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Doric n. the variety of Scots spoken in the North-East, esp. Aberdeen; the Scots language

Doric is now most often used to refer to the distinctive variety of Scots associated with North-East Scotland and the area around Aberdeen. Yet the word has had an interesting history, its meaning altering quite radically during its lifetime.

In its earliest uses, in sixteenth-century English texts, 'Doric' describes anything that related to Doris (or Doria), a division of ancient Greece. This is why we find such quotations as the following, from Ralph Cudworth's The True Intellectual System of the Universe (1678):

"Historiographers declare that Orpheus ... wrote in the Dorick dialect".

Doric is the oldest, strongest and plainest style of the three classical orders of architecture (the others being Ionic and Corinthian) and in music, the 'Dorian mode' is simple and solemn.

These associations with plain style and with the Doric dialect of ancient Greek apparently motivated the semantic change by which 'Doric' came to designate varieties of language perceived as rural or non-standard. This usage first appears in English seventeenth-century texts and continues until at least the nineteenth century.

In an article in the Athenaeum magazine from 1889, we find mention of someone who spoke

"in the Doric dialect of the Lake District".

From the nineteenth century to the present day, 'Scots' and 'Doric' have sometimes been used interchangeably to refer to the Scots language, although Doric more frequently denotes North-East Scots.

An article from the Scotsman in 1987 provides an example:

"the Doric is first nature to me ... It will take a brain-surgeon to rid me of my Fife-isms".

Like its ancient Greek cousin, the Doric (locally and nationally) is auld and strong, and it is to be hoped that all such rich mither tongues will be recognised, respected and supported with smeddum by the Scottish Executive, in the Curriculum for Excellence, the Culture Bill, and the Strategy for Scotland's Languages.

This week's Scots word was written by Dr Maggie Scott.

Originally published 1st June 2005