SMIT n a spot, blemish; v stain, infect
At an early period, we find this word in a figurative context. John Barbour’s Legends of the Saints (1380) has the following examples:
“Criste hym chesit fore to be But smyt of flesche in chastite”
“The feynd … thocht that he wald put a smyt In hyr gud nam, for to fyle it”.
Another early sense is to put an identification mark on a sheep. Hence:
“You must have the tarr pigg (pot) by your belt, and be ready to give a smott to every one of Christ’s sheep”
is the instruction given by John Livingstone (1660) in William Tweedie’s Select Biographies. Returning to Legends of the Saints, we find the sense more familiar to modern Scots speakers:
“his seknes smytit hym sare”.
Moving into the 20th century, this threat is from Andrew Wilson’s Till ’Bus Comes (1934):
“If I had measles I’d sit on your doorstep till I gied ye the smit!”
Allan Ramsay’s Collection of Scots Proverbs (1736) gives a variant of the English proverb regarding one rotten apple:
“Ae scabbed sheep will smit the hale hirdsell”.
‘Smittle’ is a way of saying ‘highly infectious’ and W. D. Cocker in his Further Poems (1935) rewords Ramsay’s proverb:
“A smittle thing the mawk (maggot), Yae flee contaminates a flock”.
‘Smittin’ is another possibility, as in James Brown’s The Round Table Club (1873) where we find the question:
“Is’t smittin’, like sma’ pox?”
A sad declaration comes from J. M. Barrie’s The Little Minister (1891):
“He said ‘I’m smitted’ and went home to die”,
but not all smits are bad. Robert Ford tells us in Tayside Songs (1895):
“A sleekie, weel-penn’d billet-doux, Wi’ love’s burnin’ ardour, wad smit them”
but, if love’s ardour is unwelcome, there is no need to despair for, according to P. Buchan’s Mount Pleasant (1961),
“There’s cures for ills that smit the hert”.
This Scots Word of the Week was written by Chris Robinson of Dictionaries of the Scots Language.
First published 27th August 2013.