BLELLUM n. an idle, ignorant, talkative man
Blellum is one of my personal favourite Scots words and I wish it would come back into popular use. That it is still used or known at all is largely due to Robert Burns’ epic poem Tam O’ Shanter penned in 1790 where Tam is described as a ‘blethering, blustering, drunken blellum’. In so few words we have a picture of a talkative, sometimes boastful, possibly diminutive, man. Blellums to my mind are always male.
Its use in Scots is not confined simply to Burns. The Dictionary of the Scots Language (dsl.ac.uk) reveals that the word also appears in John MacTaggart’s Gallovidian Encyclopedia of 1824 where he defines it as:
“an ignorant talkative fellow”.
From Lanark in 1895 William Stewart in his Lilts and Larks frae Larkie describes a character in the terms:
“Thus he raved, the senseless blellum.”
Although many recent usages do indeed refer to Tam there are some instances which do not. Pete Forturne writing in the anthology A Tongue in Yer Heid (1994) describes a character thus:
“In face auld Tosh (bad auld blellum he is, mind ye)…”
this seems to me to call into question the veracity of whatever Auld Tosh was about to say.
Regasrding the etymology the DSL suggests that it is perhaps a conflation of ‘blabber’ “A gurgling noise with the lips in a liquid” and ‘skellum’ “A worthless fellow, scamp, scoundrel, rogue, now sometimes used playfully to a young boy”.
Scots Word of the Week is written by Pauline Cairns Speitel of Scottish Language Dictionaries
First published 17th October 2015