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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid


FOU adj full, intoxicated


Fou has become probably the best known Scots word for intoxicated. According to the Dictionary of the Scots Language, you will find it occurring with bitch, blin, greetin, roarin, stottin, tumblin, etc. to indicate the degree or nature of the intoxication, and in similes such as fou as a buckie, a piper, a puggie, a whilk, the Baltic or the ee o a pick.

There are many fine gradations of the condition, witness E. H. Strain in Elmslie’s Drag-Net (1900):


“He wasna stupid-fou as was his wont on market-days – fechtin’ fou was mair like his state”.


In spite of mockery from Sir David Lindsay’s Satire of the Three Estates (1540):


“Quhen fuillis ar fow, then ar they faine; (when fools are fou, then are they well pleased)”,


strong drink has led to all sorts of trouble. It has caused brushes with the law, as noted in the records of Shetland Sheriff Court (1604):


“The said Magnus being fow and drunkin”.


According to Robert Pitcairn’s Ancient Criminal Trials in Scotland from AD 1488 to AD 1624, it led to dereliction of duty in 1609:


“He callis ane gritt number of the keiparis of the Castell into his chalmer, quhair he drinkis theme all fow”.


And we all know that Tam o Shanter should have paid more attention to his wife when she upbraided him:


“That ev’ry naig was ca’d a shoe on, The smith and thee gat roaring fou on”. More fool him for “Gettin fou an unco happy”.


On the credit side, if you want to hear the truth, James Kelly’s Proverbs (1721) assures us


“A fow Heart lied never. A man in his Cups will tell his Mind”.


So, do we believe the opening line below of Hugh MacDiarmid’s A drunk man Looks at the Thistle?


“I amna fou sae muckle as tired – deid dune”


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

First published 6th October 2014.