HOOCH int., v., n.
Deservedly or undeservedly, Scots have a reputation for dourness and generally taking life very seriously. However, we have our moments of exuberance - especially on the dance floor. The definition of hooch in the Dictionaries of the Scots Language (DSL) is quite specific:
“An exclamation of excitement or exhilaration, especially the cry uttered by the male dancers during a Highland reel”.
Yes, just the men are allowed to “heuch” (as I would spell it). At a dance in my youth, whilst doing a vigorous Dashing White Sergeant, I was admonished by formidable lady for “heuching” because I was a girl. The spelling “heuch” is recorded as early as 1892 by J Lumsden in Sheep-Head:
“Braw lads and lasses lap and skirled, . . . Cried, ‘heuch!’ like warlocks driven Clean gyte [mad, crazy] this day”.
In 1824, MacTaggart’s Gallovidian Encyclopedia observed:
“‘Hooch it's like a wadding’, shout the peasantry, when dancing... Hooch is sure to inspire glee, while tribbling Bob Major, or cutting double quick time.”.
Another spelling variant is recorded in 1970. An example from George MacDonald Fraser’s The General Danced at Dawn vividly captures the mood of Highland dance:
“Strip the Willow at speed is lethal; there is much swinging round, and when fifteen stone of heughing humanity is whirled at you at close range you have to be wide awake to sidestep, scoop him in, and hurl him back again”.
Dancers still “hooch”. In 2018, The Scotsman exhorted Hogmanay revelers to:
“… bring in 2019 with an eightsome reel and a hearty hooch”.
This Scots Word of the Week was written by Pauline Cairns Speitel. Visit DSL Online at https://dsl.ac.uk.