Owl About Words: Sowing One’s Oats?

This month, we’re going to talk about a word that has travelled to so many lands, acquiring new meanings in each place, that you wonder if that’s why it’s become linguistic luggage now. In fact, the word in its original sense is hardly used these days.

The word is haverel and the Scots use it to mean idiotic or daft, according to Ivor Brown in his book, Just Another Word. The English are a little more polite about it. The strangest connection, though, is the one from the vegetable world to the travelling world.

As an aside I must mention that I didn’t know of the poem, Halloween, by Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns, until now. I always thought that Halloween was a typically American festival. In fact, after I joined Perfect Relations in Delhi in November 2006, their office threw a Halloween party, if you please. And I remember thinking then, who in India is stupid enough to celebrate Halloween, but there they were!

Having read the poem now, I am amazed to learn that Halloween has Celtic origins and was observed in Scotland to protect them in winter months which was believed to be a time of death. Its rituals were pagan and connected to the end of the harvest season and the onset of winter, The annotated version of the poem, Halloween, that I read online is full of the customs and rituals that the Celts observed and almost all of them have to do with either finding love or marital bliss

To haver in Scotland, is to to talk rubbish and we may all have sown our oats here. These days, the only times I have come across the word is in The Economist’s bag-load of economic indicators, for which the source is Haver Analytics.

Nonsense? Really? Depends on who you ask.

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