In the Dictionaries of the Scots Language (DSL) smowt has various meanings – the first two senses relate to fish: “a young salmon”and “a kind of trout”. The meaning I want to concentrate on is given as the third sense in DSL, “a small insignificant person; also used of animals and inanimate objects”.
Alexander Tait, in his Poems and Songs (1790), casts an acerbic eye on inbreeding “gentry”:
“Our gentry now they’re a’ grown smouts, their banes so short and sma’”.
Another unflattering picture comes from 1836 in Allan Cunningham’s description of a lady in his Lord Roldan:
“...and her a black smout of a thing; walks intaed and has a beard”.
Referencing “inanimate objects”, DSL cites John Black’s Airtin Hame (1920):
“We taigle at anterin times ower lang Wi’ smouty and little-worth things”.
Insignificant things and people are both described here in this Edinburgh example from 1956:
“Ye canna play wi us. Ye're juist a smowt. Have ye no got a bigger aipple? This is an awfu wee smowt”.
Yes, in an Edinburgh childhood there was no greater insult than being called, “a wee smowt”.
Research at DSL has shown that the term is still widely used as, for example, in this from the Edinburgh Evening News of June 2009:
“Just ’cos he’s a wee smout, dwarfed by his ten-feet-tall fiancée Sophie Dahl, doesn’t mean diminutive Jamie Cullum’s a bad person”.
More recently, there is this report of a trial in Paisley from the Paisley Daily Express of October 2021 describing the rough handling of a shop-lifter:
“She was a wee smout. That’s why she got rag-dolled".
This Scots Word of the Week was written by Pauline Cairns Speitel. Visit DSL Online at https://dsl.ac.uk.