Sneck the Door (Snippets 53)


Thuso Castle, which is now in ruins.  (source:

In 1792 Sir John Sinclair published his Observations on the Scottish Dialect.  Sinclair was the 1st Baronet of Ulbster and Thurso Castle, and was a Member of Parliament from 1780.  Although he was Scottish himself, his Observations are rather condescending at times, and critical of the differences in language between the English and the Scottish.  Interestingly, a lot of the example he cites as differences have now taken over as the normal manner of expressing things in England as well.  Others are charming examples of Scottish slang, although Sinclair doubtless did not find them charming at all!  The following are some selected quotes from his work.

Scotch: “To want for any thing.”
English: To be without any thing not desirable.

“To cause a person to do any thing.”
To make a person do any thing.

Using cause for make, is a frequent and obnoxious Scoticism.

“To notice.”
To take notice, or to mention.

“To sneck the door.”
To latch, or shut, the door.

“To make songs on one.”
To praise one much.

“To blow the bellows.”
To blow the fire with the bellows.

If blowing the bellows in English, it is surely a ridiculous expression.

“To set off on a journey.”
To set out on a journey.

“To meet with one’s marrow.”
To meet with one’s match, or equal.

“Let me be.”
Let me alone.

“He is presently in London.”
He is now, or at present, in London.

“He is ten years old next May.”
He was nine years old last May.

The impropriety lies in asserting a circumstance which, by the death of the person, may never happen, instead of affirming what is certain, and has already happened.

“The knock strikes.”
The clock strikes.

“Will you stay to dinner.”
Will you stay dinner.

“To gloom.”
To frown, or look sullen.

Cross, ill-natured.

Sly, cunning.

“Strapping” (a ludicrous word)

“A carling”
An old woman.

“The oxtar”
The armpit.

I have added some speech marks to indicated the Scottish language examples in the place of italics in the original text, to make the quotes easier to understand within the format of the blog.  The above are a series of selected quotes from the text, without indication of where omissions of text between lines have been made.

I think “to make songs on somebody” is a rather lovely expression!  Please feel free to make songs on this post with your comments, particularly anyone who has any insights into whether any of the more unusual examples are in use today.

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
This entry was posted in 18th Century, Books, History, Language, Snippets and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Sneck the Door (Snippets 53)

  1. I love this! It’s fascinating how many of the Scottish expressions are now the more normal ones in American English — like “strapping,” “stay to dinner,” or “set off on a journey”!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I have looked at a few old books about local dialects and there are so many expressions that were identified as regional and would have been unusual at the time for anyone else, which have now become the standard way of saying things. The language keeps changing! Thanks for your comment 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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