Scottish word of the week: Dour

WHETHER it’s the weather, your standard Sunday league football match, or just the person down the road you can’t stand, there are quite a lot of things you could describe as “dour”.

A dour-looking sky over Edinburgh's Calton Hill. Picture: Jane Barlow
A dour-looking sky over Edinburgh's Calton Hill. Picture: Jane Barlow

In fact, Scots use it so much that it has been used, in turn, by other nations to describe (a stereotype) of Scottish people. But what does it mean?

The Oxford Dictionary defines it as someone who is “relentlessly severe, stern, or gloomy in manner or appearance.” It can also refer to someone who is stubborn or obstinate.

The word has Scottish origins too, coming from the Gaelic word dúr. Sullen, dull, grim are among many English synonyms for dour, and a quick glance outside the window on most mornings would confirm the weather often fits the term rather too well.

Someone who is described as dour may be perceived as lacking a sense of humour, but to many Scots this isn’t the case. Being dour can also refer to that dry, cynical sense of humour inherent in many Scots, such as when colleagues sarcastically rib you for being too happy when you come into work.

Though in the main dour is used to either describe the weather or someone’s disposition, it’s a flexible term: it can refer to a fish that just won’t hook, a school pupil that won’t settle, or that one friend that, try as you might, just won’t give in to your plans.