Online Tuition in the Palaeography of Scottish Documents

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If you are sure you’ve identified the word correctly but do not know what it means it may be that the word is Scots. Access to a Scots dictionary is recommended. The Dictionary of the Scots Language is available free online www.dsl.ac.uk and combines three of the best used dictionaries. It also allows for fuzzy searches, which is very helpful for variations in spelling. For further details about this and other Scots dictionaries, including an online version, go to the Bibliography page.

Common Scots words occurring are umquhill = deceased , relict = widow, compeared = appeared before a court. Note also the Scots plural form -is, and the Scots past participle –it, which you may want to drop off a word when looking for a definition. Because different Scots accents pronounce words slightly differently it can sometimes be useful to change the vowels you are using to search the dictionary to find the right definition.

Is it a legal term?
The word might be legal jargon. If you are reading text from official documents such as contracts, bonds, testaments, sasines, or other public registers the document is likely to follow a particular pattern – this is known as diplomatic. There will be stock phrases occurring in a particular order to fulfil the legal obligations for which the document is created. This can be helpful when trying to identify a word as it shortned the list of possible words to choose from. There are a number of books which deal with Scots legal terms or diplomatic. There is a list of books which will help with legal jargon in the Bibliography.

Is it a Latin word?
In medieval times most records were written in Latin, which means that as time progresses into the 1500s and onwards there are relics of the use of Latin in which diminishes as the centuries progress. Latin will be used as legal jargon but also for commonly occurring phrases such as dates – septimo julii 1589, 7 July 1589; the commencement of a court sitting which usually begins curiae justiciarae; lists of people present – sederunt; indicating totals – summa and so on.

It is useful to have access to a Latin dictionary or a Latin word list, such as Eileen Gooder, Latin for Local History, London, 2nd. edition, 1978; and/or R. E. Latham, Revised Medieval Latin Word-list from British and Irish Sources, London, 1965.

If this hasn’t solved the problem try another option:

Phonetic Spelling
Sums of Money
Dates
Abbreviations

Return to the Problem Words page.