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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid




I hope folk attending the coming Orkney Folk Festival will have a good time, despite its virtual nature this year.

Whilst many Scots on the mainland would describe our lengthy summer twilight as the “gloaming”, in Orkney it is described as the “grimlins”. The Dictionaries of the Scots Language (DSL) defines it as


“twilight, the first or last gleams of daylight”.


The word is derived from Norwegian “grimla”, to “glimmer, twinkle, blink”.

In 1908, the DSL records this from the Old-Lore Miscellany of Orkney:


“Bit alis, alis, whin da grimlins cam’ an’ he gaed tae geong hame feinty sheep nor shoon fand he”.


Later, in 1922, John Firth writes in Reminiscences of an Orkney Parish (1922):


“In the ‘grimmelings’ the youngsters were employed to strip the green peel off [the rushes] leaving the white pith, ‘as saft as silk’ which, swimming in sillock [coalfish] oil, barely made darkness visible”.


Still with the DSL, but more recently, the Orcadian of December 1995 records:


“I was walking home along the shore in the grimlins when, from the Burn of Gairsty, I saw a flash of light at the end of our house where my father was lighting his pipe”.


Research, of course, can show us even more recent evidence, as in the following example from Alastair Macleod’s historical novel Bright Shining Woman (2018):


“In the grimlins the cold air made for a sound sleep; although this was summer temperatures dropped to just about four degrees Celsius and blankets or furs were still needed”.



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