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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

BOORACH n., a mound, an untidy heap

Boorach’s etymology is in itself a right boorach’. The Gaelic word ‘búrach’, a digging, appears in the Dictionary of the Scots Language under ‘boorag’, defined as a piece of turf used as peat or for roofing and illustrated by David Stephen in Gleanings in the North (1891) with this colourful quotation involving damage to daughter and dog: “Maister Jolly, yin gigglegawkie, fat ye ca’ m’ son, dangs bowarag in my dochter’s e’e, and tramped ‘po’ my folpey’s (whelp’s) feet.” Gaelic ‘búrach’ comes from English ‘burrow’ a heap or mound, from Old English ‘beorg’. The dictionary is less clear on the derivation of boorach. It may be from ‘beorg’, but it has been suggested that it may be related to Old English ‘bur’, a dwelling, or ‘burg’, a fortified place, which gives us ‘burgh’. Whatever the source, we find it as a mound or a heap of stones in Alexander Gray’s Arrows (1932): “He has struck his fit on a bourock; he trippit and slippit, and syne He fell”. James Brown in The Round Table Club (1873) tells us: “twenty deid deer waur coontit, a’ lyin’ in a boorach thegither”. John Black in Melodies and Memories (1909) describes seasonal cheer: “O’ holly leaves wi’ berries bricht, An’ bouracks big o’ cake an’ bun To grace the feasts an’ spice the fun”. Frequently, boorachs are untidy, hence the use of the word to describe a teenager’s bedroom or, more figuratively, avant-garde music: “a new-fangled music’s juist a bourock” as T. S. Cairncross declares in the Scots Magazine (1928). In Mairi Hedderwick’s Katie Morag Delivers the Mail (1997), Grannie says, “Well, this is a fine  HYPERLINK "" \l "match1" boorach you've got yourself into, Katie Morag”. I know it as a crowd, huddle or cluster, like E. S. Rae in the Banffshire Journal (1920): “An’ boorichs black o’ crawin’ clamrin’ craws”.

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