Speaking Scots | Sonsie

Lucky to some…


HOPE your first-fits at Hogmanay are all sonsie this year, that’s to say bring you good luck—nae reid heids or flat-fitters among them, which would be a sure recipe for disaster, according to the spaewives.

The Gaelic word for good luck is sonas and the Lowlanders took it over into Scots very early, as devotees of Scottish literature will remember from the earliest Scottish poem that has survived from the Middle Ages, the lament for the death of good King Alexander III. He, as every schoolboy except the Scottish ones will know, fell over the cliffs at Kinghorn and was killed; not much luck about that either for the king or for Scotland, which had enjoyed much prosperity in his reign.

“Away wes sonce of ale and breid says the poet, meaning plenty of abundance of the good things of life. (Notice that ale takes precedence over breid).

So out of this notion of luck or abundance, sonsie came to mean jovial, amiable, good company; and you may have noticed how buxom, well- upholstered bodies are often jolly types and so sonsie came to be applied to them too.

These days I’m not sure just how amiably the old complimentary expression from a well-meaning male, ” a braw, sonsie lass”, would be received by a modern young lady, anxious about her figure and not seeing at all where the good luck comes in.

Of course, every January we hear haggises addressed all over the world in the words of Burns, “Fair fa your honest, sonsie face”. The haggis can hardly take offence at that as the harvest moon is also described as sonsie, and what can be bonnier and more radiantly cheerful than that?


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