loose, productive cough. There are many dialectal variants and the same words may vary from place to place in the exact quality of the cough they describe. For example, a kink hoast may mean whooping cough or simply a convulsive coughing fit.

As varied as the words for cough are the local remedies. One does not usually consult a dictionary for medical advice, but the Dictionary of the Scots Language offers some suggestions. According to Robert Henryson (about 1500), 'Bayth the bellox of ane brok... Is gud for the host'. However, if a badger's testicles are not available, you could try 'Corriandir, that is gude for ane ald hoste', as Sir David Lindsay recommends in The Complaynte of Scotland (1549). If that fails, then hostin girse or Iceland moss (Cetraria islandica) taken as an infusion may work.

If your neb (nose) is running and you are sneeshin into your snochterdicter (handkerchief), it might cheer you up to know that the word neese (sneeze) derives from the splendid Old Norse word hnjosa. Just saying it clears out the nasal passages. But if your cold turns feverish, Sir Robert Moray (1658) suggests that you 'Put a great spider into a box made of 2 wallnut shells and hang it about the neck'.

So, keep weel happit (well wrapped-up) this fall and, with a bit of luck, you won't need any of these remedies and I can assure you that a small whiskey with hot water, lemon, honey and cloves beats them all!

Visit the Dictionary of the Scots Language website for more information on hoast, neese or any of the Scots words in this article.