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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

CEELIEHOO, SEELY-HOO n a caul

A caul is part of the the amniotic sac that sometimes envelops a child’s head at birth. The Dictionary of the Scots Language gives the following definition for ceeliehoo: “A caul, the membrane sometimes covering a child’s head at birth and regarded as a charm or good omen”. The word has its origins in the North East of Scotland and the DSL has only one written example which is from a poem written by William A G Farquar in 1904 from his collection The Fyvie Lintie. The following is a slightly longer example than the one given in DSL: “When I was born gin a’ be true, Some fouk wha ken hae said, A lucky caul or ceeliehoo, Close ower my face was spread.”

 

Other attestations come from informants in Aberdeen in 1928 and 1939 respectively and one informant from Fife also in 1939. So the DSL is short of information on this rather picturesque word. 

 

In Banffshire in the 1930s it also meant “a kind of close cap or mutch for the head, fastening under the chin”.

 

In the rest of Britain to be born with a caul is regarded as a good omen. Many figures from history have been born with one: Charles the Great otherwise known as Charlemagne, King James the VI and I, the poet Lord Byron, Napoleon and Sigmund Freud. What is not recorded is whether the above thought of their lives as being influenced by this good omen.

 

The etymology of the word is a compound of Seely ‘blessed, lucky’ and Hoo ‘a head-dress, a cap; a caul’.

 

Scots Word of the Week is written by Pauline Cairns Speitel of Scottish Language Dictionaries www.scotsdictionaries.org.uk, 9 Coates Crescent, Edinburgh EH3 7AL,   mail@scotsdictionaries.org.uk. For £20 you can sponsor a Scots word.