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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid


SUDDENTY n suddenness, a sudden manner, a sudden incident


This is one of these words which seems to be getting rarer, so please let us know if it is still in your own speech or if you hear it from someone else. It is a useful word for dramatic narrative as Stevenson shows in Catriona (1893):


“Upon a suddenty, and wi’ the ae dreidfu’ skelloch”.


The Scots Magazine (1820) gives another lively example:


“In a suddentie, on the firie-flaucht. The stately stag is gane”.


Suddenty has shades of meaning. James Dalrymple’s translation of John Leslie’s History of Scotland uses it with a sense of unpredictability:


“Feiring the suddantie and craftines of the cuntrey men.”


The Glasgow Burgh Records (1666) remark on the unpredictablity of weather:


“The most great impetuous raine that has been seine … many wer supprysed therby, it falling out in such a suddanty”.


The Charters of the Chiefs of Grant (1613) refer to


“aillhous tulyies and suddanties”.


This association with bar-room brawls suggest a violent and disreputable sense. Indeed, we frequently find the word in legal contexts. Sir John Skene’s early book of legal definitions, De Verborum Significatione (1597) tells us


“Chaud-mella is ane fault or trespasse, quhilk is committed be ane hoate suddaintie, and nocht of set purpose, or præcogitata malitia;”.


The importance of the distinction between suddenty and forethought is made clear in Thomas Hope’s Major Practicks. (a1633)


“Quhen slaughter wes committed throw chaudmellor, or upon suddantie, it wes not punishable be death of old”.


Presumably this is why, according to Edinburgh Burgh Records (1600):


“Henry Nesbet … acknawledget his offence … and declaret that it come rather of suddantie and anger than of set purpose”.


It might be a reason for leniency, but it is no excuse. In his Commonplace Book (1621-40), Andrew Melville counsels against hasty speech:


“Na guid comes of suddentie first think syn speik”.

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

First published 25th August 2014.