Scottish words for the Devil

THE Devil is a common feature in many pieces of Scottish literature and was a source of inspiration for famous poet Robert Burns. Although not often used today, there are many different ways to refer to the much feared Satan.

Tam O'Shanter by Robert Burns includes vivid descriptions of the Devil
Tam O'Shanter by Robert Burns includes vivid descriptions of the Devil

Auld Hornie - The devil is sometimes referred to as Auld Hornie, most commonly by Burns in The Address to the Devil where he writes: “O thou, whatever title suit thee, Auld Hornie,”. The piece is often interpreted as Burns putting a humorous spin on something that was widely feared at the time.

Deil - The devil is referred to as Deil by various writers including Eleanor Atkinson and James Hogg. In the story of Greyfriars Bobby Atkinson writes of the ‘sma’ terrier’ - “He’s as polite and friendly as the deil, but he’ll have naething to do with me or with onybody.”

Deil is also used to describe someone as reckless or mischievous

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    Major Thomas Weir - the Edinburgh man who admitted to witchcraft

    Mahoun - Scots often refer to the devil as Mahoun. In “The Deil’s Awa Wi’ The Excisemen”, Burns writes:

    “The Deil cam fiddlin thro’ the town,

    And danc’d awa wi’ th’Exciseman,

    And ilka wife cries:—’Auld Mahoun,

    I wish you luck o’ the prize, man!’

    Old Nick - Old Nick has been the name for the Devil since the mid-17th century. It’s not known for certain where the name Nick derives from but one theory suggests that it came from Machiavelli’s first name Niccolo. Another suggests that Nick is a shortened form of iniquity.

    Nickie-Ben - Nickie-Ben is a variation of Old Nick and another name for the Devil. It is also used to refer ot an evil spirit or imp.

    Clootie, clooty, cluty and cluttie - Variations of the word clootie are sometimes used to refer to the Devil and is often preceded by Auld. Clootie can be translated as ‘he of the cloven hoof’.

    Auld Hangie - Another word Burns uses when describing the Devil is Auld Hangie. The devil he writes of is the devil in folklore, of popular superstition. It has more resemblance to Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream rather than Satan.