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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid


BUNNET  n  a head covering for men or boys, including all kinds of caps.

The earliest appearance of a bunnet is in Barbour’s Bruce (1375), on a spear rather than a head:

“Tharfor he gert ay ber about Apon a sper a red bonet”.

This antedates its first recorded use in English in Caxton’s Golden Legende (1483). It disappeared from English before 1700, but was later revived through the influence of Scots.

It comes from Old French ‘chapel de bonet’’ meaning a hat or cap of a fabric known as bonet. Whatever that may have been, fabrics and fashions have changed. The steel bonnet was de rigueur for combat wear, but for more formal occasions we read in the Accounts of the Treasurer of Scotland (1590) about scarlet satin for “the bonnet of hir maiesties croun”.

John Colville takes the long view in his Parænese (1602):

“Thai forget that round bonnetts, syid (long, wide) gounes and larg breikks … ver not in vse in th’ Apostles dayis”

and Sir David Lyndsay in Ane Pleasant Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis comments on the trendy four-cornered bunnet:

“Our round bonats, we mak them, now, four-nuickit”.

In a cold climate, the bonnet is a practical garment, as Robert Sempill makes clear in one of his Satirical Poems of the Time of the Reformation (1573):

“In frost and snaw, quhen all the folkis ar fane, With double bonattis for to hap thair brane”.

A quotation (1535) in Illustrations of the Topography and Antiquities of the Shires of Aberdeen and Banff makes this allowance even for the penitent on chilly nights:

“That na bonnet cum one his heid the tyme of his pennence except his nycht bonnet”.

Bunnets feature in several sayings such as ‘dinna lat the bonnets gae by wyting for the hats’, a warning against letting opportunities pass while waiting for something better. A rather tightfisted proverb is

“Put your hand twice to your bannet for ance to your pouch”.

Scots Word of the Week is written by Chris Robinson of Scottish Language Dictionaries 25 Buccleuch Place, Edinburgh EH8 9LN (0131) 650 4149

First published 8th July 2014