Cutty-sark (witch)

"Cutty sark" is 18th century Scots for "short chemise" or "short undergarment".[1]

Hyphenated, Cutty-sark was a nickname given to the witch Nannie Dee, a fictional character created by Robert Burns in his Tam o' Shanter, after the garment she wore. The figurehead of the tea clipper Cutty Sark is named after the character.



Cutty or cuttie (the diminutive form of cuttit, from Early Middle English cutte, kutte, cute "ugly"[2]) is "short" or "stumpy".

Sark or serk (from Old English serc; Old Norse serk) is a "shift", "chemise", or "shirt".[3]

The earliest recorded literary usage of the term cutty sark (as opposed to older usage of the two separate words) is by Dougal Graham in c. 1779 (the year of his death): "A cutty sark of guide harn sheet, My mitter he pe spin, mattam."[1]

Erotically beautiful witch

In Burns' 1791 poem Tam o' Shanter, the drunken Tam, riding home on his horse, happens upon a witches' ceilidh. Among the dancing figures is a particularly beautiful young witch named Nannie (Scots pet-form of Anna), "ae winsome wench and wawlie" (line 164). She is wearing a harn (linen) sark (nightshirt) which fitted her as a child (a "lassie") but is now rather too short for her:

Her cutty sark, o' Paisley harn,
That while a lassie she had worn,
In longtitude tho' sorely scanty,
It was her best, and she was vauntie.
Ah! little kend thy reverend grannie
That sark she coft for her wee Nannie
Wi' twa pund Scots ('twas a' her riches)
Wad ever graced a dance of witches! (lines 171ff)
lassie, "girl", vauntie, "joyous, boasting"; kend, "knew"; coft, "bought"; twa, "two".

Tam is so enthralled by the erotic spectacle that he cannot contain himself and yells out "Weel done, Cutty-sark!" (line 189). The witches are now alerted to his presence and pursue him. Tam heads for the River Doon, because, according to folklore, witches cannot cross running water. He makes it across the bridge to safety, but not before Nannie, the "Cutty-sark", has torn the tail from his horse.

The poem ends, ironically, with a mock warning to all men of the devilish consequences of thinking about scantily-clad females.

The popularity of this poem was such that the phrase Well done, Cutty-sark! entered the English language via Scottish English as an exclamation similar to "Bravo!"[citation needed]

Literary allusions to the original Cutty-sark abound. In Ulysses, James Joyce writes: "Laughing witches in red cutty sarks ride through the air on broom sticks" (p. 695).


See also

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Cutty-sark — is Scots for a short chemise or short undergarment; see Cutty sark (witch).Cutty sark or Cutty Sark usually refers to: * Cutty sark (witch), a fictional character created by Robert Burns in his comic poem Tam o Shanter , also referred to in the… …   Wikipedia

  • Cutty Sark (disambiguation) — The Cutty Sark is a tea clipper built in Scotland. Cutty Sark may also refer to: Cutty Sark (whisky), a brand of Scotch whisky Cutty sark (witch), a character created by Robert Burns in Tam o Shanter Cutty Sark (yacht), a private yacht belong to… …   Wikipedia

  • Cutty Sark — This article is about the ship. For the whisky, see Cutty Sark (whisky). For other uses, see Cutty Sark (disambiguation). Cutty Sark in dock, Greenwich January 2005 Career (UK) …   Wikipedia

  • Cutty Sark — 51°28′58″N 0°00′35″O / 51.48278, 0.00972 …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Cutty Sark — a famous British sailing ship, built in 1869, which carried tea from China and then, after 1879, wool from Australia. From 1895 until 1922, the Cutty Sark was owned by the Portuguese, and then she became a training ship for British sailors. Since …   Universalium

  • Sark — a shirt, made famous in the Burn s poem “Tam O Shanter” where “Cutty Sark” is the name of the witch who wore a short (cutty) shirt (sark) …   Scottish slang

  • Sea Witch (clipper) — The Sea Witch was an American clipper ship designed by naval architect John Griffiths for the China trading firm of Howland Aspinwall. She was launched in Manhattan on December 8, 1846 and grounded, a total loss, in Cuban waters near Havana in… …   Wikipedia

  • Tam o' Shanter (Burns poem) — Tam o Shanter is considered to be one of Robert Burns finest poems. It was written in 1790, and at about six A4 pages is one of his longest. The poem, first published in 1791, uses a mixture of Scots and English.Many consider it one of the best… …   Wikipedia

  • City of Adelaide (1864) — Coordinates: 55°36′29″N 4°41′09″W / 55.60806°N 4.68583°W / 55.60806; 4.68583 …   Wikipedia

  • Clipper — This article is about the 19th century sailing ships. For other uses, see Clipper (disambiguation). Clipper Ship Lightning an American clipper ship of the 1850s …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.