View site in Scots

Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

SILLER n silver, money, wealth

The Dictionary of the Scots Language deals with this word at great length, starting with quotations where the reference is to the precious metal. A metaphorical example comes from Robert Sempill in his Satirical Poems from the Reformation(1572): “Siluer fyne mon to the furnes glyde, To get the dros deuydit” (fine silver must go the the furnace flame to get the dross separated). There are many references to silver in the manufacture of valuable objects. Here, in the Accounts of the Treasurer of Scotland (1501), we have silver being recycled: “Brokin silvir … for the making of Sanct Ninianes arme”. Moving on to money, such as one might keep in a siller poke, Chambers postulates a reason for this usage in the Edinburgh Journal (1837): “Nothing answers there among the common people, but silver money. ... Hence the favourite word for money in Scotland — siller”. This is borne out by an assertion in William Harvey's Kennethcrook (1896): “It was seldom the weaver would come to any terms other than ‘siller doon'”. Sometimes colour features in monetary usages. James Ballantine helps to explain in The Miller of Deanhaugh (1844): “Ye see,” said Jock, holding up the silver piece. “There is the real white siller.” This must be distinguished from the coins of higher denomination set by in S. R. Crockett's The Standard Bearer (1898): “There will aye be a bit of yellow siller for ye in the cupboard”. Ian Rankin brings senses together in this quotation about Aberdeen from Black & Blue (1997) “Lumsden smiled. ‘Welcome to Silver City.' Silver for the River Dee which ran through it. Silver for the colour of the buildings in sunlight — grey granite transformed into shimmering light. Silver for the money the oil boom had brought. Lumsden explained as Rebus drove them back down on to Union Street”.

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