A longtime reader in Scotland sends “just a word at the turn of the year, or Hogmanay as we call it.” Yet again, a reader teaches me something. Such an unlikely word for a gift or celebration. Not that I need much of an excuse to read the OED, but here goes: “(The call used to demand) a New Year’s gift; esp. a gift of oatcakes, bread, fruit, etc., traditionally given to or demanded by children on the last day of the year.” That’s the older, somewhat outdated meaning, with the dictionary giving 11 citations dating from 1443 to 1905. The second definition is the one used by my reader: “The last day of the year, 31 December; New Year’s Eve; spec. the evening of this day, often marked with a celebration.” The word’s origin, as outlined in the OED, is complicated and speculative, “probably a borrowing from French.” Thirty-four variant spellings are reported.
In a letter to his friend Andrew Mitchell written Jan. 11, 1815, Thomas “Life of the Party” Carlyle recounted “getting my lungs well-nigh suffocated with the foul air, and the tympanum of my ears nearly torn to pieces with the war-whoops of the Edinburgh Hogmanay-night.” That one is not found in the OED. This one, from the Shetland Times on Jan. 20, 1989, is: “Nigel Llewellyn pleaded guilty to throwing a full bottle at the boot of a passing taxi while with revelers on Hogmanay night.”
Happy Hogmanay to all my readers, drunk or sober, saintly or boorish, in jail or on bail.