Wednesday 18 August 2010

Uncouth Kith and Kin

Your kin is, of course, your family. Your kith is everybody you know. Indeed, kith originally meant knowledge. Those who are not your kith are unkith, and therefore uncouth, which originally meant unknown.

Uncouth comes, it seems, from cuð, which gave the Old English wīfcȳþþe, which meant woman-knowledge, which meant rumpy-pumpy. But now uncouth survives as a fossil word like gormless, feckless, ruthless and reckless, on which I have already blogged.

However, according to the dictionary, couth has survived in Scotland (although I don't see why anything would want to do that). In those cold, hyperborean, whisky-sodden glens couth's meaning has moved from known to familiar to snug and cosy.


  1. I'm sure, if I could pronounce - wīfcȳþþe - I'd enjoy using it in a poem! Did like this ramble through kith and kin where I felt completely couth...

  2. This might explain why Scots ken means know. The gno- tree is an interesting one.

  3. I asked my Northern relative Kenneth about that, but it was beyond our Ken.

  4. The Antipodean, gruntled and kempt - mostly,19 August 2010 at 07:47

    That list of fossil words reminds me of the cows on Cold Comfort Farm.

    It also reminds me of this piece by Jack Winter, which you may have seen before. I think 'sipid' is my favourite.