Tuesday, 8 June 2010

As bitter as a bask apple

In his Irish Times column yesterday Diarmaid O Muirithe explained the meaning of the Ulster-Scots word bask, which he said is or was used of the weather in the Ards peninsula, and is also used in Scotland and Cumbria.  It probably came to Ulster from Scotland and is used to describe a very dry day.  The Scots lexicographer, Jamieson, described a bask day as 'a day distinguished by drought, accompanied with a withering wind, destructive to vegetation.'  In his 1893 story, The Stickit Minister, S R Crockett referred to 'a bask blowy day in the end of March.'  O Muirithe had received from Ards the phrase, 'She's as bitter as a bask apple.'  This column is one of the jewels in the Irish Times every Monday.


  1. The more I look at how these Ulster Scots Language is used e.g in sentences mentioned above, the more it seems that this is not a language in it's own right. It seems more an extension of English. The grammar and sentence structure are English and there has been a mere substitution of "Ulster Scots" words into the existing format. This is kind of similar to Scouse or Geordie. Languages are usually distinct in terms of Grammar, verb forms, and maybe Noun declension. In the phrase "She's as bitter as a bask Apple" you could substitute bask with any other adjective. I could even use Granny Smith apple in its place.

  2. English, Scots and Ulster-Scots are all West Germanic languages. Scots and English are actually sister languages, in the same way that Irish and Scottish Gaelic are sister languages. There are many other examples of sister languages in other parts of the world and in some cases the relationship is closer, and the differences less, than between Scots and English.

  3. For anyone interested, the adjective "bask" has two meanings in Scots:
    BASK, adj. [bɑsk]
    1. Of weather: dry, withering.
    2. Of fruit: sharp, bitter, rough to the taste.

    Only the second meaning is attested in Ulster-Scots.
    The etymology of this Ulster-Scots word shows that it derives ultimately from Old Norse, via Older (pre-Plantation) Scots as follows:
    [O.Sc. bask, adj., unpleasant, distasteful (D.O.S.T.). Beʒʒsc, baisk spellings occur in Mid.Eng. which would point to O.N. beisk, acrid, bitter. For the more common a forms cf. Norw. dial. (Aasen) bask, proud, Sw. bask, barsk, stern, L.Ger. basch, bask, barsk, rough, harsh to the taste (Berghaus), E.Fris. barsk, rough, severe (Koolman)]

  4. Philip - Thank you for the information.