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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

CLEGG n. a horse fly

Sometimes our Scottish summer can be pleasant with warm days and balmy evenings. However, one thing the summer always brings is undesirable beasties. Along with the famous Scottish midge the clegg is an unwelcome companion on a country walk in high summer. Apparently, it’s only the female who bites and once bitten the victim is left with an angry, itchy weal on their body.


The Oxford English Dictionary defines cleg as “now Scots and dialect”. Its origin is Old Norse kleggi and the modern Norwegian is klegg. 


The first evidence in the Dictionary of the Scots Language ( has the spelling gleg and comes from Androw of Wyntoun’s The Orygynale Cronykil of Scotland circa 1420: “That a kynde of gleggys wes”. A later descriptive example comes from the Idylls o Hame (1870) by James Nicholson: “Whaur the midges mazy dance, Clegs dart oot the fiery lance.”


In more modern times the cleggs are still biting as shown in this example from the Herald of 5 August 1992: “In this season of clegs and mellow frightfulness, lovers of Keats on holiday in Skye have a peculiar source of consolation. We are sharing the experiences of the poet on his walking tour with Charles Brown in August, 1818. ‘Cursed gadflies,’ he called them, Chamber’s Dictionary defines a gadfly as a cleg.” Chambers Dictionary was then compiled in Edinburgh.


Finally, the DSL has a twenty first century example from the Sunday Herald of March 1 2000: “This happens on those days when it hasn't rained for a month and the only things moving on the water are pondskaters and clegs, or when the delicate little spate river you expected to see looks more like the Zambezi, sweeping fallen trees and bloated wildebeest along its path of roaring destruction.”


Scots Word of the Week is written by Pauline Cairns Speitel of Scottish Language Dictionaries  HYPERLINK "", 25 Buccleuch Place, Edinburgh EH8 9LN (0131) 650 4146  HYPERLINK "" For £20 you can sponsor a word.