Home» Publications» DOST

A Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue (DOST)

This 12-volume dictionary documents the history of the Scots language from the earliest written evidence in the twelfth century until the year 1700. DOST was compiled over a period of some eighty years: the first fascicle, Part I. of Volume I, from A-ASSEMBLE, was published in November 1931 but the entirety of the work was not completed until 2002.

Information on ordering DOST is below.

Projects of this magnitude are the product of many minds, not only the lexicographers and proof-readers who create the text, but also the experts who provide advice on such diverse subjects as the law, mining, weaving and botany. The fundamental principles of editorial policy were established under the authority of the first editor, Sir William Craigie, who was also the third Editor of the OED (from 1901-1928) and Co-Editor of the first OED Supplement (1933). He stated the main objectives of the dictionary as follows:

This dictionary is intended to exhibit and illustrate the whole range of the Older Scottish vocabulary, as preserved in literary, documentary, and other records, down to the year 1600, and to continue the history of the language down to 1700, so far as it does not coincide with the ordinary English usage of that century. Words not found before 1600 are also included when they are not current, or are not used in the same sense, in English of the period, or when they have some special bearing on Scottish history or life... A large number of the words it contains are of historical or legal interest, are intimately connected with the older life of the Scottish nation or are descriptive of the special features of the country. The history of many of these has hitherto been imperfectly traced, and much light is thrown upon them by the fuller evidence here provided.

Craigie was followed by Professor A. J. Aitken, who endorsed Craigie's principles, but he was nonetheless aware that the coverage of the language provided in Volumes I and II still had some room for improvement. He more than doubled the number of source texts read for the dictionary and launched a new reading programme, with more than 50 new voluntary excerptors, reading both printed editions and, mostly on microfilm, manuscripts. Aitken also widened the scope of the editing. Under his regime sense analysis was refined and the illustration of usage came more and more to be considered an important part of an entry. His approach is described in a hand written note from the DOST archive:

Since many readers consult the dictionary for precise definitions of archaic and Scots words and technical terms, the present editor, commencing with the letter J, has departed from Sir William Craigie's cautious and conservative practice in this respect of providing brief, generalised, often portmanteau definitions, and has aimed at a more elaborate subdivision by usage, with fuller, more precise and more detailed definitions, sometimes accompanied by brief notes of an encyclopaedic nature when the material for this lay to hand. Further, it has been a principle to supply as far as possible those quotations which are most helpful in this direction.

As regards coverage, Aitken aimed at exhaustiveness for the pre-1600 linguistic record. At the same time, however, he continued Craigie's policy of filtering out material belonging to the 17th century along the lines indicated above.

Dr James A.C. Stevenson further refined the coverage of semantic and grammatical usage. He continued the trend towards further and more detailed analysis of the entries and sought especially to capture the intricacies of Older Scots syntax. He echoed Aitken with respect to the scope of the dictionary, and his philosophy may be deduced from his notes for a talk given in the nineteen seventies:

The aim of DOST is not simply or even chiefly the definition of unfamiliar or obsolete terms. It could rather be described without undue pretension as an attempt to provide a key to the whole range of Scottish culture from 1200-1700. There is an abundance of useful and curious information, much of it not available elsewhere, on every aspect of life in these five centuries, and the quotations are sometimes supplemented by references to authoritative treatments to be found elsewhere.

Stevenson tackled a number of previously intransigent problems of the management of the dictionary materials, especially with regard to making previously used slips available for the later letters of the alphabet, a process known as 'sending on'. Stevenson regularised this procedure and modernised and simplified some of the rules of layout of the published material.

Under the editorial direction of Margaret G. Dareau, Craigie and Aitken's approaches were developed further, and the project finally reached completion. Dareau believed that while Scots words must of necessity be compared with their English counterparts (where available), great care should be taken to ensure that due consideration was given to Scots as a separate language. Consequently, she placed greater emphasis on the functioning of the word in society. In a paper given at the 8th International Congress on Medieval and Renaissance Scottish Language and Literature in Oxford in 1996, she outlined the change in approach:

The changes we have made away from this narrow nineteenth-century perception of language make the dictionary a more useful tool to a wider variety of users. What has happened is in effect a shift towards a greater emphasis on the sociolinguistic aspects of language analysis.

This period of editorship also saw a reduction in discrimination between the language of the 16th and 17th centuries. Entries were no longer omitted merely because they made their first appearance in Scots after 1600. Though the spelling may be anglicised, much of the usage of the 17th century is still characteristically Scots. She also oversaw the final rejection of the concept of separating entries by 'phonemic' variation, which had meant that readers needed to consult several entries in order to gain a full picture of the history of what was effectively the same 'word'. (Fortunately, since 2004, the ability to search DOST electronically within the Dictionary of the Scots Language has greatly helped to alleviate this difficulty when dealing with the earlier sections of the alphabet.)

Inevitably, the perceptions of different editors have reflected the changing views of Scotland's past and present, and attitudes to the Scots language developed considerably between the 1920s and 2002. The project also evolved into an enterprise supported and funded by six of Scotland's Universities and a good number of Charitable Foundations, and, latterly, by the Scottish Office and the Scottish Arts Council. Current SLD editors hope to maintain this evolutionary progress in their stewardship of the DSL.

Ordering details

Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue is available from:
Oxford University Press
Sales & Marketing
Walton Street

Order Online

The Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue can also be ordered online.