Banjo makes a relatively late appearance in the Dictionaries of the Scots Language (DSL) and the definition is succinct: “to hit”.
The earliest example in DSL comes from the late William McIlvanney’s novel Docherty (1975):
“Ah’ve tae get banjoed whether Ah like it or no”.
And here’s a later one that made us laugh (from the Scotsman, 2002):
“Apologies to Archbishop Keith O’Brien. We got our moderators in a muddle. He did not banjo the Moderator of the Kirk’s General Assembly with the ceremonial truncheon…”
When a word which seems to be universally known in Scotland makes such a late first appearance in DSL it begs the question how old actually is it? When we delved a bit, we discovered that it is not as recent a usage as you might think. The following appeared in the Kilmarnock Herald and North Ayrshire Gazette in August 1906:
“… a show employee, who appeared in a Police Court case, said his master had ‘banjoed’ him. This is showground slang for a thrashing”.
This example perhaps also gives a clue to its origins, if not the reason for the term.
The Aberdeen Evening Express (in September 1989) played on the literal and figurative meanings of banjo in this report:
“Big Yin banjoed as thief strikes: Police are hunting a burglar who stole comedian Billy Connolly’s £1000 banjo just before he went on stage … ‘It meant he had to change his show as one or two of his pieces related to the banjo but he turned it to his advantage’…”
This Scots Word of the Week was written by Pauline Cairns Speitel. Visit DSL Online at https://dsl.ac.uk.