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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1956 (SND Vol. IV). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.

FOUTER, n., v. Also footer, -re, foutre, fut(t)er, f(o)utor, foutar, fuiter; foo(t)ther (Uls.). [′fu:tər]

I. n. 1. A term, orig. of gross abuse or contempt, for a hateful, objectionable person (Sh. 1866 Edm. Gl.; Sc. 1888 C. Mackay Dict. Lowland Sc. 62), now much toned down in force, a tedious, exasperating person. Gen.(mostly n.)Sc. Rarely applied to women (Dmb. 1931 A. J. Cronin Hatter's Castle iii. viii.) but not infrequently, in a half-scolding manner, to 1714 R. Smith Poems 19:
It seem'd thou was a scurvie Futor.
Dmf. 1808 J. Mayne Siller Gun 67:
And, swearing he was better stuff Than sic a fouter, Stripp'd, in a twinkling, to the buff, And braved the Souter.
Mry. 1810 J. Cock Simple Strains 135:
Ye think yersel' an honest man, Ye snarlin' menseless futer!
Abd. 1909 R. J. MacLennan Yon Toon 32:
Ye ken Peter Craigheid, the flooer merchant, the grippy auld footer that he is.
Bnff. 1918 J. Mitchell Bydand 20:
Ye ill-faurt footer, fat d'ye say?
Abd. 1929 Sc. Readings (ed. Paterson) 87:
Peter. Fat seek ye? Jemima. Naething, ye ill-thochtet footer.
Gsw. 1947 H. W. Pryde 1st Bk. of the McFlannels viii.:
“You're a wee footer!” declared Sarah. “There never was a family like this for grumbling about their food.”

2. Specif.: a worthless, dissolute person, a slacker, a shirker; now mostly in a modified sense, a muddling, bungling, unmethodical, aimless individual. Gen.Sc. Sometimes applied half-jocularly to an old man or to a childless husband (Fif.10 1943).Dmf. 1817 W. Caesar Poems 20:
[He] had shown himsel' an unco foutor, An' scarcely fit to be a souter, Let be to ha'e sic great command.
Edb. 1844 J. Ballantine Miller xvi.:
Better late thrive as never. Better marry than burn; sae ye fouter, Waldie, tak your friend's example.
Ags. 1860 A. Whamond James Tacket xxix:
Tibbie said I was growin' a big idle foutar, and no worth my meat.
Uls. 1880 Patterson Gl.:
“You're a footther and the ducks 'ill get you” is a common saying.
Hdg. 1892 J. Lumsden Sheep-Head 219:
The breath o' the auld drucken fouter, which was become nocht but a vile-smellin' alcoholic gas, took haud and bleezed like a tarr'd torch.
Sh. 1898 Shetland News (30 July):
No da shaep o' a lad ta spaek til frae Sunday ta Satterday aless a lock o' auld futters.
Gsw. 1904 “H. Foulis” Erchie vi.:
For a while Jinnet'll say naethin', and then she'll cry, “See's a haud o't, ye auld fuiter!”
Abd. 1917 C. Murray Sough o' War 49:
To shame the coordy footers, That winna list, fooever great the need.
Ork. 1929 Old-Lore Misc. IX. ii. 79:
He waas a coorly footer onywey, an' kentna whit tae lippin.
Fif. 1929 St Andrews Cit. (9 Feb.) 9:
Their inspiration's got the dunt. Twa dune auld footers.
Ant. 1931 Northern Whig (9 Dec.) 11:
Tell a man he is a “foother” or a “bachal,” and he will not display ill-humour; he recognises it as a good-natured way of saying he is doing something rather poorly.

3. Freq. in an indifferent or playful sense, a chap, fellow, “josser.” Sometimes applied to a young child. Gen.Sc.Lth. 1786 G. Robertson Ha'rst Rig (1801) 23:
A Sutor, Most manfully about does lay — A tough auld fouter.
Ayr. 1790 A. Tait Poems 246:
If one poor man gang by their style, They'll chace the footre fifty mile.
Hdg. 1896 J. Lumsden Battle of Dunbar 2:
For twenty, Tam has been our driver — A willint fouter, and keen striver.

4. A slow, bungling or fiddling job (Dmf. 1925 Trans. Dmf. and Gall. Antiq. Soc. 25; Kcb., Dmf. 1953).

5. A trifle, a thing of little worth (Arg.3 1953).Dwn. 1911 F. E. Crichton Soundless Tide 306:
Some wee footer of a thing'll please them betther than anny bought toy.

II. v. 1. To bungle, botch (Abd. 1825 Jam.; Mry.1 1928); to work in a fiddling, careless or unskilled manner, to potter, to trifle. Gen.Sc. Ppl.adj. fouterin, futtering, bungling, fiddling, clumsy, trifling.Uls. 1880 Patterson Gl.:
Don't stan' footthering there.
Sc. 1893 Stevenson Vailima Lett. (1895) 273:
Fussy footering German barons.
Lnk. 1922 T. S. Cairncross Scot at Hame 44:
Ye can mout amang the heather And foutre on the hills.
Sc. 1927 Scots Mag. (June) 174:
A pair o' auld sinners footerin' awa' wi' cairds on a simmer's day in a hole like this.
Abd. 1928 Abd. Press & Jnl. (3 Nov.) 5:
He was footerin' wi' ower mony metres.
wm.Sc. 1965 Alan Sharp A Green Tree in Gedde (1985) 324:
Like a taste in the mouth the memory of them, those countless long since Sunday tea-times, with Mrs Cuffee futtering about getting the table laid and 'Children's Hour' on, ...
Gsw. 1987 James Kelman Greyhound for Breakfast (1988) 150:
He waited for the kettle to boil then collected the coins with one hand while footering with the plug and the kettle with the other.
Ags. 1988 Raymond Vettese The Richt Noise 13:
Ay, and sae it micht be
wi mysel, and my foot'rin phraisie style:
snashgab, nocht mair, a silly dashelt screed, ...
wm.Sc. 1998 Alan Warner The Sopranos (1999) 316:
I don't know Orr, Fionnula footered the last cigarette out a pack.

Hence adj. fouterie, footery, trivial, footling, paltry; also fussy, inept, of a person, fiddling, time-wasting, of a task. Gen.Sc.; fuiterer, n., a bungler, useless worker (Per. 1915 Wilson L. Strathearn 248).Lnk. 1930 Hamilton Advert. (8 Feb.):
Maybe folk are jist as anxious to hear the wee footery stories aboot common ordinary folk jist the same.
Sc. 1994 Herald 24 Sep 10:
It is a footery job, admittedly, but well worth the trouble. It helps to keep the frost out, and conversely keeps artificial heat in.
Dmf. 2000s:
Ma brither was aye keen on daein footery jobs that needed a lot o concentration.

2. To thwart, baffle; to hinder, inconvenience (I.Sc. 1900 E.D.D.; Ork., Per. 1953); to confute by ridicule. Cf. Dumfoutter. Ppl.adj. foutered, frustrated; in 1813 quot. appar. = contrary, cross-grained.Rnf. 1813 G. MacIndoe Wandering Muse 91:
To think on Fortune's scourie gait, Frae ony poor tyke in a strait Her een to steek; And when sae fouter'd, ne'er lat wit She kens sic like.
Cai. 1907 D. B. Nicolson in County of Cai. 72:
To footre one out of an opinion or argument.

[The word occurs earlier and still survives in slang usage. Cf. Shakespeare 2 Hen. IV. v. iii. 103. Ad. O.Fr. foutre, to lecher, Lat. futuere, to have sexual intercourse (of a man).]

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"Fouter n., v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 24 Sep 2022 <>



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