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The Heather in Lore, Lyric and Lay
Etymology


IN old writings the word occurs variously as haudr, had(d)yr, haddir, hedder, hadder, hather, and hether. The word "Heather" is of uncertain origin, and is supposed to have appeared first in the eighteenth century. Skeat, the etymologist, remarks as follows concerning the word Haudr: "Uncultivated land. The plant heath is so named from growing on barren heaths. Heather, an inhabitant of the heath; a heath-er." This latter derivation, while a convenient one, seems to be borne out by others referred to further on. It is common in some parts of Scotland to apply the termination "er," signifying as belonging to. For example: Fifer, a native of Fife. Another writer has endeavored to trace the name to the word "heat," which virtue he ascribes as one of the properties possessed by the Heather.

The form which will appeal most forcibly to, and find the greatest favor with, Scotsmen, at least, is that provided by Dr. Prior, as follows: "Heath, Heather, Hather, A. S. haeo; G. heide; O. N. heioi; Go. haipi, a word which primarily meant the country in which the heath grows; Skr. Kshêtra, a field; Beng. Kheta and Skr. Kshiti, land, from Kshi, to dwell. It is from the same root, Kshi, that is derived Skr. Kshamâ, ground; Prakr. Khamâ, to which are related G. xa; Go. haims, O. N. heimi'and our home." Then follows this explanation: "When the north of Europe was a forest, open land was naturally preferred for the site of dwellings; the heath was the only open land, and thus acquired a name that has been used to designate a field or homestead."

It is the association of the Heather with the word "home" that makes Prior's explanation so agreeable to the Scottish heart. Earliest recollections cluster around this "flower of the wild;" and as a writer beautifully puts it: "To many a mountain child, the purple hillside is the only flower garden he knows; but what a garden! Reaching from horizon to horizon, it is the best of bedding plants, requiring no care or expenditure; the greener after the worst of storms; when August's sun blisters most fiercely, only more purple and luxuriant; the home of all that is purifying in heart and taste."

Heath and Heather are common in combination with other words. For instance, we have, among moorland birds, heath or heather-bill, heath or heather-cock, heather-lintie, heather-pippit, heather-peeper. Then we have heather-ale, heather-beer, heather-bred, heather-legged, heather-besom, heather-cowe, heather-reenge, heather-rope, etc.

A Galloway bard, almost unknown, named David Davidson, speaks of Burns, who was his contemporary, and who shortly before had passed away, as "heather-headed":

Sic sangs as thae, the heather-headed bard
Of Scotland ranted as he trod the glebe,
And Caledonia's taste thought it nae shame
To croon the o'erword.

A few expressive metaphors taken from the plant are found in our language; e. g., "heather and dub," signifying rough and ready; "to set the heather on fire," to cause a disturbance; "to take to the heather," to flee or become an exile.

Then in northern Scotland we have such names as Hedderwick, Heathcot, Heathery hillock, Heathery gall. Heather cliff, etc.

The Gaelic name of the plant, fraoch, furnishes such designations as Freuchie, Freugh, Frew, etc.


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