View site in Scots

Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

Tyke, tike



The definition of this word for a dog pulls no punches in the Dictionaries of the Scots Language (DSL):


“A dog, generally with contemptuous force, a hulking uncouth ill-bred dog, a cur. Occasionally applied to other ill-favoured or ill-conditioned animals, e.g., a sheep”.



Although, reading some of the examples, this definition does not always seem to apply. In Twa Dogs (1786), Burns wrote:


“He was a gash an’ faithfu’ tyke, As ever lap a sheugh [ditch] or dyke”. According to DSL, in this instance “gash” means “sagacious, shrewd, smart, witty”.



There is, however, another well-known Burns line (from Tam o’ Shanter) that more closely fits the above definition:


“There sat auld Nick, in shape o’ beast, A towzie [of hair, tangled, unkempt] tyke, black, grim and large, To gie them music was his charge”.



Whilst in some cases the meaning has been transferred to persons, usually young and mischievous, it is still used to describe dogs. The Herald of August 2006 recounts the following:


“My friend had entrusted her little hairy Jack Russell pup to me while she went into a supermarket on Byres Road. Rather than stand outside like a numpty I crossed the road to look in the window of a posh food shop with the unbelievably cute little tyke in tow”.


Sometimes owners even call their dogs “tyke”. From the Southern Reporter of May 2016:


“Tyke, a cross-breed corgi, was so fat he could only take a couple of steps before becoming breathless and slumping to the ground”.


The dog was taken into care.


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