Tuesday, 9 February 2010


I have referred on several occasions to the weekly column by Diarmaid O Muirithe in the Irish Times and yesterday (8 February), he included another Ulster-Scots word in his column.
In Ulster they have an interesting term for what a hungry baby does at his or her mother's breast: they grabble or clutch at the source of nourishment.  Paedar O Casaide sent me the word from Monaghan many years ago, and now I have it from James Baxter from Fermanagh, who asks where it came from.  From the Scots grabble to grope, a word also found in some north of England dialects, from Dutch grabbelen, an extended form of Middle Dutch grabben, which gave us grab.
This is another of the Scots words that came to Ulster as Ulster-Scots and have passed into general Ulster dialect.  The use of the word in Ulster is confirmed by the Dictionary of the Scots Language.

1 comment:

  1. An additional problem with referring to every Scots word used in Ireland as "Ulster Scots" is that the area where one finds such words is much greater than the area where a distinctively Ulster variety of Scots was ever spoken as a community language; in fact it covers the entire northern half of the island, whereas the greatest extent of the area where Ulster Scots existed as a distinctive, living variety of Scots with intergenerational transmission is probably reasonably coterminous with the much smaller area where Lowland Presbyterians formed the majority of settlers.

    I am sure that it was just an unfortunate formulation on your part, but no Scots word ever "came to Ulster as Ulster-Scots". As you are aware, the largest group of Scottish migrants arrived in Ireland in the 1690s, and Ulster Scots as a reasonably differentiated dialect is essentially a product of interaction with English settlers and native Irish in the eighteenth century. There may have been some diffusion from core areas too, but it is safe to assume that in at least some of the areas where Scots lexical items are found in Ireland — perhaps more than just some of them — the words in question went more or less straight from Scots to non-standard English, as they have done more recently, for example, in Australia. As the accent border (showing the influence of Scottish vowel length) runs through Monaghan and Fermanagh, it would be a brave man who claimed that those counties were not such areas.