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Community / History in a Wird: the origins of ‘dratsi’

IN THE next instalment of the I Hear Dee project’s History in a Wird series, we feature the origins of the Shetland word for otter.

The word dratsi is an extremely rare example of a former fishermen’s taboo work entering regular vocabulary.

Run by linguists Dr Viveka Velupillai and native Shaetlan speakers Roy Mullay, Julie Dennison and Andrew Blance, the I Hear Dee project aims to document and describe the contemporary use of the distinctive language variety.

In researching the history of the local tongue, the I Hear Dee team is regularly unearthing fascinating twists and turns, which Shetland News is happy to share  to give it a wider audience.

It offers insights into the origin of the local language and how far travelled some of the words and phrases in regular use are. Shetland News will regularly share this work.

The origin of the word dratsi is explained here (in Shaetlan):

“Da snüds an wups idda vaige o a wird is fascinatin. Da Shaetlan wird fir ‘oatter’ is dratsi. Hit’s onnly fun in Shetland an hit’s een o onnly a peerie twartree wirds at’s gotten taen intil da general lexicon fae da fisherman’s taboo vocabulary.

Da wird itsel is a derivation o da verb ‘tae drittel aboot heivy an slow, tae shuffle alang’ + da suffix -ie at maks nouns (entities). Da etymology isna kent: Aald Scots haes drich/drech ‘tae hing aboot, pootle, ging drittelin’.

Whaar dat comes fae isna kent, an it isna attestit afore da 13C, bit Middle Dutch an Middle Low German haed treken ‘ta poo, draa’, so hit could be a Hansa lonn. Aald Norse haed dratta ‘tae waak heivy an slow’ (NyNo. dratte), da origin isna kent.”

Here is the translation:

“The twists and turns in the journey of a word are fascinating. The Shaetlan word for ‘otter’ is dratsi. It is Shetland specific and one of the few words that has been adopted into the general lexicon from the fishermen’s taboo vocabulary.

“The word itself is a derivation of the verb drats ‘to move heavily and slowly, to shuffle along’ + the suffix -ie which creates nouns (entities). The etymology is obscure: Old Scots has drich/drech ‘to loiter, dawdle, move slowly and heavily’.

“Where that comes from is not known and it is not attested before the 13C, but Middle Dutch and Middle Low, German had treken ‘to pull, draw’, so that could be a Hansa loan. Old Norse had dratta ‘to walk heavily and slowly’ (NyNo. dratte), of unknown origin.”

The history of the word smoorikin is here.


The work of I Hear Dee can be followed on InstagramFacebook and on YouTube. The group also has a website at https://www.iheardee.com