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MISHANTER  n  a mishap, an unfortunate accident, a disaster.


This word was borrowed into Older Scots and Middle English from Old French ‘mesaventure’. Gilbert Hay uses it in his The Buke of the Law of Armys (1456) of:


“the perilis and the misaventuris that oft tyme cummys in weris (wars)”.


Since then, English has added a ‘d’ to give the modern word ‘misadventure’. Scots, on the other hand, removed the ‘v’ sound. You would expect this to produce a form close to the one we find in Shetland in Joseph Gray’s Lowrie (1949):


“Trath, I tink I never hed sic a misanter i’ me days”.


However, the most frequent form is ‘mishanter’ as found in Burns’ A Poets Welcome to his Love Begotten Daughter (1784):


“Mishanter fa’ me, If thoughts o’ thee, or yet thy mammie Shall ever daunton me or awe me”.


Mishanters recorded in the Dictionary of the Scots Language range from domestic upsets to serious injury. William Brockie describes a less than happy homecoming to an account of the day’s disasters in The Confessional (1876):


“She’ll gie me nae supper, but gollar (scolding) an’ flyte; Of a’ her mischanters she’ll gie me the wyte”.


David Toulmin in Travels Without a Donkey (1980) manages to escape injury:


“Of course I had the odd mischanter and narrow escape, like the time I missed my gear when changing down on a steep hill, for you had to be very slick at this when double-declutching, and the car began to run backwards”.


Walter Gregor provides a more painful illustration in The Dialect of Banffshire (1866):


“He fell oot o’ the cairt an’ got a mischanter on’s knee”.


Returning to the theatre of war and using mishanter as a verb, Elsie Rae writes in Light in the Window (1937):


“He has gotten his leg gey mishantert at a place caud Mons awa’ out owre the sea”.


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

First published 26th May 2014.