Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Paul Collins's article on the etymology of shitfaced (via Light reading) has a throwaway remark about Scots "words like to shog, a verb that means 'to shake from corpulence.'" This sent me back to the only place I'd seen "shog" before, a William Dunbar passage that is even better than I remember it being [fpelling flightly modernized from the Google books version]:
My fore-grantschir hecht Fyn Mac Kowle
That dang the devil, and gart him yowle,
The skyis rained when he wald scowle,
He troublit all the air:
He gat my grantschir Gog Magog,
Ay when he dansit, the warld wald schog;
Five thousand ells yeid in his frog
Of Hieland pladdis, and mair.
Yet he was but of tendir youth;
But after he grew mickle at fouth,
Ellevyne mile wide met was his mouth,
His teith was ten ell sqwair.
He wald upon his tais stand,
And tak the sternis doun with his hand,
And set them in a gold garland
Above his wyfis hair.

He had a wyf was lang of clift;
Hir hed wan higher than the lift;
The hevyne reardit when she wald rift,
The lass was no thyng slendir;
She spittit Loch Lomond with hir lippis;
Thunner and fyre-flaucht flew fra her hippis;
When she was crabbit the son tholit clippis;
The feende durst nocht offend hir.

Glossary (disclaimer: I'm not a Scots scholar). hecht = hight, was called. dang = flogged (pret. of "ding"). gart = made. ay = always. dansit = danced. ell = roughly a yard. yeid = went. frog = frock. mickle at fouth = to full bigness, "fulth". tais = toes. sternis = stars. clift = cleft. lift = sky. fyre-flaucht = fire-flight, lightning. tholit clippis = suffered eclipse.

Incidental OED factoid:
The Old Germanic word [for ell] (a compound of which is elbow n.) meant originally arm or fore-arm, and is cognate with Greek ὠλένη, Latin ulna, of same meaning. The diversity of meanings is common to all words denoting linear measures derived from the length of the arm; compare cubit n. and Latin ulna. The word ell seems to have been variously taken to represent the distance from the elbow or from the shoulder to the wrist or to the finger-tips, while in some cases a ‘double ell’ has superseded the original measure, and has taken its name.
 See also here for my favorite Dunbar poem (with glossary), famous for first OED use of "fuck."

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