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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid


TARTAN n., adj., v.


Nothing is so iconically Scottish as tartan. In Canada and America, tartan is celebrated with the Tartan Day Parade on 9th April in the USA and, in Canada, National Tartan Day on 6th April.

The Dictionaries of the Scots Language (DSL) offers a complete, if not very concise, potted history of tartans:


“A woollen cloth woven in stripes of varying width and colour repeated at regular intervals and crossing a similar set of stripes at right angles so as to form a pattern. A plaid or long blanket of this sort was the characteristic garb of Highlanders and certain patterns were favoured in certain districts perhaps because of the availability of local vegetable dyes. In consequence, towards the end of the 18th century and largely through the enterprise of Messrs Wilson, weavers in Bannockburn, a series of tartans, each ascribed to a certain clan, was devised and is now accepted as authoritative, though almost entirely unhistorical”.



DSL’s earliest record of the word (1532-3) is from the Accounts of the Treasurer of Scotland:


“Ane uthir tartane galcoit [coat] gevin to the king be the Maister Forbes.”



In current times, no discussion about tartan is complete without mention of the Tartan Army, our indefatigable national team supporters:


“What an experience it was to travel with the Tartan Army to the Moldova-Scotland match in Chisinau, and with a Scottish win and qualification for the play-offs, it was even more exciting for around 1000 Scottish supporters who travelled over.”

(Inverness Courier November 2021).


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