Scottish words: widdershins

Evee mentioned recently that she loved the Scottish word widdershins and I agreed with her, but I realised that I didn’t explain what it means, so here goes.

Widdershins or as it is sometimes written withershins is Scottish for anti-clockwise or counter-clockwise as some people say it. It’s sometimes used in astronomy as it literally means against the course of the sun.

Anything widdershins is deemed to be bad luck as witches were supposed to walk round their cauldrons that way, but we always go widdershins round the local park because it just doesn’t feel right going clockwise.

It was once used if you wanted to say that something is the opposite way of what is deemed to be normal, or as people tend to say nowadays – something which is counter-intuitive.

12 thoughts on “Scottish words: widdershins

    • Debbie,
      That’s strange, we always feel weird on the odd occasion that we walk clock-wise, I can’t think why it feels so wrong but it just does. It’s nice to know we aren’t the only ones!

  1. I first came across this in The Nine Tailors, where Peter Wimsey remembers that it’s bad luck to walk widdershins around a church.

    • Lisa,
      I’m glad you mentioned that as I had completely forgotten it. I wonder where Sayers first came across the word, maybe she got it from astronomy. I don’t think she had any Scottish connections at all.

      • Maybe on holiday in Scotland? From the dedication note in Five Red Herrings it seems that she stayed around Kirkcudbright more than once.

        • Lisa,
          That’s something else I had completely forgotten about. I read a biography of Sayers in the 1970s when I was reading all of her books. It’s time I re-read them and looked up another bio. There was quite a big artistic community in Kirkcudbright when Sayers was writing – in fact there still is.

  2. Skinkling (or maybe scinkling)is an Ayrshire word. The first time I heard it was here on Arran, when a friend, describing a car trip over the string road in winter, said that the frost was skinkling on the road.

    • Fionna,
      That’s a new one to me too. I like it so I’ll try to use it, apparently it means glistening or shining, as you would expect of frost. I think it must originally have been from the Norse as most ‘sk’ words are.
      Thanks for the comment.


  3. I’m sure you are right about skinkling being from the Norse
    as are many of the place names here. The rest are mostly from Gaelic, though there are no native speakers left now. There is, though, an enthuiastic group of learners.
    I’ve been following your blog for some time now and really enjoy it.

    • Fionna,
      I’m glad you’re enjoying ‘pining’. My own maiden name is Skirving which comes from Scandinavia originally but as long ago as Viking times. I know practically no Gaelic words but I believe Evee is learning it down in Peebles. It’s the sort of thing you have to do as a group as there’s no point if there’s nobody to speak it with. I had to google ‘string road’ because I’ve never been to Arran, just seen it from afar. I should add it to my places to visit list.

  4. I’d never come across skinkling either. Nice word indeed! Cullen skink, that fabulous northeast Scottish fish soup may have originated with the Norse too. What do you think?

    Just discovered a Gaelic teacher in Peebles itself! In fact there may be two! Just like buses, eh? Wait for ages and two come along at once!

    • Evee,
      I’ve never had Cullen skink as I really only like fish which comes wrapped in batter. I wonder if the skink part refers to the fish scales, which I suppose could be described as glittering or sparkling.

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