Scottish word of the day: Hattock

A fairy - on this occasion wearing something that looks more like a tiara than a hattock. Picture: Reuters

A fairy - on this occasion wearing something that looks more like a tiara than a hattock. Picture: Reuters

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IF you’ve never come across hattock before, then there’s a pretty good reason for that.

It’s a centuries-old term for a fairy’s hat: if it’s something you have come across recently, then you’re a scholar of witchcraft or you might be - how to put this? - “away with the fairies.”

It is almost always tied to the phrase “horse and hattock”, which was said to be the cry of fairies who were about to depart to their own world, or when they were transporting a physical object - a Scots’ version of abra-cadabra, perhaps.

Seventeenth century accounts of its use are often linked to witch trials. Testimony given during one trial in 1662 said:

“I haid a little horse, and wold say ‘Horse and hattock, in Divellis name’. And then ve vold flie away, quhair we vold.”

We could suppose that it may also have been used on occasion as an ironic term among some when mounting a horse.

A famous record of the use of “horse and hattock” concerned a Lord Duffus, who, according to a letter written in 1695 from an unnamed Scottish man to English antiquarian John Aubrey, had been walking in Morayshire when he heard voices crying: “Horse and hattock!”

After hearing this, he repeated the cry, and found himself “caught up through the air, with the fairies to the King of France’s cellar in Paris, where, after he had heartily drunk, he fell asleep.”

Once Lord Duffus came to, he was found in the King’s cellar with a silver cup in his hand, which, after apparently explaining himself to the King of France, he was allowed to keep.

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Do you believe in fairies?

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