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HOWF, Howff n an enclosed space, a favourite haunt, a shelter


Howf makes its first recorded appearance as the yard of the Grey Friars, granted to Dundee as a burial-ground by Queen Mary in 1564. There was an unaccountable enthusiasm for gaining unorthodox entry to the Howff. In The Dundee Burgh Records for 1565 it is


"Ordainit that what person that ever beis apprehendit louping in our the dykes of the Houf sal pay ... eight shillings",


and the Burgh Laws of 1566 also express concern


"Anent the houf dykes, 'that na person pretend to clym the dykes of the buriall place'".


Another specific application of howf is as a timber yard, a well known one being the timmer houf at Leith, also called Timber Bush. The senses most in use today relate to shelter and comfort. The Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal (1948) tells us,


"The best known example of a mountain howff is the Shelter Stone of Loch Avon"


and the Montrose Standard (1838) notes that accommodation was provided by


"Daniel Fraser, who keeps a vagrants' howff ... at threepence a night".


No building site is complete without a howf affording necessary comforts and when work or play is over, there is another howf to visit as Allan Ramsay writes in 1721:


"Whan we were weary'd at the Gowff, Then Maggy Johnston's was our Howff".


The Herald (1999) describes


"The Old Ship Inn, Perth's oldest tavern. Probably the best way to see Perth is to start with a small refreshment (of about half-a-gallon of real ale) in this fine old howf".


Another Herald quotation (2000) encapsulates the couthie nature of a Scottish drinking howf in contrast with its US counterpart:


"An American bar, even in a respectable Virginia hotel, is not our jolly Scottish howff. It is a place where men perch on high stools and lean over drinks, staring into space, as furtive as cormorants on a rock".

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


First published 24th February 2014.