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SPIRTLE n porridge stick

You would not think that there could be much controversy about a simple kitchen implement but the humble spirtle, spurtil(l), spartle, spirl, spurl or spruttle, spell it how you will, has several varieties and uses. My mother’s spirtle, a simple wooden stick worn to a third of its original size with stirring of porridge and soup, was never put to such violent use as that recorded in Papers submitted in Cases before the Court of Session: Cramond v. Allan (1756), where we read “Her father would have her make the pottage for supper...She saw her father strike her mother at another time with the spurtle”. A spirtle is alternatively described in the Scottish National Dictionary as a wooden or metal implement with a long handle and a flat blade used in baking for turning oatcakes, scones, etc. and this is supported with quotations such as that from the Transactions of the Dumfries and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society (1891): “‘Yere cake’s burnin...’. ‘Make us a spurtle tae turn it wi’, then’”. A theekin spirtle is flat-bladed instrument, sometimes forked, for pushing thatching straw into position on a roof and, in the production of linen, a spirtle is a flat stick or bat for beating flax. A spirtle-grup or spirtle-shot is a sharp pain in the side and the Scottish National Dictionary provides a remarkable folk remedy culled from Manuscript Notes on North East Scotland Folk-Lore, in the library of The Folk-Lore Society, London, given by J. E. Crombie, (c. 1890): “A child should receive the kidneys of a hare the first kind of flesh to eat. This prevents the child from taking ‘the spurtle shot,’ the sharp pain that strikes one in the side when running or walking fast”. If you manage to try it out, please let us know if it works.

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

This week's Word is spoken by Michael Hance.