View site in Scots

Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

THRAWN adj twisted, stubborn

This word goes back to the past participle of an Old English verb meaning to twist. Many early examples describe twisted metal or thread. The Edinburgh Testaments (1610) refers to “Ane pund of thrawin threid”. The Acts of the Lords of Council in Civil Causes (1520) itemise “Ane thrawn ring of gold” and several entries in A Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue refer to silver spoons with twisted decoration. More recently the Ulster Scots writer W. G. Lyttle in Humorous Readings (1879) used the simile “As thrawin’ as a dug’s hin’ leg”. In John Spreull’s An Accompt Current betwixt Scotland and England ballanced (1705), it is used is of oyster shells: “The thrawn and wrinkled like Shells ... wherein Pearls are commonly found”, and R. D. C. Brown, in his Comic Poems of the years 1685 and 1793, makes the sense very clear in this simile: “as thrawn’s an S”. Robert Louis Stevenson famously used the adjective to describe Thrawn Janet (1887): “Janet M‘Clour before his e’en, wi’ her thrawn craig”. A. D. Willock offers a literary extension of this sense in Rosetty Ends (1887) “When the coorse o’ their true love gaed thrawn”. To most people, however, thrawn is the ideal word to describe a certain twisted or cross-grained streak in the character of many Scots. One of the earliest recorded usages in this sense comes from Henryson’s fable of the Paddock and the Mouse (a1500) where the timid rodent is reluctant to trust the amphibian on account of her ugly appearance and says: “Ane thrawin will, ane thrawin phisnomy”. Finally, in Aspen (1996), John Murray gives a near-unbeatable performance of the Minister’s Cat in Scots: “Thrawn, Ugsome, Vengefie an Wicked the meenister’s cat wis an X certificate cat”. Get out your Concise Scots Dictionary and have a go.

 Scots Word of the Week is written by Chris Robinson of Scottish Language Dictionaries