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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid


lintie n. linnet, the song-bird

Lintie appears today at the request of a reader from Lochmaben who has been kind enough to send me some of his poetry. Suggestions for future words are most welcome! Lintie seems to have originated as a diminutive or familiar form of the now rare (if not obsolete) word "lintwhite", with the same meaning.

Lintwhite is first recorded in Scottish sources in the early sixteenth century and appears in the works of several medieval makars including Alexander Montgomerie's poem, The Cherry and the Slae (a1585):

"The lintwhite, lark and laverock loud Saluted mirthful May".

Though the origins of lintwhite are unclear, it may be related to Scots lint (flax), on account of the birds feeding on the plant's seeds. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, lintie gained currency and lintwhite became rarer. Both terms are found in eighteenth century poems, including Robert Burns' To William Simpson of Ochiltree (1786):

"O sweet are Coila's haughs an' woods, When lintwhites chant amang the buds"

and Allan Ramsay's The Parrat (1728):

"Larks, gowdspinks (goldfinches), mavises and linties".

Chasing linties was often regarded as a futile pursuit, as in the following extract from Blackwood's Magazine (1826):

"I'll be paid for my trouble. I dinna gang about beating bushes for linties".

Linties are known for their melodious song, and literary uses of the word often focus on this characteristic. One of the collected tales in The Laird of Logan (1835) describes how Miss Jean "could sing like a linty, loup like a maukin (a hare), and play on the piano to the bargain". According to the Herald in 2001, the film Moulin Rouge saw Ewan McGregor "singing like a lintie and acting his socks off".

Modern linties also made an appearance in The Orcadian (October 1999) in an article about a project to "enhance Orkney's farmland biodiversity ... Laverock, Lintie and Heather Lintie are just a few species which will potentially benefit from this work".

This week's Scots word was written by Dr Maggie Scott.

First published 4th December 2006