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Scots word

Hoast n. and v. cough


As winter approaches and work is hectic, you might fall foul to a 'hoast' (hos(s)t, hoist, houste, haust, howst) meaning a cough. There are many examples in the Dictionary of the Scots Language (DSL) including this description from A. Shirrefs in his Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (1790):

For being just as dry's a post, She burrs like ane that has the host.

It is interesting to note that the quotation refers to 'the host' rather than 'a host'. This use of the definite article is common in Scots; you might have heard someone in Scotland say that they have the flu rather than they have flu.

The word can be used figuratively too. If something is 'without a host', it is not worth mentioning. In Jamiesonís Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language (1808) we have an example of this usage:

It did na cost him a host, he made no hesitation about it.

It also appears in John Mackay Wilson's Historical, Traditionary and Imaginative Tales of the Borders (1857):

The case is no guid in law. It wadna stan a hoast in the Court o' Session.

Sometimes it means a particular type of cough which is designed to attract attention as it is used in the Scots Magazine (1753):

Allan Breck came behind him, and hoasted, . . . desired him to come to him.

There is an interesting reference to a place called 'The Hoasting Club' in D. Macleod's work Past Worthies of the Lennox (1894) from Dumbarton where it is a signal:

The Hoasting Club was a club of shop-keepers, who kept a sharp look-out for "high twelve" . . . terrible coughs . . . being the signal for their assembling in their favourite houff.

With the addition of 'out' or 'up' it is used figuratively, meaning to get something "off one's chest". Burns uses it in To Willie Chalmers' Sweetheart (1786):

May claw his lug, and straik his beard, And hoast up some palaver.

In 1868 William Shelley uses it figuratively:

Let drivilin' drouths hoast out its praise.

You might have come across the phrase 'to hoast oot the craig' which means to clear the throat. The writer Sheena Blackhall captures the misery of colds in The Bonsai Grower and Other Tales (1998):

Aa roon her, fowk snochered and pyochered an hoastit into their snifter-dichters.

The word 'host' is used in Old Scots to mean a cough from around 1470. The Old Norse word hósta means 'to cough' and the Old Norse hósti means 'a cough'. You can look at the full entry for hoast in our online Dictionary of the Scots Language. We would be interested to know if you have used or heard this word recently.