View site in Scots

Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid


HALFLIN n., adj.


The meanings of halflin, as described in the Dictionaries of the Scots Language (DSL), are varied, but they are all similar in that they describe a half of something or someone (for example, in fishery terms, a halflin is a half-mature herring). The first definition is, of course, the most common:


“a half-grown boy, adolescent youth; often applied to a lad engaged in farm work”.


Though, less flatteringly, DSL also gives halflin as


“a half-witted person”.



One of DSL’s earliest recordings is the inscription on a 1662 gravestone in Edinburgh’s Greyfriars burying ground which tells us that the remains of the interred are those of


“Thomas Abel, a halflin”.


The Statistical Account of Scotland (1795) records that there were specific rates of pay for the services of a halflin:


“Wages of a man servant . . . £10. 0.0 — of a halflin (between man and boy) £5. 0. 0.”.


Bear in mind this would their wages for a year.



Halflins come in for criticism in John Buchan’s Witch Wood (1927):


“The auld and the bauld and the leal-hearted must go down because of conceited halflings like you”.


Bladder control is clearly an issue in this example from Sheena Blackhall’s The Bonsai Grower (1998):


“The hinmaist loon [last boy] tae bide in the chaumer hid bin a pee-the-bed halflin frae Glen Dav”.


Finally, our research found the following from the Aberdeen Evening Express (April 1973):


“Boy or halflin wanted for general farm work...”.


This advertisement is from a farm at Phingask, Fraserburgh, and shows that the term would still have been well understood.


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