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Franco-Scottish Vocabulary

Philip Bennett, Emeritus Professor of Medieval French, University of Edinburgh


The links between Scotland and France are well known, and most easily summed up in the expression 'The Auld Alliance'. However, this political and diplomatic relationship accounts for only a small proportion of the many links, commercial, educational and cultural, which have continued to feed words and expressions of French origin into the Scots language. The importance of this contribution and its complexity were driven home to me when I was working on French etymologies of Scots words for the new edition of the Concise Scots Dictionary. When this contribution is generally considered, the word that springs almost unbidden to most people's lips is 'ashet', but what of the golfer's 'caddie' (Fr. cadet – a younger son or brother), or the 'truk' system of trade used until very recently in many parts of Scotland (Fr. troquer – to exchange, swap)?

While working on this rich vein of Scots vocabulary I was intrigued to receive a message from the Franco-Scottish Society, which was set up in 1895 to maintain close cultural and social links between Scotland and France at a time when the UK government was distancing itself from the French. The Society wanted to update an interesting little book, The Thistle and the Fleur de Lis, a vocabulary of Franco-Scottish words, by Isabel Sinclair, published by Blackwood in 1904. The interest of the project was immediately apparent and a small team, including Dr Rhona Alcorn, University of Edinburgh, and Professor Sam Taylor, University of St Andrews, was assembled to work on it. However, we quickly realised that simply adding more items to Isabel Sinclair's book would not meet the needs of the 21st century. We decided that what was needed first and foremost was a web-based resource, searchable not only alphabetically but thematically, by period, by dialect and by several other criteria, which would be of interest to schools and colleges as well as to specialists and to a more general public.

Scottish Language Dictionaries associated themselves with the project from the very beginning, and have generously made available a sample of 1800 words from the Dictionary of the Scots Language to help our IT specialist, Vasilis Karaiskos, to begin the complex task of constructing the website. We are also grateful to the Franco-Scottish Society, which has provided some seed-corn money to get us started, but the main challenge facing us immediately is to raise the not inconsiderable funding that will be needed to bring the project to a successful conclusion.