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The Orkney and Shetland Folk Festivals top and tail May, prompting this week’s word. A Finn is defined in the Dictionaries of the Scots Language (DSL) as


“a creature, sometimes thought of as human and sometimes as animal, which appeared from time to time in the islands and was credited with supernatural powers”.It is thought that the Finns were “the early non-Aryan inhabitants of Norway and Sweden, stray individuals of whom occasionally appeared in their canoes off Orkney and Shetland and were taken for supernatural beings”.



Finn men are described in A Cheviot’s 1896 Proverbs as:


“the sea fairies of Orkney, which are said to drive fish from the part of the sea they frequent”.



“The home of the Finns was asserted to be Norway, and in the pursuance of their visits, which were chiefly nocturnal, ... they were said frequently to assume the form of some amphibious animal”

(The Shetland News of December 1897).


The only twentieth century mention of the Finnfolk in DSL currently comes from the Scots Magazine of August 1931:


“There is a story told of a witch who married a ‘trow’ and who by her spells kept herself alive after their son was born, and from this unholy union there sprang a new race of ‘trows’ known as ‘finis fiks’ [Finns folks]”.



We found a more recent citation, from the Edinburgh Evening News of April 2017:


“Finnfolk are also referred to in Orkney folklore. They are described as sorcerous shapeshifters of the sea who come ashore during spring to search for human captives to force into lifelong servitude as a spouse”.



This Scots Word of the Week was written by Pauline Cairns Speitel. Visit DSL Online at