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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid


DWAM n. a daydream; a stupor; a swoon


Dwam, in modern Scots, is generally used to describe a state of dreaminess or reverie, as in Anne Donovan's novel, Buddha Da (2003):


"Ah was in such a dwam that ah'd nearly walked past him when ah realised he was staundin in front of me, wavin intae ma face".


However, the earliest recorded uses of the word indicate that it originally denoted a fainting fit or swoon. In origin, dwam is related to Old English dwolma 'chaos, confusion' and Old Saxon dwalm 'delusion', and first appears in Scots in texts dating from the sixteenth century. The medieval makar William Dunbar writes of "deidlie dwawmes" and Robert Keith's History of the Affairs of Church and State in Scotland (a1568) reports that Mary Queen of Scots suffered from "dwaumes of swouning". This use of the word to describe a state of unconsciousness is also found in Walter Scott's The Tale of Old Mortality (1816):


"He fell out o' ae dwam into another, and ne'er spake a word mair, unless it were something we cou'dna mak out".


In Joseph Gray's Shetlandic tale, Lowrie (1949), falling asleep is described as "dwaamin ower". A person in a dwam might also be in a trance-like state, as in Kevin MacNeil's novel The Stornoway Way (2005):


"I walk the rest of the way in a dwam, ideas shifting, finicky, melting like Dali-clockwork into wordless philosophies in my head".


Alternatively, being in a dwam could also relate to some form of enchantment, as in Neil Munro's Doom Castle (1901):


"Few'll come to Mungo Byde's hostelry if his wife's to be eternally in a deevilish dwaam, concocting Hielan' spells".


That said, the dwam described by a journalist in Scotland on Sunday in June this year is less a form of enchantment and more of a stupor:


"When other guys start talking about 0-to-60 speeds and brake horsepower, I lapse into a dwam".



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

Dictionaries of the Scots Language

First published 1st October 2007.