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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1974 (SND Vol. IX).
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

U, n., letter of the alphabet. The twenty-first letter of the alphabet, now called [ju] as in Eng., but earlier [u], written uh, oo (Sc. 1721 Ramsay (S.T.S.) Gl. s.v. Woo; Crm. 1854 H. Miller Schools ii.; Bnff. 1874 W. Gregor Olden Time 39; Sh. 1958 New Shetlander No. 46. 24). See also W, letter.

1. It has several sounds in Sc.: (1) that of the high back tense rounded vowel [u], written variously u, oo, ou, †ow, ew, ue, which in the wm.Sc. area especially tends to be markedly advanced in the direction of [y], e.g. Boo, drew, Du, pron., Fou, Mou, Pou, true. The distinction in length and tenseness in Eng. between the u sound in food, moon, rude [u(w)] and that in cook, foot, full, good, pull, push, put, stood [u] is not made in Sc. Before -r a glide gen. develops in Sc. as Flour [′fluər], Sour [′suər], poor. The sound [ʊ] may be said to have disappeared from mainland Sc., exc. for an obsol. survival in Rxb., where the sound [ʊə] freq. written uo, developed from O.Sc. as in bonnie, coal, folk, frost, morn, rose, storm, etc. See O, letter, 1., Murray D.S.C.S. 111, 147, Watson W.-B. § 71, P.L.D. § 105), as also in Cmb. dial. In Sh. an almost identical sound, for which Jakobsen uses the symbol [], is characterised in this dictionary by [ʊ] and gen. written by Sh. authors with u, as Kul, Lurt, Mun, v., Runk, v.1, Skulp, Skuttel, Strubba; (2) that of the high back lax rounded vowel [ʌ], as in Bucht, cut, dumb, Guddle, Hurl, v.1, n.1, Hurl, v.2, n.2, Hurl, n.3, Lunt, n.1, v.1, Lunt, v.2, n.2, Lunt, n.3, v.3, Putt, Rung n.1, v.1, Rung v.2, n.2, Turn, wurk s.v. Wirk, etc., tending also to [ə] in unstressed syllables, as Elbuck, Stolum. In the neg. pref. Un- and in Up, the earlier pronunciations [un-, up] are occas. heard, though nearly obs.; (3) when followed by a consonant and a mute e, it frequently indicates the sound [ø, y, ɪ]. See 2. (4).

2. u appears in various digraphs: (1) au, representing the sound [:], in em. and wm. Sc. and gen. adopted as the standard spelling in other dialects also, where the vowel remains unrounded, exc. Sh. where the spelling aa is preferred. Hence Cauld, Draucht, Hauch, Haud, Lauch, Maun, Saut, Waur. See P.L.D. §§ 48, 85, 93, and A, letter, II.; (2) eu, (i) for [ju], as in Feu; alternating with [(j)ʌ] according to dialect, in words orig. with O. and Mid.Eng. before ch [x] or k, as Beuk, Deuk, Eneuch, Heuch, leuch (Lauch), Leuk, Pleuch, Teuch. See P.L.D. § 35.6.; (ii) for [ø] esp. in Ork. writing from Dennison onwards, as geud (Guid), creuk (Cruik), deud (Dae, v.1), meun (Mune), seut (Suit), peur (Puir). See (4) below; (3) ou, (i) for [u], (ii) for [ʌu]. See O, letter, 2. (2), 3. (4); (4) ui, (i) for [ø, y, later unrounded to ɪ], alternating with the earlier u-e, which is now usu. retained only before nasals, as in Brume, dune (Dae, v.1), Lume, Mune, Spune, Tume. Tune, etc., also Blude, Schule, and representing O.E. ō, O.N. ó, O.Fr. u (see P.L.D. §§ 20, 35), as in Buit, n.1, Cuil, Fuil, Guid, Huilie, Muir, Puir, Shuir, Tuil, Wuid. See Burns Intro. to Gl. to 1787 edition. This spelling has become a literary standard also in n.Sc. where the actual pronunciation is [i]. See also O, letter, 3. (3) (ii); (ii) for [e] from the same etym. sources, when in final position and before r and the voiced fricatives v, z, in m.Sc., and, more gen. for (i) in Ags., Fif. Hence Dae, v.1, Shae, Tae, prep., adv., flair (Fluir), pair (Puir), shair (Shuir); Excaise, maisic (Music), refaise (Refuise), yaize (Use, v.). The spelling of u for , due chiefly to the influence of French spelling, originates in North.Mid.Eng. in the mid 14th c. and is found in Scottish MSS. from about the same time. The i represents length of vowel as in ai, ei and (in O.Sc.) oi.

3. u is not kept distinct in spelling from v and w in O.Sc. and this practice survived into the early 18th c., e.g. tua (Twa), tuell (Twal), Twesday, urett, wrote (Sc. 1700 W. Fraser Scotts of Buccleuch (1878) II. 374), uryt, write (Sc. 1701 Rec. Conv. Burghs 440, 1716 W. Fraser Sutherland Bk. (1892) II. 215).

4. (1) u [u], with its variant spellings, originates (i) chiefly in O.E. ū, O.N. ú, O.Fr. ou. See P.L.D. §§ 38–40, note also § 101; (ii) in O.E. ūl and O.N. úl final, ul- before a consonant, where the l is vocalised. See P.L.D. §§ 60.2, 78.3., L, letter, 1.; (iii) also from wi after s, as in Soom, v.1, Soop, soord (Swurd). See P.L.D. § 76; (2) u [ʌ] goes back (i) mainly to O.E., O.N. u and ū, ú, O.Fr. u, ou with later shortening (see P.L.D. § 60 and cf. Bun, ppl.adj.1, fund (Find), Grund, Hund; Funtain, Muntain; bushel, push; (ii) to O.E., O.N. i in proximity to a labial consonant or a velar l or both, as burd, bird, but, bit (Sc. 1752 Lyon in Mourning (S.H.S.) III. 128), fussle (Fissle), hum, him (Fif. 1845 Stat. Acc.2 IX. 42), wull (Will v.1, Will n.1, Will adj., adv., v.2, n.2, Will), wut (Wit), whun (Whin, n.1, Whin, n.2), whusky, whuskers, whustle, mulk (Milk), Muckle, puckle (Pickle). Cf. also sullie (Silly). See P.L.D. § 59. This feature is extended to many other collocations with i with varying degrees of thoroughness in the various dialects. It is particularly frequent in Ork. and Arg. (see P.L.D. § 95.2. (1) and N. Munro Para Handy passim) and in Per. (see Wilson L. Strathearn 40–1). Cf. also Chucken, durty (Inv. 1741 Trans. Gael. Soc. Inv. XIV. 274), shurt (Shirt), shunner (Shinner), Studdie. Conversely u appears as [ɪ] in e.g. bibble (Bubble), tribble, Trouble (cf. Burns To a Mouse vi.), Ribble; (iii) to o in buddy (Body), in Dug, Monie, in some areas of m. and s.Sc., Trodge; (iv) in Bull and Full [fʌl], Pull [pʌl], as variants of Fou, Pou. See L, letter, 1. (1).

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"U n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 16 Apr 2024 <>



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