Great what?

In the picture you can see Onopordum acanthium, otherwise known as Scottish thistle (among other names). I suppose it was the New Year’s celebrations which prompted a question in my mind: why are there so many different words for things from north of the border?

Apart from Scottish, which I suppose is the most general term, we have:

  • Scotch: applied to whisky, eggs and bonnets
  • Scots: as in the Flying Scotsman
  • Scot: as in He’s a Scot.

There’s no use wondering about the term scot-free, however. That has nothing to do with Scotland. It derives from a Middle English word meaning, according to the OED:

A tax or tribute paid by a feudal tenant to his or her lord or ruler in proportion to ability to pay; a similar tax paid to a sheriff or bailiff.

Photo credit: Unknown author. Used under this licence.

11 thoughts on “Great what?

  1. Sidney,

    The OED says it is cognate with:

    Old Swedish skut, skot contribution, kind of tax (Swedish skott)

    The OED also has an entry for scat:

    Treasure, money; in Middle English only in phr. scat and s(c)rud.

    This is apparently cognate with Swedish skatt.

  2. But not related (unless anyone knows better?) to the other meaning of ‘scat’ in English, often used in TV wildlife programmes for animal droppings.

  3. And in Spanish, the word “escote” [esˈkote] has two meanings:

    1. cleavage; décolletage
    2. (Apparently from Old French “escot”) share; scot –Hence the expression “pagar a escote” [paˌɣar aĕsˈkote] = to share the expenses, to go Dutch.

  4. Thanks. Not surprising perhaps to find a Scandinavian word having a common Germanic heritage. My Larousse tells me that modern French ‘écot’ has a Germanic origin, not Romance (so Germanic to Old French to Spanish). Merriam-Webster online suggests ‘scot’ derives from Old Norse ‘skot’. So ‘skatt’ and ‘Schatz’ would be the wrong route. There is also modern Swedish ‘skott’ meaning shot, shoot (bud).

  5. DUDEN Herkunftswörterbuch lists under ‘Schatz’ these etyma:
    – Old High German ‘scaz’ for money, coin, wealth
    – Gothic ‘skatts for coin, money
    – Old English ‘sceatt’ meaning money, treasure, toll

  6. My copy of the “Etymologisk Ordbog” by Falk and Torp (Kristiania 1906, and so perhaps a little out of date) says, among other things, that the “Grundbetydningen” – original or basic meaning – appears to be “cattle” (kvæg), as in Old Frisian. There is an Old Slavic word ‘skotŭ’ which means “cattle”.
    None of this gets us any further with John’s original question about the multiplicity of adjectival forms for things to do with Scotland …

  7. Not wishing to be guilty of plagiarism I will quote here only the first sentence of the article : “The terms Scottish, Scot, Scots, and Scotch are all variants of the same word.”. There then follows an interesting discourse on the topic, which may be found at

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