brae n. a hillside, slope, stretch of rising ground, etc.
Brae is frequently found in Scottish place-names including the numerous Braeheads, Braefields and Braesides dotted across the country. Braes also feature in proverbs and phrases. A failing enterprise may be gaein doon the brae, but set a stout hert tae a stey (steep) brae to face adversity with resolve.
Like many words, brae does not have a completely straightforward etymology. Old English brū 'eyebrow, brow; brow of a hill' and its Old Norse sister-form bro are part of the answer, but Gaelic broighe 'the upper part of something' has also played a role, particularly in names like the Braes of Angus.
The contribution of Gaelic to Scots (and English) is not yet fully appreciated, but advances in lexicography and Celtic scholarship are helping to redress this situation.
Brae appears in Scots texts throughout the Middle Ages, where it often refers to the bank of a river. The "brais of Acherone", the fabled river of the Underworld, feature in Sir David Lyndsay's sixteenth-century poem, The Monarche. An eighteenth century brae could also be an artificial bank built across a river as a salmon trap. Papers from Court of Session records relating to Moray (1733) include the following:
"a brae, on the river of Spey, is where the water is ebb, and where they can get a found for a dyke; and as the winter frosts and speats (floods) cut and pot these ebbs, they change the stance of their dyke to another ebb place of the river, which they call a brae".
Brae is also found in one of the lesser-known verses of Auld Lang Syne:
"We twa hae run about the braes, And pou'd the gowans fine, But we've wander'd monie a weary fit, Sin auld lang syne".
Anyone unsure of their lines can read (and hear) all the verses at www.scotslanguage.com on the new, seasonal pages of the Scots Language Centre's website. This week's Scots word was written by Dr Maggie Scott.
First publishe 18th December 2006