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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1968 (SND Vol. VII). Includes material from the 1976 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

Q, n.1. letter of alphabet.

The seventeenth letter of the alphabet, now called [kju] as in Eng. (Bnff. 1836 Ellis E.E.P. V. 777; Ork. 1922 J. Firth Reminiscences 133), but formerly que [kwi:, Sh. hwi: (see 1. below)] (Dmf. 1836 A. Cunningham Lord Roldan II. 302), and representing the double sound [kw], the breathed velar plosive followed by the voiced lip-back fricative. The symbol qu, adopted from French spelling in words of Romance orig., gradually replaced O.E. cw in native words also. Later still, esp. in North. Mid.Eng., the spelling also represented O.E. hw-, Mid.Eng. wh-. In Scot., doubtless owing to the survival of the breathing in this combination [ʍ] (see P.L.D. § 75), the spelling quh- was adopted in the earliest recorded MSS. and survived, in formal documents till about 1730 in relative pronouns and conjunctions, as quhat, quhen, quhereof, quhich, quhider, quhilk, etc. often abbreviated to qt, qn, qreof, qch, qder, qlk, as an archaism in later literature, and is still retained in place-names. For quh- spellings see also wh-.

1. In I.Sc. qu- [kw] often appears esp., among older speakers, for wh- as in quat, what (Sh. 1891 J. Burgess Rasmie's Büddie 21), quile, while (Sh. 1949 New Shetlander No. 16. 25), quite, white, etc., etc. The converse change of qu- to wh- is prevalent in Sh., though obsol. in Ork., as in wharrel, quarrel, wheen, queen, wheer, queer, whick, quick, whastion, question (Ork. 1773 H. Marwick Ork. Norn (1929) 227). See under wh-. This derives from Norw. dial. where there is a sim. interchange of kv- and hv-. The same feature occurs also in Wm. and Cmb. dials. in Eng., phs. due to the same Norw. orig., and this has spread into Liddesdale in Rxb. where Whick, quick, and whickens, Quickens, were formerly heard. Cf. also Gall. quhaw (Quaw); sim. squ- > sw-, esp. in Sh., as in Sweamish, Sweeze, Swint, v.2 See S, letter, 3.

2. qu- has developed out of c before earlier ō in ne.Sc. as in Queel, Queet, Quentry, Quile, Quite. See P.L.D. § 128;

3. qu- also appears for tw- in m.Sc. (now chiefly em.Sc.(a)) in Qua, Qual, Quanty, quist, twist, etc. (Sc. 1710 T. Ruddiman Gl. to Douglas Aeneis s.v. Q; Per., Fif., Lth. 1915–26 Wilson). Conversely qu- > tw- sporadically as in twilt, quilt (Rxb. 1942 Zai, § 281). So also in Mid.Eng.;

4. qu- has also been simplified to c [k] in Co', quoth, Markiss, marquess (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B., § 5), Coin, = Quean (see P.L.D. § 131), Corter, quarter.

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"Q n.1". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 12 Jun 2024 <>



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