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Dictionaries of the Scots Language (DSL) defines puirtith as follows:


“Poverty, destitution, want”.


It makes an early appearance in William Dunbar’s The Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedy (c.1510):


“Bot now in winter for purteth thow art traikit [exhausted]”.


In 1786 Burns uses it in Twa Dogs:


“They’re no sae wretched’s ane wad think; Tho’ constantly on poortith’s brink”.


Later, it appears in Walter Scott’s Fortunes of Nigel (1822):


“I ken weel, by sad experience, that poortith takes away pith”.



And in the following century, it appears in a poem by Raymond Vettese published in Chapman magazine (1985):


“Yet does it no survive in despite o puirtith? An want o licht?”


In A Tongue in Yer Heid (1994), Billy Kay describes the grim plight of miners:


“He had seen it aw in his day, but it still scunnert him, the pity an waste o it aw. Gin it wesnae juist pairtith, it wes rickets for the weans, sillicosis for the men, or an accident that left a faimily wiout a faither or a faither wiout a leg …”



Sadly, the word is still being used to describe current conditions. The following, from Rab Wilson, appeared in The National (June 2019):


“Aiblins [perhaps] some o ye’se missed the statement oan a veesit tae the UK bi Professor Philip Alston, the United Nations special rapporteur oan byordnar puirtith an human richts”… “We aa ken that UK puirtith is aa a direct result o the bankin collapse .... We ken tae that that wisnae a naitrel disaster lik a volcanic eruption…”



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