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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

LITHE adj., mild, gentle, calm

Lithe can be used of people, in which case it means gentle, genial, kindly or affectionate; this is illustrated by the following quotation from William Farquhar’s The Fyvie Lintie (1904): “Adieu! dear Musie, blate but blithe aye, Lang may your he’rt be hale and lithe aye”.  And referring to a place or situation, it conveys cosiness, or sheltered from the elements; so we read: “I’m quite contentit, man, wi’ this lythe bield [shelter]”, from the Weekly Magazine or Edinburgh Amusement (1776), and “Like thee they scoug [shelter or seek refuge] frae street or field, An’ hap [wrap] them in a lyther bield”, from the Poems of Robert Fergusson (1773).  

This in turn gives rise to lytheness, meaning shelter or snugness, as in this by William Thom in his Rhymes and Recollections of a Handloom Weaver (1844): “When a’ the warld is cauld an’ dark, There’s licht an’ litheness there!”  The lithe side of anything was the sheltered side; thus we read that “The lyde side o’ an auld steen dyke wis a welcome shelter” from the Brechin Advertiser (1886).

Lithesome weather was  mild or calm, as in “The weather is lythsome, An’ out come the bansters and bauns” from Hew Ainslie’s A Pilgrimage to the Land of Burns (1892), and this  from John G Horne’s Flooer o’ the Ling (1936): “It’s lythesome noo at e’enin”.

The phrase ‘to have a lithe side tae’ meant to have a favourable disposition towards or a soft spot for, as in “I cud na juist blame him a’ thegither for ha’ein a lithe side to Tibbie” from W D Latto’s Tammas Bodkin (1864). And this expression didn’t only refer to people, as shown by this from The Lintie o’ Moray ed. C J G Rampini (1850): “Auld Robbie had nae lithe side to a brawl”.

 

 

 

Scots Word of the Week is written by Ann Ferguson of Scottish Language Dictionaries