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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid


BY-ORDINAR adj. and adv.


If something is by-ordinar it is, as the Dictionaries of the Scots Language (DSL) informs us, “extraordinary, unusual, out of the common”. You could say that recent times have indeed been by-ordinar.

The term can be used positively or negatively. Hugh Miller’s use is positive in his Scenes and Legends (1834):


“The ring’s a bonny ring, an’ something bye ordinar”.


The Glasgow Herald of August 1931 records something extraordinary with:


“Sam . . . could baith read an’ write — an’ that wis mair by-ordinar’ in thir days nor ye micht think”.


Someone’s appearance could also be described thus, as in this vivid description given by Robbie Kydd in New Writing Scotland (number 54 1985):


“He was someone byordinar altogether, black-browed and tiny and fierce, his arms grimly folded”.


More negatively, Sheena Blackhall’s 1996 Wittgenstein’s Web paints a different picture:


“Sin he’d been knee high tae a chunty [chamber pot], he’d seen foo [drunk] fowk treated the byordinar…”.


Davie Kerr waxes poetical in A Puckle Poems (2000):


“Ow’r oor new walkway hikers bash an seek ‘guid health’ byor'ner”.


Twenty years later it’s used in the National of March 2020 to describe events celebrating the food produced by Grampian farmers - and their likely cancellation:


“This ‘ear it is leuikin mair an mair like we are nae gaun tae be able tae enjoy events like the Taste of Grampian, or agricultural shows aa summer lang, tae celebrate the by-ordinar staundart o maet that is producit bi local fairmers, fishermen an ither fuid production warkers”.


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