HURCHEON n. a hedgehog
Hurcheon is derived from the Old Northern French word ‘herichon’ and it first appears in the Dictionaries of the Scots Language in Dunbar’s The Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedy (a1508),
“Hard hurcheoun, hirpland, hippit as ane harrow”.
Later examples include this rather whimsical one from the Berwickshire Advertiser of 30th June 1922:
“Ye never heard the bumbee’s drone, Nor the hurcheon’s waesome cheep”.
I never thought of hedgehogs as noisy creatures.
The poetic nature of the hurcheon is further shown in this example from the Scotsman of 20 September 1934:
“The hurcheon hare and badger prowl in shade. The roe-deer crops dank herbage of the glade.”
That the word was still current and under discussion is clear from this letter to the Scotsman on 31st August 1946 from Mr John Buist of Dollar:
“Sir, the word “hurchin” or, more properly “hurcheon”, used in Scotland ….”
The spelling of Scots has always been a controversial topic.
What is interesting, however, is how this endearing creature gained the figurative use defined as follows from the DSL:
“An unkempt, slovenly, uncouth person. … Occasionally applied to a mischievous child.”
As illustrated by Robert Burns in a letter of 1795:
“The little one is the most striking likeness of an ill-deedie, damn’d, wee, rumble-gairie hurchin of mine.”
Other examples of this pejorative use are all from the 19th century which implies that this meaning has died out. However, there may be parents and grandparents from Shetland to the Borders calling their little darlings “wee hurcheons”.
This Scots Word of the Week was written by Pauline Cairns Speitel of Dictionaries of the Scots Language.
First published 21st August 2016.