View site in Scots

Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

The Curse of Scotland



The Dictionaries of the Scots Language (DSL) tells us that the nine of diamonds playing card has this unenviable title. 

The first example DSL gives us is from the Memoirs of James Houston, covering the years 1690 to 1747:


“[Lord Justice-Clerk Ormistone] became universally hated in Scotland, where they called him the Curse of Scotland; and when the Ladies were at Cards playing the Nine of Diamonds, (commonly called the Curse of Scotland) they called it, ‘the Justice Clerk’”.


(Ormistone played a key part in the suppression of the Jacobite rising of 1715.)


There are many conflicting explanations as to why this humble card should acquire such a name.  One explanation involves Mary of Guise, mother of the tragic Mary Queen of Scots, who introduced the French card game Comette to Scotland. The winning card in this game is the nine of diamonds. The game became so popular that it was the ruin of many noble families. 

Another possible explanation comes from a card game called Pope Joan, in which the nine of diamonds is known as the Pope (seen as the Antichrist to Scottish reformers).

However, according to the DSL, the most likely explanation is that:


“the nine of diamonds resembles the arms of the Earl of Stair (or, on a saltire azure, nine lozenges of the first), who was hated for the part he played in bringing about the Massacre of Glencoe and the Union of 1707”. 



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