Wab (and its variants) has had a variety of different applications over the centuries, relating to such diverse subjects as weaving, coalmining, spiders and the internet. From at least the fifteenth century, Scottish texts have recorded the use of wab to mean a piece of woven cloth. Medieval vandalism of web-looms is alleged in the Burgh Records of Prestwick for 1485-6: "Elene Walcare accusit ... that scho come in her hous & distrobillit her wrangwisly, & brak hir weblumys".
Spiders are also known for their weaving skills, and medieval wabs appear in several Scottish texts. John Ireland's late fifteenth century Meroure of Wyssdome includes this example: "the lawis of the realme ar lik to the wobe of the attircop that takis fleis and litle bestis". Attircop, meaning spider, is still known in some dialects around Britain (and makes a brief appearance in one of J.R.R. Tolkien's rhymes in The Hobbit).
In the sixteenth century, a wab could also be a sheet of lead, and in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it was used to refer to the extent of the depth or thickness of a coal face, as in the following extract from the Session Papers from the Court of Session for 1767: "There is no less than 56 fathom of web of whole coal in the Gillespie seam".
"Website" is sometimes translated into Scots as wabsteid, a steid being a site or base on which something is built, but such modern inventions are not to all tastes. Attempts to write formally in Scots in the absence of a formal standard willnae please aw the fowk aw the time, but new literary Scots creations, such as Colin Donati's pitmirk thirl (black hole), may eventually feed into the wider language.
This week's Scots word was written by Dr Maggie Scott. Originally published 10/10/06