Home» Publications» SLD Newsletter» Newsletter Autumn 2012» Scots word: smuir

Scots word

smuir, smore, smoor v. smother


Smore, from Old English smorian, is defined in A Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue as 'To suffocate, smother, crush to death'. Not surprisingly, this is illustrated with a number of gruesome and often very sad quotations. One well known victim, according to the chronicler Boece (1531), was Old King Cole: 'King Coill...quhen servandis to keping of his corps awatit nocht, was oppressit and smorit'. A number of infanticides, deliberate and accidental, are recorded in the dictionary including this one from The Justiciary Records of Argyll and the Isles (1679): '[She] killed the said infant...with her knife at leist strangled or smoored him some other way that he immediatly died'. Smooring included strangulation as evidenced in a poem by James VI: 'Hercules ... as yett in sueadling cloutis...Beginning uith his handis...to smoare the draigon'. The Description of the Isles of Scotland, written some time before 1595 describes a particularly frightful atrocity in which 'McCloyd Herreik...came to the cove and pat fire thairto, and smorit ... 395 persones'.

In a more literary vein, R. L. Stevenson (The Merry Men, 1887) gives the evocative image of 'a mune smoored wi' mist'. Edinburgh writer W. Beatty in The Secretar (1897) pictures 'the reek from the Toun lums smooring the golden lift'. W. Nicholson in Tales in Verse (1814) shifts the metaphor to odour: 'Stale breath she smoors wi' oils and mint'. Smoorin the fire was once a nightly ritual and you can silence a frivolous objection by saying in a disparaging tone: 'If the lift fa, It'll smoor the laverocks'.

Perhaps the best-known quotation comes from Tam o Shanter who passed the place 'Where in the snaw the chapman smoor'd'. Smooring in snow is extensively recorded in the Scottish National Dictionary and Allan Ramsay in The Gentle Shepherd (1725) warns 'The thick-blawn wreaths of snaw, or blashy thows, May smoor your wethers'. Let us hope we are not in for another winter of going smoored in snow drifts.

Chris Robinson