Scottish word of the week: Dram

Buying a dram. Picture: TSPL
Buying a dram. Picture: TSPL
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This Hogmanay it is more than likely that you’ll be partaking in the drinking of whisky as you toast the beginning of a new year and the passing of the old one.

Though the amount of whisky you might pour is defined by many terms - a tot, a nip, a half - none of these seem to provide adequate description of the amount of whisky desired.

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A dram however, now there’s a term we can all work with, when pouring for yourself. it can be a big as you want or as little as you like.

When drinking with guests however, try to pour too little and you’ll be met by a stern stare, it never pays to be miserly when providing a dram.

The word itself, though never officially pinned to a particular measurement, is unofficially measured as ‘the amount you could swallow in one mouthful’.

It can act as a noun ‘Can I have a dram of your finest whisky?’

And on the odd occasion as a verb ‘You dramming?’

To which the response is of course: ‘I’m dramming.’

The origins of the word can be traced back to Ancient Greece, and the word Drakhme, used in reference to coins. In the bible it is used to describe a unit of treasure.

It spread to Britain through its translation into Latin (Dragma), Old French (Dragme) and finally Old English (Dragme), all of these words being used to describe the weight of something.

Indeed the original use of the word dram was as a term for an apothecaries’ weight, usually agreed to be one eighth of an ounce.

This particular use of the word can be seen in some of William Shakespeare’s most famous works.

Quite how it became so popular in Scotland or why it made the transition from quantifying solids to quantifying liquids, no one can be sure.

Though currently defined by Scottish licencing legislature as 25ml or 35ml, there was a recent push by the organisers of the Speyside whisky festival to have the dram installed as the official measurement for whisky.

Festival manager Mary Hemsworth summed up the campaign by saying: “We strongly believe there’s a case for parity for Scotch whisky and for it to have its own unit of measurement.”

As noble as the campaign to get everyone buying a dram whisky in Scotland a little extra, the real success of this movement - and indeed of the Scotch industry itself - is measured, no pun intended, in the re-emergence of the word dram when referencing whisky in Scotland and the world over.

So, this Hogmanay I hope you’ll join in in raising a dram to a great year gone by and a better one ahead.

Sláinte Mhaith!

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