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PARRITCH n porridge

As the days become colder we turn towards comfort food - and that definitely includes parritch.  Formerly, parritch was often treated as a plural; examples of this usage in the Dictionary of the Scots Language ( include the hearty-sounding: 'They're fine, halesome food — they're grand food, parritch.' from R L Stevenson's Kidnapped (1886) and the not so appetising 'Cauld parritch is sooner het again than new anes made', from Andrew Henderson's Scottish Proverbs (1832).

This 1953 extract from the Scots Magazine illustrates that parritch was a staple of the Scottish diet: 'It was parritch in the mornin, oatmeal fried in creesh and tatties at dennertime, and parritch at nicht'.  Its ubiquitousness is also evidenced by the expression, 'as plain as parritch', meaning obvious to all, as in 'As plain as parritch can be seen ye dinna ken the Scotch' from W C Paterson's Echoes of Endrickvale (1902).  

In addition to the well-known expressions 'back to auld claes and parritch' (back to the humdrum of everyday life), and 'save yer breath tae cool yer parritch' (hold your tongue or simply shut up), there are many more parritch-related sayings.  These include 'to boil someone's parritch pot' meaning to support someone or provide them with a living, as in the quotation: 'Buy what they like, fu' weel I wat It ne'er will boil my parritch pat', from Ebenezer Picken's Poems and Epistles (1788).  And in an age when salt was more expensive than oats, not being able to buy saut for your parritch showed that you could only afford the barest essentials.  

We also find parritch-time (a mealtime), a parritch spurtle (a wooden stick for stirring parritch), and a parritch-bicker (a wooden parritch bowl).  To be parritch-hale is to have a healthy appetite, but to be parritch-hertit is to be sentimental or soppy.


Scots Word of the Week is written by Ann Ferguson of Scottish Language Dictionaries