When I first recalled hearing this word, I thought it came from the language of the Scottish Travellers community. The Dictionaries of the Scots Language (DSL), however, defines it as, “a baby’s napkin, General Scots”.
An early record of the term comes from the Melrose Parish Registers of 1731, perhaps describing an orphan:
“The child had a day and night busken [leggings] with it, some hippings, but no writ”.
Andrew Scott’s Poems from 1808 describes how makeshift they could be:
“To duds an tatters, For hippin clouts”. Trotter’s Galloway Gossip (1901) paints a very unsavoury picture: “Busy weshin dirty hippens in the gran Punch Bowl”.
Later in the twentieth century the Orcadian (February 1995) reported a recollection of:
“the morning after the gas companies were nationalised, a day so distant that I had still been wearing hippens”.
Adeline Smith Reid, writing in Scots about her memories of Portessie in the 1940s and ‘50s for the Press and Journal (January 2017), recorded:
“Monday was aye washen day, deen wi military precision. The washoose corner byler lechtet [lit] afore sevvin an the fytes [whites] hottren in the soapy watter afore we left for the skweel, like the driven snaa they wappet in the breeze hysert up on the touws [washing line], a bonny secht. Peety pye the new wife faas [whose] mishwashen hippens or washen wiz the wrang culler”.
Also from the Press and Journal, Michael McCosh wrote in May 2019:
“A relation chose the name Charnley for her new-born loonie… I hope the mither’s weel stockit up wi hippens”.
This Scots Word of the Week was written by Pauline Cairns Speitel. Visit DSL Online at https://dsl.ac.uk.