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Caledonian antisyzygy

In the new edition of the Concise Scots Dictionary there will be formal as well as informal Scots included and Caledonian antisyzygy is defined as follows: “the presence of duelling polarities within one entity, considered to be characteristic of the Scottish temperament sometimes shortened to antisyzygy”. In other words we Scots are thrawn.


Although this seems a relatively new term the earliest example in the 2005 Supplement of the Dictionary of the Scots Language ( is from 1919 and it was originally coined by G Gregory Smith in his Scottish Literature: Character and Influence: “The antithesis need not, however, disconcert us. Perhaps in the very combination of opposites — what either of the two Sir Thomases, of Norwich and Cromarty, might have been willing to call ‘the Caledonian antisyzygy’…”


Then, in our records, there is a gap of more than 60 years, when still with literature Roderick Watson in his Literature of Scotland (1984): “he [MacDiarmid] proposed that the Scottish sensibility was characteristically extreme, containing a combination of opposite tendencies — a ‘Caledonian antisyzygy’.”


Sometimes is seems that in more modern times the term has been shortened to ‘antisyzygy’ and is used by Brian Groom writing in the Financial Times of 3rd February 2014 in his article Scotland, Forever in Two Minds: “…antisyzygy means “the joining together of two opposites”…”


Scots, as ever, is fascinating in its richness and descriptiveness.


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


Caledonian antisyzygy has been selected for inclusion in the new edition of the Concise Scots Dictionary ‘CSD2’. This definitive, single-volume dictionary of Scots will be published by Edinburgh University Press in a few weeks time. Fully updated with fascinating insights, CSD2 will be  indispensable to anyone interested in the rich heritage of the Scots language.