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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1941 (SND Vol. II). Includes material from the 1976 and 2005 supplements.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

CAM, CAUM, CAWM, Kaum, Calm, Caulm, Caam, n. and v. [kɑ(:)m, but m.Sc. + kǫ(:)m]

I. n. Still in gen. use in Sc., except in Ork. and Sh.

1. Pipeclay; “soft kind of clay used in colouring hearthstones and door-steps. The use of blue ‘caum' is said to be peculiar to Forfarshire” (Ags.9 1926, caum); “also used in Fife” (Ags.1, Fif.1 1938).Dundee 1986 Nigel Gatherer ed. Songs and Ballads of Dundee 115:
In many places circles of blue caum were drawn on doorsteps to keep the "wee folk" away.
Fif. 1897 “S. Tytler” Witch-Wife iv.:
The doorstep and the flagged path to the little gate were as white as if they had been pipe-clayed; the pipe-clay having been hearthstone — in Scotch parlance, “cawm.”

Combs.: (1) camstane, caum-, calm-, camstone, (a) pipeclay used for whitening; “fuller's earth, used by scourers” (Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 129); known to Abd.19, Ags.17, Slg.3, Kcb.1 1938; (b) a smooth waterworn stone frequently used as a charm (Kcb.9 1938); †(c) common compact limestone; (2) caum-quarry, clay quarry.(1) (a) Sc. 1815 Scott Guy M. xxxvi.:
And in the other [hand] a pail of whiting, or camstane, as it is called, mixed with water — a circumstance which indicates Saturday night in Edinburgh.
Sc. 1896 A. Cheviot Proverbs 26:
A spindle o' bourtree, A whorl o' caumstane, Put them on the housetop, And it will spin its lane. This was a supposed charm against witches.
Edb. 1894 P. H. Hunter J. Inwick xv.:
Though mebbe he michtna be as white as camstane, he wasna as black as coal coom.
Ayr. 1913 J. Service Memorables R. Cummell 151:
He had a big broo white as caum-stane.

Hence ca'm-stoned, adj.Fif. 1893 “G. Setoun” Barncraig I. 17–18:
The Saturday's cleaning was by no means a slovenly affair, as was evident from the outside stairs, scrubbed and sanded, and the “ca'm-stoned” doorsteps.
(b) Gall. 1930 (per Wgt.3):
I fumml't aboot in my pooch, but could fin' naethin' but a bit o' calmstane I foun' yae Sunday efternune in the Gairlaird Burn.
(c) Sc. 1806 R. Forsyth Beauties Scot. III. 359:
The third kind of limestone is what is called camstone or glenstone, because mostly found in the bottom of glens. . . . It contains a considerable proportion of clay.
Slg. 1795 Stat. Acc.1 XV. 327:
At the base of the hill, immediately after the coal is cut off, you meet with several layers of camstone, (as it is termed with us,) which is easy burned into a heavy lime.
(2) Ayr. 1879 R. Adamson Lays of Leisure Hours 92–93:
For, whisht! the golden mine was but And [sic] auld caum-quarry hole.

2. “Usually applied to slate pencil” (Kcb.2 1914; Per. 1915 Wilson L. Strathearn 239, caum). Known in this sense to Lnk.3 1938.w.Dmf. 1899 J. Shaw Country Schoolmaster 339:
Slate-pen is “caum” — a black-lead pencil “waud.”

Comb.: cawmpen, “slate pencil” (Slk.1 1929). Also in reduced dim. form campie (Per. 1910).

3. “White or light coloured blaes” (Sc. 1886 J. Barrowman Sc. Mining Terms 15, calm, caulm).

4. Soft disintegrated rock lying below the surface soil and on top of the workable rock in a sandstone quarry (Ags. 1952).

II. v. To whiten a hearth, etc., by means of pipeclay (Ags.17, Fif.10, Lnk.3 1938). Ppl.adj. caamed, kaumed.Ags. 1867 G. W. Donald Poems 58:
Stanes to calm an' chains to clean, Spoons to dicht an' cogs to claw oot.
Ags.(D) 1894 J. B. Salmond My Man Sandy (1899) viii.:
Mistress Mikaver had the stair noo whitened, an' every stap was kaumed an' sandit.
w.Dmf. 1903 J. L. Waugh Thornhill 151:
The floor was keeled, and in the caamed circle design round each flagstone Mrs Ritchie's handiwork was indisputably evidenced.

[O.Sc. calm, limestone; of obscure origin, c.1450; calmstane, later dial. camstane, a variety of limestone, earliest date 1502 (D.O.S.T.).]

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"Cam n., v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 23 Jun 2024 <>



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