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The origins of this word are thankfully now mainly historical. Dictionaries of the Scots Language (DSL) defines a shawlie as a woman:


“wearing a shawl instead of a hat, hence applied to working-class women and girls in industrial areas up to about 1925”.



An early written example (from Frederick Niven’s 1914 Justice of the Peace) explains that shawlies are what


“the girls who are to be seen in the neighbourhood of the Trongate of Glasgow, wearing shawls over their heads, are locally called”.



In the summer of 1926 the Edinburgh magazine Broughton, published by the pupils of Broughton Secondary School, carried this vivid description of the Old Town:


“The Canon Gait wi’ its bourachs o’ dram-houffs an’ its rowth o’ shawlie wives”.



Shawlies also appear in Robin Jenkins’ novel The Thistle and the Grail (1954):


“In the third round they had to face a crack Glasgow team; but, encouraged by hundreds of their followers, who had fearlessly escorted them into that enormous lair of gangsters, shawlies, and keelies, they scraped through by a single goal scored by Elrigmuir ten minutes from the end”.



Further afield, in 2014 a reporter for Northern Ireland’s Farming Life recorded:


“I have said before but it will bear repetition: you will get far more sense from an ould farmer leaning on a gate or from an ould shawlie in a health service waiting room than you will get from a consultant who knows only one thing and that is how to charge. And we are all the worse for that”.


This Scots Word of the Week comes from Dictionaries of the Scots Language.

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