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GREEN verb to long for, yearn

While I was re-reading James Robertson’s 2006 novel The Testament of Gideon Mack I came across a use of the word green with the above meaning: “… confessed to Dod Eadie that, tho’ she had merriet the laird, she had done it for siller, no’ for love, an’ that she had anither lover in her ain land and that she green’d to see.”


In the The Dictionary of the Scots Language green meaning ‘to desire earnestly, to yearn, to long for’ has a pedigree dating back to 1513 as shown in the following example from Gavin Douglas’ translation of The Aeneid: “Sum grenys eftir a guse, To fars his wame full”. 


A specific meaning relates to the craving, sometimes abnormal, of pregnant women for certain types of foods. Robert Woodrow in Analecta of 1729 informs us: “The midwife asked the mother if she greened for anything when with him.” According to superstition if the women was denied what she longed for it would damage the child or cause the same craving in the baby, as recorded by David Rorie in his Mining Folk of 1912: “If a woman while pregnant has been ‘greenin’ (longing for) any article of diet which has been denied to her, the child when born will keep shooting out its tongue until its lips have been touched with the article in question.” And in Aberdeenshire in 1915 Helen Beaton demonstrates this in her novel Benachie: “If ye are greenin’ efter my butter, an’ divna get a bit o’t, yer bairnie’s tongue wid maybe aye be hingin’ oot.”


During my own pregnancy one of my aunts did ask me if I greened for anything – yes I did, ice-cream.



Scots Word of the Week is written by Pauline Cairns Speitel of Scottish Language Dictionaries, 9 Coates Crescent, Edinburgh EH3 7AL 0131 220 1294