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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid


KITTLIN n., adj.


Some folk identify themselves as cat people or dog people. Personally, I like both canines and felines but, if asked for a preference, it would be for our feline friends. Having a dog as a pet, however loving, would be hard work.

As we pass International Cat Day, I thought I would look at the Dictionaries of the Scots Language (DSL) entry for kittlin. One early example comes from Dougal Graham in 1779, who observed:


“The yeal [barren, unable to bear young] cats is never kind to kitlens”.


Sometimes the term was also applied to the young of other small animals, such as mice, rats and ferrets.

In the Herald of September 2002, a proverbial use of the term is quoted:


“The only things you get for naething aboot a fairm are rhubarb and kittlins”.


In more modern times the kittlins are still with us. In the Northern Scot from Elgin in August 2013 comes the following lament:


“The kittlin got haud o ma oo [wool], an noo it's in a richt sorl” [Scots snorl, a tangle].


This observation will resonate with anyone who has tried knitting with a cat of any age around.

The Press and Journal (March 2019) offers this comparison with, of all things, a washing machine:


“Bit at wis last wikkeyn [weekend] an things hae sortit emsels oot ... the new washin machine is purrin awa in the backgrun like a contentit kittlin, efter a day or twa o help fae a gweed neebor…”.


Kittlin come from a Scandinavian root - as in Old Norse keltlingr, a kitten.


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