DREICH adj tedious, dull
This word is anything but dull. Dreichness could even inspire fear. Alexander Montgomerie’s poem The Cherrie and the Slae (1585) tells us:
“The craig was vgly, stay (steep) and dreiche,...I was effrayit to mount so heich”.
Fearful too is the Day of Judgement when, according to the early fifteenth-century moral poem Ratis Raving, God:
“sittis heich And has a balans larg and dreich”.
That balance may weigh heavy against the clergy in the New Litany (1638) from A Book of Scotish Pasquils:
“From typset (tipsy) preachers drunk all night, And dreich againe er day be light,...deliver us”.
The sense of sobriety links to the sense of dryness often associated with sermons, as recalled in Songs (1893) by George Macdonald:
“At the kirk, whan the minister’s dreich an dry”.
Dry, however, is the opposite of the way people use the word as the ideal way to describe damp, dismal, Scottish weather, like Alexander Gray in Any Man’s Life (1924):
“In the cauld dreich days when it’s nicht on the back o’ four”.
A proverb in Hislop’s collection (1862) plays with the variety of meaning:
“A dreigh drink is better than a dry sermon”.
Here, the dreich drink is probably a long-continued one. Another collection of proverbs (1896), this time by A. Cheviot, clarifies:
“Ye’re like the dreigh drinker o’ Sisterpath Mill, Ye’ll no flit as lang’s a stoup ye can fill”.
Of people, dreich can also mean slow. Neil Munro’s travelling salesman Jimmy Swan (1917) found
“Macleerie a little dreich in settlin’ his bills”.
W. Cross in Disruption (1846) affords another example:
“She’s courtin’ him briskly, but he’s unco dreigh to draw”.
But A. D. Mackie’s Poems (1928) dispels any romantic reluctance with this undreich expression of passion:
“And even the ugsome driech o’ this Auld clarty Yirth (Earth) is wi’ your kiss Transmogrified”.
Scots Word of the Week is written by Chris Robinson of Scottish Language Dictionaries.
This week's word is spoken by actress Joyce Falconer.
First published 20th July 2009.