Scottish word of the week: Watergaw

GIVEN the challenging nature of the Scottish weather, it comes as no surprise that there are a whole host of interesting words to name and describe the actions of the elements, and frequent changes from sunshine to rain mean a watergaw is never far away.

A rainbow, soon to be a watergaw, over the Isle of May. Picture: TSPL

And just as it’s important not to confuse a light shower with a rainstorm, it should be noted that a watergaw is not the same as a rainbow.

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While a rainbow is continuous, the classic watergaw is a lone patch of rainbow which follows the end of a downpour. The word, which originated in the Borders, is probably best known as the subject of Hugh McDiarmid’s poem ‘The Watergaw’. In the piece, regarded as one of the best by a Scottish poet, sees McDiarmid describing “a watergaw wi’ its chitterin’ licht ayont the on-ding”.

Unfortunately, looking up to try and spot a watergaw can leave you at the mercy of the weather, and in Scotland that’s always a dangerous prospect.