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World Book Night (23 April) made me think of this word for a teacher or schoolmaster. Dominie is derived from the Latin dominus, a lord or master. Its earliest appearance in the Dictionaries of the Scots Language (DSL) refers to a now obsolete meaning of a “student at a University” and comes from J Kelly’s Proverbs (1721):


“Doves and Domines leave ay a foul House”.


Sometimes it became part of a person’s name, as in Walter Scott’s Guy Mannering (1815):


“Abel Sampson, commonly called, from his occupation as a pedagogue, Dominie Sampson”.  


This Dominie was noted for his fondness for a wee refreshment in Sketches from Nature A Maclagan (1851):


“There's Dominie Davie, sae glib i’ the mou, But it’s like ye will fin’ the auld carl blin’ fou”.


It could also be shortened to the more colloquial “Dom”, as in this North East example from Jean Baxter’s A Ae Oo [All One wool] (1928):


“The Dom sat back in his laich-backit [low-backed] cheir”.


In more recent times, DSL records that the word could also be used to describe a female teacher - as indicated in this example from Sheena Blackhall’s The Bonsai Grower (1998):


“There’s nae Sabbath Schule the day — Mrs Barron the dominie’s nae weel sae ye maun sit throw the sermon wi me”.


Are dominies still with us today? A retiring teacher illustrates that the term is still within living memory (Stirling Observer, February 2021):


“In reply to the tributes, Miss Muirhead told how on the first day she stood before a class as a teacher at the school, her younger sister Margaret was one of the pupils and Mr Saunders was head teacher. He was, she said, an unforgettable figure in his black skull cap - the old dominie type, stern but kindly”.



Scots Word of the Week is written by Pauline Cairns Speitel, Dictionaries of the Scots Language