A lost, legendary dictionary is rediscovered. Where was it found, and what language is it for?

In James Boswell’s travelogue, Boswell In Holland 1763-64, the author writes: “The Scottish language is being lost every day, and in a short time will become quite unintelligible. To me, who have the true patriotic soul of an old Scotsman, that would seem a pity.” With those words, along with the encouragement of his good friend, Samuel Johnson, Boswell set out to collect a list of terms specific to the Scottish language – the first Scots dictionary. Thirty-nine pages and eight hundred Scots words and phrases were compiled before the author abandoned the work altogether.

Boswell is probably best known for the biography, The Life of Samuel Johnson, an account of Johnson’s travels around Scotland throughout the 1770’s. Find out why you should thank Mr. Johnson for making dictionaries easier to use, here.

Over Two-hundred and forty years later, Dr. Susan Rennie, a lexicographer and leading expert in the Scots language, has discovered Boswell’s draft, in his own handwriting, buried deep within the stacks at the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Library; its pages draped in 18th century Scots jargon. Literary scholars, brace yourselves!

John Jamieson’s An Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language Vol I: To Which Is Prefixed A Dissertation On the Origin Of the Scottish Language, published in the early 1800’s, followed later by revised editions, is a collection of words interpreted by Ancient and Modern Scottish writers. It is important to note Jamieson’s efforts because it is within a collection of his papers, purchased by the Bodleian Library in 1927, that Boswell’s manuscript surfaced. Boswell’s writings, bequeathed to his son, sold at auction in 1825. Whether or not Jamieson purchased the writings as part of his research is unknown.

The term Scots dates from the mid-14th century – a contraction from Scottis, the northern variant of the word Scottish. Sometimes referred to as Doric, or Teri dialect (depending on the specific Scottish region), Scots is a Germanic language primarily spoken in non-Scottish Gaelic areas of Scotland such as the Lowlands and parts of Ulster.

The Early Scots language began to take shape around the thirteenth century via the Old Norse language – a North Germanic language spoken by the Scandinavian-influenced Middle English speakers from the North and Midlands of England. The Scots language continued to evolve due in large part to the influence of the Romance and Gaelic languages. Throughout the late 13th and early 14th centuries, the Early Scots dialect became the “prestige language” throughout most of eastern Scotland. By the early 1700’s, the Scots language became an independent  “sister language” to the Modern English language.

As William Zachs, a collector and scholar of Scottish Enlightenment and a Boswell specialist said, “Boswell wanted to do for the Scots language what Johnson has done for the English language.” Much to the delight of linguists and literary scholars, Dr. Rennie is currently transcribing Jamieson’s manuscript – mostly written in French.

Some English words of Scots origin include caddie, gloaming, plaid, and gumption.

What words are seemingly impossible to translate into English? Find a wacky list, here.


Daily News (Los Angeles, CA) May 13, 1996 Byline: Daniel Taub Daily News Staff Writer A mother develops Huntington’s disease, a genetic disorder that causes dementia similar to Alzheimer’s disease. The woman wants to know whether her children or grandchildren are susceptible to the disorder. Where does she turn?

To a genetic counselor – possibly from Cal State Northridge.

Under a program that began two years ago, the university this month is graduating its first class of genetic counselors.

The students are trained to advise everyone from expectant parents to concerned family members about the chances of a loved one developing a genetic disorder.

And with the genetic-counseling field growing, the five students graduating from the Genetic Counseling Program should have no problem getting jobs.

“I don’t know of any unemployed genetic counselors who want to be employed,” said Mindi Lassman, chief of the prenatal screening section of the genetic disease branch of the California Department of Health Services. website kaiser permanente locations

“The more we find out about genetics, the more there is to test for and to screen for, and the more there is to interpret for families,” Lassman said.

Although the field of genetic counseling is more than 25 years old, only three universities in California – UC Berkeley, UC Irvine and Cal State Northridge – offer a master’s degree in genetic counseling. Combined, the three universities admit 17 students a year – five of them at Cal State Northridge, said program director Aida Metzenberg.

At Northridge, the program is run by the university’s biology, special education and educational psychology and counseling departments, Metzenberg said, and classes are in the three disciplines.

Only 20 colleges and universities in the country offer a degree in genetic counseling, she said.

Aside from classes in subjects from molecular diagnostics and atypical development in children to counseling skills, students must also perform 1,000 hours of field work in genetics clinics at local hospitals, universities and health maintenance organizations, Metzenberg said. here kaiser permanente locations

Students rotated working in clinics at UCLA, the Prenatal Diagnostic Center of Southern California, several Kaiser Permanente locations and other private clinics.

Although field work includes lab research, the five students said they entered the program because they want to work directly with patients.

Danielle LaGrave said that the hardest thing she had to do in the course of her studies was tell a pregnant woman that her first baby would most likely die before it was born.

The unborn child had trisomy 18, a congenital disorder that causes retardation and heart problems that result in death in the womb 90 percent of the time.

Tress Padellford, 23, another student in the program, said that in the course of her field work she had to counsel people whose parents developed Huntington’s disease.

Aside from LaGrave and Padellford, the other students in the Genetic Counseling Program’s first graduating class are Angela Grace, 32, Melody Kohan, 23, and Cheryl Ikeda, 24.

Kohan and LaGrave are preparing to take two medical board exams at the end of June. The exams are given every three years, but counselors are not required to pass them in order to practice.


Photo PHOTO Cheryl Ikeda, 24, will be among the first five gradua tes of the Genetic Counseling Program at Cal State Northridge.

Gus Ruelas/Daily News


  1. Ray -  June 17, 2011 - 12:58 pm

    Ulster is part of Ireland, not Scotland.

  2. Luck in W -  June 14, 2011 - 4:06 pm

    I’m wondering how many hidden jewels of the literary or linguistic import are still to be found. I’d love to find one.

  3. KLB -  May 25, 2011 - 9:28 am

    @ Thomas Lawrence on May 18, 2011 at 11:27 am
    sententious = Good word!

  4. Fairbairn -  May 20, 2011 - 9:34 am

    Very cool article… it is curious, to me, that no parallel is drawn to the poetry and folklore collecting done in Scotland near about the same time, by Robert Burns. Not to diminish the subject, but to elevate! Hmmmm…

    Still, a very tasty nugget of information, whetting my appetite for more about the dictionary and its discovery.

  5. Cleo McLaren -  May 20, 2011 - 4:01 am

    Of course “gumption” is of Scottish origin–what other people display this attribute best?

  6. K+K -  May 18, 2011 - 2:45 pm


  7. Wheatley -  May 18, 2011 - 2:06 pm

    Very nice article… none of it made sense to me.

  8. Arcanis -  May 18, 2011 - 1:29 pm

    i agree that is awesome

    one more good thing about the Scottish

  9. Thomas Lawrence -  May 18, 2011 - 11:27 am

    To Tylore: I am trying not to sound pedantic or sententious when I write this, but for the sake of clarity, Samuel Adams and Samuel Johnson are two different people. Best wishes.

  10. big dick -  May 18, 2011 - 8:16 am

    jk sorry

  11. big dig -  May 18, 2011 - 8:15 am

    such a cool article

  12. Jack -  May 18, 2011 - 8:04 am


  13. Tylore -  May 18, 2011 - 7:54 am

    I got a little lost in the beginning of the article, why would a scottish person be writing about samuel Adams. Well, this is the first time my comment has been at the top of the list!

  14. Ed Brophy -  May 18, 2011 - 7:36 am

    When Supreme Court judges decide issues based on the American Constitution completed in 1787, shouldn’t they refer to a dictionary of that early time period—to be able to define what meaning way back then—those early legislators really had in mind— and were attempting to convey to us now?

  15. moro victor -  May 18, 2011 - 7:32 am

    What is the secret behind such great knowledge of those great fathers of old,for whom ,by God special mercy and grace, this present generation is enjoying some maximum comfort in research and education is my humble comment.

  16. Brian Murphy -  May 18, 2011 - 5:49 am

    In the interests of accuracy: Boswell’s great LIFE OF SAMUEL JOHNSON is, in fact, a life of Samuel Johnson. Boswell also published JOURNAL OF A TOUR TO THE HEBRIDES WITH SAMUEL JOHNSON, LL.D. And, indeed, Johnson himself published an account of their travels together as JOURNEY TO THE WESTERN ISLANDS OF SCOTLAND.

  17. Spicy -  May 18, 2011 - 4:10 am

    Nice Artical

  18. ramsingh -  May 18, 2011 - 1:29 am

    it is to old that no one knows about it

  19. jame -  May 17, 2011 - 7:13 pm

    so old draft…i wonder how Dr. Susan Rennie found it.. it was not indicated in the article…

  20. hello friend -  May 17, 2011 - 5:28 pm

    this is amazing! i never knew that! im going to go to work and tell everybody thier about this.

  21. Kuya Jobert -  May 17, 2011 - 5:09 pm

    yeah 1st to comment cool article :)


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