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CLART n Mud, mire, muck


In a literary vein, James Stewart in Sketches of Scottish Character (1857) appraises his minister:

“Our minister’s a worthy man – an’ that’s nae little praise – But he downa ken his black sheep, nor half their cunnin’ ways. Their pens are fu’ o’ moral clort”.

As Spring comes at last, we can expect to see a bit less clart on the roads. In the past, such clart meant horses and harness to clean. This quotation from one of J Ballantine’s poems (1856) makes you sorry for man and beast:

“And the horse draigled on through the sleet an’ the clart”.

Clart appears as a plural in Gabriel Setoun’s Robert Urquhart (1896), where the sense is lumps of dirt:

“She’s been pickin’ up as she gaed: her belly-band’s buried in clerts”.

A clart can be used for a lump of anything disagreeble and so we have this unappetising observation from Blackwood’s Magazine (1820):

“Saw ye ever sic a supper served up – a claurt o’ caul comfortless purtatoes?”

Clart can also refer to a person, someone large and dirty, a bad housekeeper or, often applied to children, a bit of a slaister or muck-magnet.

Used as a verb, to clart something is to spread something (usually sticky) over it. It was some clart of a person responsible for cleaning the tables described by Elizabeth Hamilton in The Cottagers of Glenburnie (1808):

“The buirds were a wee thought clarted wi’ parritch, but it was weel dried on”.

Surprisingly, the noun and the verb are not found in Older Scots, although the adjective, clarty, appears in the late sixteenth century, from which time we have this reference to water pollution in Charters and Other Documents relating to the City of Glasgow:

“The west pairt of the toun of Northberwick … lyand vpone the west syd of the burne callit the Clairtie Burne”.

Scots Word of the Week is written by Chris Robinson of Scottish Language Dictionaries. First Published 22nd April 2013