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In Scottish English, I know that the word summat is used in place of standard something. But what's the etymology of this pronoun?

It seems unlikely to me that summat could be merely a variant pronunciation of something. It also seems likely that the sum- part is from some, as with something, though I haven't a clue what the rest of it could be.

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I didn't realize summat was Scottish English. I figured it was a severe contraction of something like that. I am interested to see if there is a good etymology out there, too. –  KitFox Aug 20 '11 at 16:50
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I think it's more Northern English than Scottish. Glaswegian drunks excepted, the Scots tend to be more careful speakers than UK average, once you get past the strong accents. Probably Yorkshire (North-Eastern) "somewhat" becomes "summat", in the same way that Estuary (South-Eastern) English "something" becomes "summink". –  FumbleFingers Sep 5 '11 at 22:45

6 Answers 6

up vote 11 down vote accepted

The Oxford English Dictionary says summat is actually a way to say somewhat. The word comes in the following forms:

Forms: α. ME sumhwat, sumwhet ( Orm. summwhatt), ME–15 sumwhat (ME sumwhate, sumwat(t, 15 sumwhatt); ME sumquat, ME sumqwat, 15 Sc. sumquhat; ME somȝwat, ME–15 somȝwhatt, ME–16 somȝwhat; ME somwat, ME–15 somwatt; ME– somewhat. β. dial.17 sumet, 18 summat, summut, zum'ot, etc.

So summat is a quicker, dialect-version of somewhat made by omitting the /w/ sound. The OED uses it in in various examples, like this:

1859 ‘G. Eliot’ Adam Bede I. i. viii. 172 It's summat-like to see such a man as that i' the desk of a Sunday!

Or this:

Sense: Some (material or immaterial) thing of unspecified nature, amount, etc. Now arch. or dial.

1859 ‘G. Eliot’ Adam Bede I. i. i. 10 A man must learn summat beside Gospel to make them things.

I suspect that your meaning of something for summat came from this now archaic definition. Somewhat->summat, where somewhat had an original meaning along the lines of something.

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As many people said, it is not Scottish, however, it is Yorkeshire English. If your answer is to be final I suggest adding that statement and further describing this fact as this is what the asker was interested in as well as aiding future viewers. –  cbbcbail Jan 10 '13 at 5:05

I've always supposed it derived from somewhat. While UrbanDictionary includes "Yorkshire slang for something" among its definitions of summat, the definitions derived from somewhat or from something like that seem more compelling. Of summat's etymology, Wiktionary says "Alteration of somewhat". Online Etymology Dictionary doesn't have an entry for summat but says somewhat derives from from some + what, ca. 1200 AD.

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It's Yorkshire for "something". Comes from the old English word "Aught", which is the opposite of naught: both are relatively archaic in BE. "Aught" means "something", "naught" means "nothing". Also see "owt" and "nowt".

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It's the regular form for 'something' all over the northern part of the English world, including southern Scotland. Very common to hear it in my Manchester (alongside owt and nowt). It's thus neither 'Scottish' nor 'Yorkshire' but of a far wider area, more or less coterminous with the old Kingdom of Northumbria.

Ere's a bit out of an old translation of Aesop's fables, via OED:

1484 Caxton's. Subtyl Historyes & Fables Esope iii. xvi,
I deye for honger; gyue me somwhat to ete.
I die for hunger; give me summat to eat.

It serves the same purpose as 'something' but was constructed of other parts, i.e. from 'some' and 'what'. It fell out of use as 'something' in the South, being retained only for the other usages involving the qualification of adjectives, adverbs and so on.

It's not from 'some' + 'aught' (i.e. 'owt' in my dialect), as that would literally translate as some-anything, which is a bit unnecessary. And the au- ended up ow- in our area anyroad.

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I am currently reading an English mystery novel by Margary Allingham set in 1927. It contains the following sentence:

I've had several complaints lately of folk being scared to come along here in the evening, afraid they should be took for a rabbit or summat.

(The White Cottage by Margary Allingham circa 1927)

This seems to lean towards the definition of summat as 'something' instead of 'somewhat'. Of course, at this late date it's hard to know if this was a word in common use in 1927 or if she was using it for effect.

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I've read this expression in a book some years ago. It was explained that "summat" is a short form of "something like that", a "phrase" from Yorkshire. (I was in school and it was a text from our teacher so we made clear what it means.)

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