A hill on which to die

There are times when language fails us, and we struggle to find the right words to express an emotion, a movement, or a mood. Some writers, when faced with such a barrier, simply make something up and rely on context or onomatopoeia to give the new word meaning.

Lewis Carroll gave us galumphing and chortle in such a way, and the words have stuck and remain in fairly common use. (If you don’t use the word galumphing, then you should.)

Further back, William Shakespeare gave us lacklustre, dauntless, and the use of the word elbow as a verb. There is after all, no more concise and evocative a way of describing the action of elbowing one’s way into a crowd than using the word ‘elbow’.

Of course, every word has its own story of origin and first use and the world of etymology is a fascinating rabbit hole to fall into.

Apart from a long list of fictitious place names, I am not one to invent new words willy-nilly (first known use in 1608) but then I am not a master of the art as Carroll and Shakespeare clearly were.

This blog post is about an existing word that does not get out as much as it should and is largely forgotten in much of the English-speaking world. Like many words, it has no synonym that carries the exact same meaning and cannot be replaced without resorting to an entire phrase.

That word is ‘outwith’.

The Collins Dictionary describes ‘outwith’ as follows:




mainly Scottish

outside; beyond

So there we have it.

The steam hammer, the Sterling heat engine, the telephone, logarithms, roller printing, tarmac, the bike, the thermodynamic cycle, the television, the flushing toilet, the refrigerator, the vacuum flask, deep fried pizza and the word ‘outwith’.

Just a very few of the gifts bestowed upon the human race by the Scots. (There are more here too! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scottish_inventions_and_discoveries )

‘Outside’ is close but does not convey any emotion. ‘Outwith’ means more than that.

‘I am outside the castle walls.’ A statement of fact. A position.

‘I am outwith the castle walls.’ A position again, but this time there is a feeling of loss; a yearning to be within.

‘I am outwith the protection of the castle walls.’ Now there is real emotion. Looming threat perhaps.

‘I am outside the protection of the castle walls.’ Too physical and has lost the ephemeral quality of the former.

‘Outwith’ means to be at once ‘outside’ and ‘without’ and there is no other single word that conveys this.

I use it often in my writing, and every time I do MS Word prompts me to change it. I could add it to my personal dictionary and never be prompted again, but that would be admitting defeat. I even went as far as messaging Microsoft to see if they would see sense and accept it into the fold as a fully recognised word and not some fringe oddity. My request was passed onto some ‘team’ or other which I assume is tech-speak for recycle bin.

Every time I see that little red squiggly line under the word I feel a little rebellious shiver and imagine myself as Lewis Carroll undoubtedly did when his slythy toves first gyred and gymbled in the wabe.

And if I need to die on this hill, outwith the sanctioned boundaries of an ever-evolving language, then so be it.

Who’s with me?

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