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carnaptious adj. irritable, quarrelsome

Carnaptious is a word often applied to those with a snappy, critical temperament, as exemplified by the following (presumably apocryphal) anecdote from a Herald article from November 2000:

'On being informed of the Labour person's brush with the carnaptious canine, Anniesland Conservative spokesperson Belinda McCammon said: "Oh dear, I hope the dog's all right".'


Appropriately enough, the -nap- in carnaptious derives from Scots nap or knap, in the sense 'to snap or bite'. Carnaptious is also thought to include the intensifying prefix car- which may derive from Scottish Gaelic, and is also found in words like carfuffle.

Comparable if perhaps less well-known terms include 'curmur', which means 'to make a low rumbling sound' and 'curnawin', meaning 'a gnawing sensation of hunger'. The word is recorded in Scottish and Northern Irish sources since the late nineteenth century, including W. H. Patterson's Glossary of Words in use in the Counties of Antrim and Down (1880).

In 1901, the (now rather quaint-sounding) Northern Whig and Belfast Post described someone as 'such a curnaptious buddy that he is never at peace but when he is takin' the law of somebody'. More recent examples can be found in contemporary texts such as the Belfast Telegraph, which in October 2005 described poet Patrick Kavanagh as 'a carnaptious genius'.

According to a review that appeared in the Daily Record last year, Campbell Armstrong's novel, Butcher, has as one of its characters "an endearingly carnaptious detective who makes Mark McManus's Taggart look chipper". Some descriptions of the carnaptious imply an element of strong determination, though the over-riding impression generally remains negative.

A Herald article from September 2000 described the following:

"when a rescue ship reached a remote desert island, the crew were astounded to discover that a single survivor of the shipwreck, a carnaptious Scotsman, had built two churches -- one to attend, and one to stay away from on principle."

This week's Scots word was written by Dr Maggie Scott.  First published 19th February 2007