Tag Archives: wabbit

wabbit

Notwithstanding – or even perhaps because of – the season, I think many of us are getting to be a little wabbit.

No, I don’t mean Elmer Fudd–style, although, well, come on, here, you may need this:

But, regardless of the wiles of Bugs Bunny, if you are wabbit (not a wabbit), you are more likely to be wiped out than to prevail. Not that it has anything to do with being hunted or being a rabbit. No, wabbit means ‘exhausted’, ‘dog tired’, ‘not feeling at all up to it’, et cetera, and it’s from Scots.

I don’t mean Scotch – though that may help you if you’re wabbit (or, on the other hand, it may help you to end up wabbit if you have too much). Scots is a sister language to English spoken in Scotland (as distinct from Scots Gaelic, which is a Celtic language and sister to Irish). And in Scots, the past participle suffix (which in English is -ed) is -it. As in that little rhyme by Robert Burns I first learned as a child and was instantly irritated by, because I didn’t see why they had to use all these weird versions of words and that forced rhyme:

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.

So if thankit equals thanked, wabbit equals… uh…

Well, Scots is a different language, you know, and it doesn’t always have one-to-one word correspondences with English. And its etymological record is less replete too, due to its having fewer speakers, fewer books, and less investment in its teaching and research. So anyway, exhaustive search has turned up only possibilities. It might be a past participle of the verb wap, which has a good reason for looking like English whap: it means ‘throw quickly or with violence” (per the OED). (No explanation is given for the shift from p to b.) Or it might be somehow from woubit, which is a “woolly bear” kind of caterpillar or, figuratively, a contemptible person. Or it might be from neither. Ah, who knows?

Wabbit has been borrowed into English, anyway, so you can use it without having to try to emulate Rabbie Burns. But if you’d like to see it in context, here’s a poem by William Stewart, from his 1895 book Lilts and Larks frae Larkie (look for our word halfway through the second stanza):

Adversity Sweetens Success

Here, within my cot in Machan,
I’ve got landed richt and ticht,
Face aglow, an’ lungs apechan’,
Wi’ the fury o’ the nicht.
Hech, but I’d a michty battle
Comin’ ’tween the toon an’ manse,
Hail, like jaury-bools, play’d rattle
’Gainst my nose an’ garr’d me dance.

Doon it pelted, helter skelter,
Like as gif my banes ’twould pyke,
Deil the bit whaur I could shelter
Till I got to Crichton’s dyke.
Braithless, blinded, a’ but wabbit,
On I sprauchled, heid agee.
Till against the wa’ I labbit,
Frae the bitin’ halestones free.

Noo I’m plantit by the ingle,
King or prince can never ken
Hoo wi’ joy my heart strings tingle,
Noo my trauchel’s at an en’.
Wife an’ bairnies a’ sae cheery,
Pipe aluntin’, hearth aflame,
Mak’s me bless the ootside fury,
For it hichtens joys o’ hame.

Would ye ken sweet plenty’s pleesure?
First ken poortith’s bitin’ sting;
Would ye ken true comfort’s leisure?
First ken labour’s constant hing.
Would ye ken the joys o’ simmer?
First ken winter’s bitin’ blast,
Hope’s bit stamy’s faintest glimmer
Beems a bleeze whem storms are past.

Are you wabbit now? That poem might have been a bit much exercise for some readers. But so is quite a lot of life these days. Well, noo yer trauchel’s at an en’, at least for the time being. Go get some rest if you can. It may be all the sweeter if you been befuddled.