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Ghaist n ghost

 A ghaist is just one of the visitors that the superstitious expect to see at Halloween. W. Birnie in The Blame of Kirk-buriall tending to perswade Cemiteriall Civilitie (1606) warns there may be “ bogils or gaistes, ... wandring in a vagrant estate about graues and alrish deserts” and Polwart extends the unholy fellowship in The Flyting between Montgomerie and Polwart (a1585): “boigillis, brouneis, gyr carlingis, & ghaistis”. Ghaists are conveniently alliterative, so Sir David Lindsay writes of “the greislie gaist of Gye” in The Dreme (1528) and G. McIndoe describes a “Vile gashan, gapean, gabbin gaist” in a poem published in 1805. Tam o Shanter’s adventures (1786) at “Kirk-Alloway ... Whare ghaists and houlets nightly cry” are famous, but all kirkyards should be treated with care as they are alternatively known as ghaist-crafts. Ghaist cramp, an injury supposed to be due to a visitation of a ghost, affected an unfortunate Orkney woman as explained by W. T. Dennison in The Orcadian Sketch-Book (1880): “Ye see...sheu wus speerit-b’und, or gotten what some ca’ the g’aist cramp”. An interesting figurative development is its application to the remains of a piece of shaly coal after burning, a white slaty cinder. James Headrick’s View of the Mineralogy, etc. of Arran (1807) states: “The dauch (soft coaly fireclay) always left a large guest; whereas the coal burnt into a fine white ash”. This spelling could be due to some confusion with the word ‘guest’ as defined by the Norn scholar Jakob Jakobson in An Etymological Dictionary of the Norn Language in Shetland (1928): “Gest. Half-burnt brand, standing right on its end, without any support, when the fire wastes away; this is considered as a fore-telling of a guest's arrival at the house; if, when touched with the fingers or tongs, the brand, ‘guest,’ blazed up, then it was said: ‘dis is gaun to be a welcome gest’”.

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

This week's Word is spoken by Michael Hance.