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Last week our old clothes horse reached the end of its working life and collapsed in a heap on a bed of damp washing. With most local hardware shops now closed, I turned to the internet for a supplier. I found ads galore for clothes horses, clothes airers and clothes drying racks; I found none for the Scots equivalent, winter dykes.


The earliest example of winter dykes in the Dictionaries of the Scots Language (DSL) is from the Inventory of the Household Plenishing of the Castlesemple of 1748, which records


“2 Leafs of Wyter [sic] Dycks … 1s”.


A personal favourite is from John Young’s poem, The Auld Maid to Her Young Cat (1860), in which the eponymous maid warns the bothersome cat:


“Noo, gif that winter-dykes ye touch / Ye’ll sure bring doon my guid clean mutch [a kind of cap or bonnet] / On Whilk there’s no a dirty smutch”.


Naughty baudrons!


The term harks back to the practice of hanging out laundry on walls to dry and, in the summer, to bleach. In the absence of a wall or dyke, a hedge would do, hence, the equivalent regional English term, winter hedge.


DSL’s examples are mostly from the west, although there is an Ulster Scots one, and one from Perthshire. I found another among a list of auction goods in the Leven Advertiser and Wemyss Gazette from June 1910. DSL has no examples from the Lothians, Borders, the North or North East, although it does record claes dykes, a recent hybrid heard in Edinburgh.



This Scots Word of the Week was written by Rhona Alcorn.

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