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I was asked about this term by a legal friend of mine who had come across it meaning a favour or some other act of kindness. Dictionaries of the Scots Language (DSL) defines it as


“a contractual promise or understanding … a bond or promissory note … an obligation”.


Our earliest example of a legal usage dates back to the fifteenth century, from Liber Sancte Marie de Melros (1499):


“Obligement twiching [concerning, relating to] the warrandice of Cambestoun”.



The term is still current, still in use in the late twentieth century and into the twenty-first. The following is an extract from a letter written by a prisoner in Barlinnie published in the Daily Record in April 1996:


“I’m locked up for punishment. I’d gladly give one of the guys laid off my job [laying tarmac] – I'm sure he’d give me a fiver as an obligement!”.



The fruits of the sea were under discussion in The Scotsman of April 2002. Spoots, or razor clams, were being given away by a local Orkney fish merchant. His explanation:


“I don’t sell them, really. I keep a list of those that like them and just get them in as a kind of obligement, maybe 50 or 60 at a time”.



More recently, from the murky world of drugs, there was this report in the John O Groat Journal of July 2022. A quantity of cannabis was discovered in the post. It had been sent by a man who explained


“... that his actions were an obligement for an old girlfriend”.


This Scots Word of the Week was written by Pauline Cairns Speitel.

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