e a m harris

Roaming the byways of literature

The Gleg Makars

Browsing through the web recently I came across this page on the Edinburgh Museums site. It talks about the appointment of a makar for Edinburgh in 2002, a position held first by Stewart Conn then Valerie Gillies and now Ron Butlin.

I’d never heard of this position before so googled it and as usual the trusty Wikipedia had an article. The makar is an ‘official’ poet, though some people seem to acquire the position just by being famous and brilliant.

According to Wikipedia:

Qualities in verse especially prized by many of these writers included the combination of skilful artifice with natural diction, concision and “quickness” of expression.

The article then goes on to say that the Scots called this ability glegness (apparently more often used as an adjective – gleg). I’d never met this word before: it’s means brisk, adroit, skilful or clever.

Poetry has to be both brisk and skilful, or it’s boring, and it’s great to have a word that combines these ideas together into one concept.

Being able to name something makes it possible to think of it clearly – to study it, test its truthfulness, look for its opposite and create similes, among other mental manipulations.

I would love to see this word used in job ads: ‘… applicants must be well educated, enthusiastic and gleg’. Would it put applicants off? or encourage them to use a dictionary to expand their knowledge?


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2 thoughts on “The Gleg Makars

  1. Su Leslie on said:

    I’ve not heard the word ‘gleg’ before, but it’s a lovely-sounding counterpoint to ‘glaikit’ which is stupid or vacant.


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