Scotland, Scotch, Scottish, Scot and Scots

Friday, 28 February, 2014

Published in 1791, The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. is a biography of Dr. Samuel Johnson written by James Boswell. Some say it is the greatest biography written in English; most scholars regard it a seminal moment in the development of the biography genre. Then, as now, Scotland was topical in polite London conversation and Boswell captured the mood of the day, and the language used to express it.

Mr. Arthur Lee mentioned some Scotch who had taken possession of a barren part of America, and wondered why they would choose it.

Johnson: “Why, Sir, all barrenness is comparative. The Scotch would not know it to be barren.”

Boswell: “Come, come, he is flattering the English. You have now been in Scotland, Sir, and say if you did not see meat and drink enough there.”

Johnson: “Why yes, Sir; meat and drink enough to give the inhabitants sufficient strength to run away from home.”

Scotch, meaning either “of or relating to Scotland” or “a person/the people from Scotland”, was widely used in the past by writers such as Boswell, Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott. It is now regarded as old-fashioned, but it survives in phrases such as “Scotch whisky”.

Scottish is the everyday word used to mean “of or relating to Scotland or its people”. Example: “She’s Irish, not Scottish.”

Scot is the common word for “a person from Scotland”, along with Scotsman, Scotswoman, and the plural form “the Scots.”

Scots is used to refer specifically to the form of English spoken in Scotland, as in “He’s got a very strong Scots accent.”


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