Dictionaries of the Scots Language (DSL) defines crabbit as “in a bad temper, out of humour”. The word has a long pedigree in Scots, with one of the earliest examples being from Legends of the Saints (c.1400):
“Sume men sais he crabyt is”.
Later, in 1788, the term appears in the Poems of James Macauley:
“For tho’ we may na get our fill O’ what our nibour has at will - It shaws we hae na muckle skill, Gin we be crabbit”.
And in 1785, Robert Burns declares in his poem Scotch Drink:
“Let other poets raise a fracas, ‘Bout vines, an’ wines, an’ drucken Bacchus, An’ crabbit names an’ stories wrack us, An’ grate our lug: I sing the juice Scotch bear [barley] can mak us, In glass or jug”.
Strong liquor as an antidote to grumpiness?
The word pops up again in Alexander Hislop’s Proverbs (1862):
“He that’s crabbit without cause should mease [calm down] without amends”.
Liz Lochhead gives us this in her Scots translation of Moliere’s Tartuffe (1985):
“You’re that crabbit, you’re no offering, Much help or pity for me in my suffering”.
Finally, in August 2022 the Dundee Courier reported on a gentleman suffering the effects of his own snoring:
“I’d go to bed and read my Kindle then the next thing it would hit me on the face as I’d fallen asleep with it in my hand. I was also getting up three or four times a night too. I was angry all the time, just crabbit at the world”.
This Scots Word of the Week was written by Pauline Cairns Speitel, Dictionaries of the Scots Language https://dsl.ac.uk.