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In Scotland deacon had very specific meanings. In the Dictionaries of the Scots Language, it is defined as:


“The president of one of the Incorporated Trades in a town; formerly an ex officio member of the Town Council”.



A very early occurrence comes from the Baxter [baker] Books of St Andrews (1588):


“Dauit [David] Kynneir, deacone of the baxteris”


And in 1774, Thomas Pennant gives a description in his Tour in Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides:


“The third body is the Trades-house [Glasgow]: this consists of fifty-six, of which the deacon convener is the head: there are fourteen incorporated trades, each of which has a deacon, who has a right to nominate a certain number of his trade, so as to form the house”.


Of course, we mostly remember this notorious deacon - Deacon William Brodie (1741-1788), cabinet maker and convener of the Trade in Edinburgh by day and a criminal by night. Deacon Brodie was Robert Louis Stevenson’s inspiration for his 1886 The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mister Hyde.


In the twenty-first century the title is an honorary one. The following example comes from the Inverness Courier of November 2022:


“A talented art school student from Inverness has taken the top award at ceremony at the historic north-east Aberdeen Weaver Incorporation”.


The piece continues:


“The Weaver Incorporation’s newly-appointed Deacon, Martin Wiseman, said: ‘I was extremely impressed by the standard of work from students at Gray’s School of Art who are clearly ensuring that the centuries-old principles and practices of the Weavers continue.’”


This Scots Word of the Week was written by Pauline Cairns Speitel, Dictionaries of the Scots Language