According to the Dictionaries of the Scots Language (DSL), a rovie is “a soft slipper made from roughly-spun jute”. They were made by workers in the jute industry, which was, at one time, the dominant employer in Dundee. The word’s origin is obscure, but DSL suggests it might be a “diminutive form of English ‘rove’, a sliver of fibre before being spun”.
DSL’s earliest example comes from the Scots Magazine of October 1962:
“Many children and adults wore as house-shoes ‘rovies’, crocheted from jute”.
Research here at DSL has revealed earlier quotations, for example this from the Dundee Courier of July 1946:
“A boy was seen wearing rovies - the jute slippers which used to be favoured by mill and factory workers”.
From this example, rovies seem by then already to be a thing of the past.
However, in 1978, we recorded one commentator as saying:
“She wis up the Luff [Liff] Road in her rovies afore they kent where she wis [of an old person ‘escaping’ from her daughter's home].”
And later, in September 1993, the Evening Telegraph records:
“I read with interest the letter about rovies (slippers). We sell woollen ones for babies at the Brittle Bone Society Charity Shop at 112 City Road, Dundee. I was taught to do them by my mum who was a spinner in the jute mills”.
Since the demise of the jute industry, it is doubtful if the art of making these has survived but I wonder if the meaning has transferred itself to modern-day slippers?
This Scots Word of the Week was written by Pauline Cairns Speitel. Visit DSL Online at https://dsl.ac.uk.