Scottish Genealogy

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Old Scots Words: Abilʒement / Abulʒement and the 'yogh' letter

When looking at some older Scottish documents there are words that keep popping up from time to time which look completely unfamiliar to the modern eye.  Some even contain letters that have long since vanished from our own alphabets.  One of these that anyone who spends much time working with older Scots wills and testaments will probably notice is the word Abilʒement or Abulʒement.

This strange looking word has a variety of spellings according to the Dictionary of the Scots Language [DSL], including: 

abilʒea-, abilyheament, abilliament, abillement; abulʒie-, abwlʒe(abolʒe-), abullʒement (abulʒemont), abulʒea-, abulʒia-, abuliament, abuliment; abuilʒe-, abuilʒie-, abuilʒea-, abuilʒiament.  

The strange looking letter 'ʒ' is what is called a yogh and is often represented as a z or a y when transcribed, but the sound was originally closer to a gutteral 'yh' or 'gh' sound - this letter is the reason that the name 'Menzies' is pronounced 'Ming-us' rather than 'Men-zees' by Scots - the 'z' in the name is actually an old yogh letter which changes the way that the word is pronounced.  You can find out lots of information about this little letter at the Scottish Handwriting website.

Image: Grant Cochrane /
So the strange word Abilʒement would have been pronounced as 'ab-ul-ghi-ment' (or something close to that!) and it is actually a rendering of 'Habiliment' or 'clothing/apparel/equipment'.  So when you see this word (often in a list of someone's goods or belongings in a will) then it is often referring to the personal apparel of someone - it's an odd looking word, but a good one to know about..


  1. The cool thing is that you figured out how to incorporate this unique letter on your keyboard!
    Theresa (Tangled Trees)

  2. 'cut and paste' is a wonderful thing! If I ever win the lottery I will get someone to build me a keyboard with all the old letters on it so that I can annoy folk by sending them e-mails in 'auld Scots'!

  3. Enjoyed the photos.Your mum said to look up your blog.They were over briefly today with Madge and Andy,Your mum looks good.

    1. Hi Morag,
      Lovely to hear from you - hope you are all well. I'm sad to have missed M&A this time, but I couldn't get away to get up and see them. Hopefully I'll get a chance to see you guys sometime soon though,
      K x