DUNT n, v a heavy blow, to strike
Dunt is a mundane little word but it has interesting uses. An early recorded example comes from Gavin Douglas's King Hart (1500) where good wins over evil:
'Conscience to Syn gave sic ane dunt, Quhill (so that) to the erd he flaw'.
Fegusson's Collection of Proverbs (1641) offers a variation of 'Sticks and stanes may brak my banes...' in the form of
'Words are but wind, but dunts are the devil'.
One of the delights of the Dictionary of the Scots Language is the way it records practices now almost forgotten. The herring industry has vanished into a bygone age, but the Dictionary helps preserves the knowledge from J. M. Mitchell's The Herring (1844) that:
'A dunt is a round solid piece of wood of nearly the size of the head. Dunting is the placing of this on the top of the herrings in the barrel after being repacked, and by jumping, or standing on it the herrings are pressed down'.
It supplies further detail from N. Paterson's Behold Thy Daughter (1950):
'One of the younger girls in the yard was lifted on to the dunt, and, by stamping on it, pressed down the excess of salt so that the head of the barrel could be replaced'.
No doubt these fish could be described as 'dead and dunted on' and the lexicographer John Jamieson offers this explanation for the phrase:
'often expressed, in a very unfeeling manner, in reply perhaps to the question, 'Is such a person dead?' 'Dead! aye, he's dead and dunted on.'..It seems to refer to the nailing down of a coffin...or to the noise made by the shovelling of the moulds on it in the grave'.
Dunts come in many forms, and we'll leave the last wise word to L Wilson's Strathearn (1915):
'Better an auld man's dautie nor a young man's dunt-aboot'.
This article was written by Chris Robinson of Dictionaries of the Scots Language - www.dsl.ac.uk
This week's word was spoken by Bill Wilson MSP. Bill represented the West of Scotland in the Scottish Parliament from 2007 to 2011.
First published 7th April 2009.