My other half and I were deeply disconcerted when a very old friend, who should surely know us better, bought us as a Christmas present a gift pack from a company called Highland Titles inviting us to register and “Become a Laird, Lord or Lady of GlencoeTM”.
The levels of dishonesty involved in this grubby appeal to the gullibility, snobbery and tartan sentimentality of the general public are too many to be unpicked here. But I thought it was worth bringing to this board the etymological aspect of the scam, viz:
- That this company (and several other similar ones) are not merely claiming that ownership of a scrap of Scottish soil, no matter how small, makes you a ‘Scottish laird’, but asserting further that “Laird is a Scottish word and is simply the Scottish form of the English Lord” and that therefore any male shelling out £29.99 to them for a dubiously-legal purchase of a square foot of their Sitka spruce plantation (which isn’t actually in Glencoe anyway) may legitimately call themselves a Lord.
Another site, lairdreviews.com (who runs this is not clear but it evidently exists to encourage this trade), enlarges on this on its FAQs page (the bolding is mine):
Q: Does buying a small piece of Scotland entitle me to call myself Laird, Lord or Lady?
A: Correct use of the title Laird, Lord of Lady relies upon ownership of Scottish land. Technically anyone could adopt the title, but this would be akin to calling yourself a doctor without first obtaining a medical degree. When translating Laird as Lord, you should remember that Lord is a title that may be also used in England by members of the peerage and their families rather than landowners. Lairds are landed gentry (i.e. people with land). The words are interchangeable only in Scotland, because Laird just means Lord in Scots. They came from the same root laverd. Some people doubt this, but the large English and Scottish dictionaries are quite clear on the subject.
A Laird is traditionally someone who owns a sizable piece of land (usually an estate with tenants) in Scotland; the English equivalent would be Lord of the Manor, or in the vernacular, Squire. Lord in Scotland (as in England and Wales) now only refers to the nobility. Thus, it is clear that in English over the centuries the two words have been used in much the same way.
But “the large dictionaries” say nothing of the sort. The OED entry for laird is quite specific that laird and lord have not meant the same thing in Scotland for half a millennium:
Origin: A variant or alteration of another lexical item. Etymon: lord n.
Etymology: Originally a Scots variant of lord n., now usually distinguished in form in the senses below.
Forms with o are also attested in Scotland in various senses from as early as the 15th cent. (compare e.g. quot. 1428 for Lord of Parliament n. at lord n. and int. Phrases 4b, and see discussion at lord n.). In the course of the Older Scots period, these become increasingly common in most senses, while distinctly Scots forms such as lard and laird become increasingly restricted in sense. Compare the pairing lords and lairds , chiefly in Scottish administrative documents of the 16th and 17th centuries (compare quot. 1522).
orig. and chiefly Sc.
1. A member of the Scottish landed gentry; an owner of an estate. Cf. squire n. 5b.
In the 15th and 16th centuries the term was applied to those who held land directly from the Crown, and were therefore entitled to attend Parliament. The term is a description rather than a title, and does not equate to the English lord.
c1379 Cal. Edinb. Reg. House Charters Suppl. Schir William the Lyndesay lard of the Byres.
1428 Ayr Burgh Accts. in Sc. Hist. Rev. (1957) 31 143 To the lard off Sanchar v s.
1496 in C. Rogers Rental Bk. Cupar-Angus (1879) I. 251 That the saidis landis remayne with us and our successouris wnquiteowt be the Lard of Burlie.
1522 in Rec. Parl. Scotl. to 1707 (2007) A1522/7/2 Quhatsumever tennent gentilman, unlandit or yeman, havand takkis or steidingis of ony lordis or lairdis, spirituall or temporall.
(Incidentally, I’d be interested if anyone can identify what dictionary is shown on that FAQ page.)
I ‘d like to suggest that the relationship between the words laird and lord is roughly similar to that between shirt and skirt, and that claiming that a Scottish laird (even a real one) is entitled to call himself a lord is about equivalent to claiming that a woman is entitled to go dressed in a shirt and trousers to an event whose dress-code requires women to wear “dresses or skirts”, on the grounds that ‘a shirt is the same thing as a skirt!’ Do people agree?