PECH v., to be out of breath, to pant
The Dictionary of the Scots Language (www.dsl.ac.uk, DSL) defines pech as ‘To breathe quickly and in a laboured way, to pant with exertion’, and it is in this last sense that it is most used today. An early example dates from the sixteenth century: “He will tye the burthen of them on their owne backes whilest they grone and peach” from Robert Rollock’s On the Passion.
Moving forwards through the centuries, in 1754 we find “At last, wi’ great peching an’ granin, we gat it up with a pingle [an effort]” from Robert Forbes’ A Journal from London to Portsmouth; and a character in Sir Walter Scott’s The Bride of Lammermoor (1819) declares: “I hae been short-breathed ever since, and canna gang twenty yards without peghing like a miller’s aiver [an old carthourse]”. A more modern example is from Ian Rankin’s Strip Jack (1992): “By the time he reached the second floor, he was peching and remembering exactly why he liked living in Patience’s basement”. The fact that pech appears quite at home in a sentence that is otherwise in English, is perhaps evidence that it is widely used.
By extension, to pech can also mean to go or work so as to pant or gasp with the exertion. The following 1949 quotation from the Scots Magazine illustrates this meaning, and is another example of pech appearing in an otherwise English sentence: “When we had peched at length to the top of the glen and stood on a vast heathery plateau, the light was going rapidly”.
As a noun, a pech is a laboured breath or gasp. John White in his Jottings in Prose and Verse (1879) refers to “…the old man’s severe and continued pech-pech”. And predictably, the phrase out o pech means out of breath.
Scots Word of the Week is written by Ann Ferguson of Scottish Language Dictionaries www.scotsdictionaries.org.uk, 9 Coates Crescent, Edinburgh EH3 7AL, firstname.lastname@example.org. For £20 you can sponsor a Scots word.