Editors of the Dictionary of the Scots Language
are kindly supplying us with a Scots word of the month. This month, the word is:
gut, intestine (noun)
Although this word comes from Old English, it no longer survives in Standard English, only appearing in English dialects in the sense of gut used as sausage casing. Scots, however, makes much wider use of this valuable resource. There are references to thairms as food, although Burns in his Address to the Haggis
(1721) compares 'painch tripe or thairm' unfavourably with the 'chieftain o the puddin race'.
Neil Munro in Ayrshire Idylls
(1912) also writes disparagingly of 'The sordid pot of tripe and thairm'. In his Eneidos
(1513), Gavin Douglas writes of 'The tharmys and the bowellys rent' and the less gory William Soutar in Seeds in The Wind
(1933) describes how 'The tattie-bogle wags its airms... It hasna onie banes or thairms'. According to James Carmichael's Collection of Proverbs
(a1628), 'A wide tharme had never a lang arme'. This can be interpreted as 'greedy people are not good at passing food around'.
Dried and twisted into a string, thairms could be used for many purposes, the most delicate of which was in a watch mechanism. The Edinburgh Gazette
refers in 1699 to two watches, one 'Stolen out of a house in Edinburgh… a gold watch moving with a thern, made by Richard Baker', and the other 'A plain silver watch… with a shagarin pin'd caice, goes with a phern'. This last unusual spelling demonstrates that there has long been an interchangeability between the sound which we usually represent with 'f' and that which we represent with 'th'. Fings ain't wot they used to be – but they are not so different either.
A thairm string could be used as the drive-belt for a spinning wheel, but its best known use was musical, appreciated by Walter Watson in Miscellaneous Scotch Poetry
(1853): 'Benjie, fing'rin' owre the thairms, Now draws his bow sae sweet'.
Scots Word of the Month is written by editors of the Dictionary of the Scots Language. You can sponsor a word from this national archive as a special gift for a loved one or friend. More information about word sponsorship is here.