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In the treasure trove that is the Dictionaries of the Scots Language (DSL), there are many terms no longer in general use. Hugmahush is one of them. It’s defined as


“a slovenly person, a slattern, a loutish fellow; an incompetent or slovenly piece of work; secrecy, clandestine intercourse”.


Hugmahush doesn’t appear in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) at all, but hugger mugger (thought to be one of the influences behind our word) does, with the latter meaning of concealment. Interestingly, though, the OED relates hugger mugger to the Scots hudge mudge. There’s a lovely DSL example of this variant in relation to a clandestine pint from the Scots Magazine (1788):


“Cum here and tak a pint hudgemudge.”



Demonstrating slovenliness, William Beattie writes (in Fruits of Time Parings, 1801):


“O laddy! Ye’re a hagmahush; Yer face is barked o’er wi’ smush”.



And there’s an entertaining image of an incensed laird in the Aberdeen Censor of 1825:


“The Laird was like to burst with rage at being fickled by sic a hag-ma-hush carle”.



The most recent example we currently have is from the Banffshire Journal in its July 1955 edition:


“A roch, hug-ma-hush, unshaven an’ unshorn, gyaun-aboot kine o’ a lad.”



A bit earlier, though, the Buchan Observer and East Aberdeenshire Advertiser of January 1915 gives us this entertainingly derogatory example in its Agriculture: Notes of the Week (covering farming improvements):


“Others again care not for what appears to them such unnecessary innovations … [but] move along in the old-fashioned ‘hug-ma-hush’ style of their progenitors of a century ago…”


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