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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid




DWAIBLE  adj  feeble, shaky


You can almost hear the shoogliness and infirmity in this word. It is applied, often with apt similes, to various parts of the body or to one’s general state of health. Legs are particularly inclined to such enfeeblement as described by W. Taylor in a poem of 1787:


“Legs aneath ’im turned as dwaible As an autumn salmon’s tail”.


G. P. Dunbar in A Whiff o' the Doric (1922) provides a different image:


“His dwebble legs boo’t like a rash, ower on his wime (belly) he fell”.


The digestive system is affected in D. Grant’s Lays and Legends of the North (1908):


“It gar her guts sae dwybal grow”,


and J. Skinner’s Christmass Bawing, published  in the Caledonian Magazine (1788) refers to the ankle:


“But wi’ a yark Gib made his queet As dwabill as a flail”.


In Songs and Ballads of Clydesdale edited by A. Nimmo (1882), the debility seems to be general and severe:


“Lang Jock’s been often ill, but never was seen worse, He was so doiled and dwabble, that he couldna’ clean his horse”.


Even in the recovery phase, A. Ross indicates in Helenore (1768) that the patient may still be fragile:


“Now bit an’ bit the sickness wears awa’, But she's as dweble as a windlestra’”.


James Robertson in The Fanatic (2000) uses dwaiblie to describe the quality of light in a superbly atmospheric way:


“He was lying in a tiny, damp cell that smelt of salt and urine. Daylight inched its dwaiblie way in and gave up”.


Even a dictionary entry can be a bit dwaible. This is sometimes because of a time-lag before we catch up with words more common in speech than in writing. Thanks to the readers who sent me information about the word ‘purvey’, we now have a much healthier record of its dates and geographical spread.



This Scots Word of the Week was written by Chris Robinson of Dictionaries of the Scots Language.
This week's Word is spoken by Dr Dauvit Horsbroch.

First published 15th August 2011.