ANENT prep in front of, regarding
There is more to a language than nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. The little function words such as prepositions are important in their own way. Even the great Dr Johnson recognised this and recorded in his Dictionary of the English Language (1755):
“Anent, prep. A word used in the Scotch dialect...2. Over against, opposite to; as, he lives anent the market-house”.
Anent is a much used and very flexible word in Scots. We find it used similarly in Barbour’s Bruce (1375) in a geographical context meaning ‘opposite’ or ‘across from’, as
“Weik anent Orkney”
“The kyng lay in-to Gawlistoun That is rycht evyn anent Lowdoun”.
In his Legends of the Saints (1380), it seems to mean ‘in front of’:
“He ... stud anente the caldrone”.
Gilbert of the Hay uses it figuratively in his Buke of the Law of Armys (1456) to mean ‘in front of’ or ‘in the sight of’:
“Na as anent God my conscience sall nocht be chargit tharewith”.
A more recent example of this comes from a Banffshire speaker who predicted
“Droggie’ll hae t’appear anent his betters the morn”.
It is very commonly used to mean ‘concerning’ as in this from The Diary of Alexander Brodie of Brodie (1655)
“I heard the Ladi Grant’s errand was anent the witch which wes letten loos”
From the nineteenth century onward it acquired the additional sense of ‘alongside’ or ‘on a level with’, used of both stature and speed, as in D. Anderson Poems, English and Scotch (1813):
“Twa wee boaties...trail’d by horses at a slow jog trot, Scarce fit to haud anent an auld wife on her foot”
In Older Scots it appears in the compounds quhereanent (concerning which) and thareanent (relating to that matter) and foreanent, which gives us the Modern Scots word forenent, which shares some of the senses of anent.
This Scots Word of the Week was written by Chris Robinson of Scottish Language Dictionaries, and was spoken by Perth library staff.
First published 20th June 2011.