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.
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.
Galloway bard, almost unknown, named David Davidson, speaks of Burns,
who was his contemporary, and who shortly before had passed away, as
Sic sangs as thae, the heather-headed bard
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,