View site in Scots

Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid



TRAM, n.


It would seem that the origin of the word tram is Scots, a fact which might be of particular interest to the long-suffering residents of Edinburgh. Tram was originally defined in the Dictionaries of the Scots Language (DSL) as:


“A long beam, bar or shaft of wood, in general”




“One of the two shafts of a cart, carriage or barrow, the backward projection of which forms a handle in a wheelbarrow and a butt in a tilt-cart”.



Now this might seem a long way from our modern understanding of tram, but the mighty Oxford English Dictionary also agrees that the term is originally Scots, and its definition reads as follows:


“Each of the two shafts of a cart or wagon, a hand-barrow, or a wheelbarrow, the ends of which in a barrow form the handles. Scottish”.



A very early example comes from the Poems of William Dunbar (c1500-1512):


“I wald scho war bayth syd and back Weill batteret with ane barrow-tram".



Later, in around 1796, Burns recorded in an inventory:


“Ae auld wheelbarrow, mair for token, Ae leg an’ baith the trams are broken”.



DSL also gives an example from Ulster Scots from Estyn E Evans’ Irish Heritage (1942):


“Two long ‘runners’ which form in turn the front shafts, the side supports of the body and the back shafts or ‘trams.’”



It is possibly of no comfort to Edinburghers whose lives have been disrupted by the tram works, but perhaps it is at least interesting to know that the source of the torment has a Scots pedigree.


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