View site in Scots

Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid




SKAITH  n  harm, damage, injury


Skaith can be physical as the following quotations show. The St Andrews Gazette (1862) reports,


“The men were ‘more frightened than hurt’, the horse was scaith free”.


John Leslie’s History of Scotland (1570) tells how


“The Inglis ordinaunce schot fast and did greit skaiethe”.


Walter Cullen’s Chronicle of Aberdeen (a1595) describes storm damage


“Twisday ... was ... ane day of grytt woynd ... quhilkis dyd grytt skayth on the kyrk and howissis”.


Even potatoes are at risk unless they are 


“snuggèd up frae skaith”


in “bings” as described by Burns in Brigs of Ayr (1787).

Skaith can also refer to spiritual, moral or mental damage. William Dunbar, scorning the ‘sticks and stones’ adage, exclaims,


“Quhat skaithis and offence That women dois with cullourit eloquence!”


In The Meroure of Wyssdome, Johannes de Irlandia (1490) gloomily asserts,


“The saule ... be the fallouschip that it has with the ... body ... incurris gret skaith as payne deid syn and dampnacioun”.


Moving on to finance, skaith has acquired several special senses. It can simply mean monetary loss. So John Rolland writes in Ane Treatise callit The Court of Venus (1575):


“Emptie purse dois greit skaith”.


It refers specifically to loss caused by the depredation of wandering livestock, which could be poinded or even killed as a result. A submission by J. Colquhoun before the Court of Session (1785) refers to lambs


“poinded in his neighbour’s skaith”.


The meaning even drifts, like ‘damage’ in its original sense, to ‘damages’ or compensation. The Wemyss Charter(1389) specifies payment of


“Thre hundyr mark of sterlyngys ... for thaire costis and thaire skathys gyf euyr thai make ony questione or mouyng be the lawch into the contrary of this endenture”.


We have a few modern examples but it seems to be heard less frequently now. Please let Scottish Language Dictionaries know if you are still using it.


This Scots Word of the Week was written by Chris Robinson of Dictionaries of the Scots Language.

This week's Word is spoken by Katrina MacLeod

First published 3rd July 2012.