I don’t know if we Scots are a particularly clumsy people, but the Dictionaries of the Scots Language (DSL) has many words to describe clumsiness and “handless” is one of them, meaning “of persons: fumbling, incapable of doing anything skillfully with the hands, awkward, clumsy, incompetent, inefficient, slow”. Pulling no punches there, then.
DSL’s earliest example of the word comes from Margaret Calderwood’s A Journey in England (1756):
“He is so handless-like, that he cannot be a body of any sort of busness [sic]”
and then the dictionary rattles through examples from the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
When DSL was updated in 2005 it included many more examples from the twentieth century, including the following from Matthew Fitt’s Pure Radge (1996):
“The fuhl-back’s skinned, the defence is left haunless, juist the keeper, ainlie the keeper”.
So, are folk still handless in the twenty first century? Of course they are. A correspondent recalling schooldays wrote in the Herald of June 2017:
“We had to play with something called ‘raffia’ and make models from papier mache. I was handless then and have studiously avoided such activities ever since”.
Still on the theme of handicrafts, another writer (this time in the Dundee Courier of January 2022) muses:
“For a good few years, I’ve fancied taking up woodwork. When I lived in the city, evening classes in the subject always quickly sold out - and I was worried, too, that I’d be the most handless person there”.
I do hope he took up the craft with great success.
This Scots Word of the Week was written by Pauline Cairns Speitel. Visit DSL Online at https://dsl.ac.uk.