SCLAFF- verb to graze or slap
Sclaffing is most commonly found in the context of playing golf, where it means grazing the ground with the club in the act of striking the ball. Depending on the skill of the golfer, this may or may not be deliberate. For example, Sir W G Simpson in The Art of Golf (1887) advises that “A great secret of steady putting is to make a point of always ‘sclaffing’ along the ground”. On the other hand, the fact that sclaffing is not always intentional is evidenced by its appearance in this list of undesirable shots: “It mattered not whether his master ‘sklaffed’, or ‘topped’, or ‘heeled’ his ball”, from J G McPherson’s Golf and Golfers (1891).
From its basic meaning, to strike or slap with an open hand or other flat surface, sclaff can be used of walking in a flat-footed or shuffling way, planting the feet on the ground with a slapping motion or sound. Thus we find “She eye gangs sklaffin’ aboot wee aul’ slippers on” in Walter Gregor’s The Dialect of Banffshire (1866). Hence a sclaffer, who may be sclaffy-fittit, is a clumsy, flat-footed person.
Blellum - noun. An idle, ignorant, talkative man.
Blellum is one of my personal favourite Scots words and I wish it would come back into popular use. That it is still used or known at all is largely due to Robert Burns’ epic poem Tam O’ Shanter penned in 1790 where Tam is described as a ‘blethering, blustering, drunken blellum’. In so few words we have a picture of a talkative, sometimes boastful, possibly diminutive, man. Blellums to my mind are always male.
Its use in Scots is not confined simply to Burns. The Dictionary of the Scots Language (dsl.ac.uk) reveals that the word also appears in John MacTaggart’s Gallovidian Encyclopedia of 1824 where he defines it as: “an ignorant talkative fellow”. From Lanark in 1895 William Stewart in his Lilts and Larks frae Larkie describes a character in the terms: “Thus he raved, the senseless blellum.”
Although many recent usages do indeed refer to Tam there are some instances which do not. Pete Forturne writing in the anthology A Tongue in Yer Heid (1994) describes a character thus: “In face auld Tosh (bad auld blellum he is, mind ye)…” this seems to me to call into question the veracity of whatever Auld Tosh was about to say.
It is perhaps a conflation of ‘blabber’ “A gurgling noise with the lips in a liquid” and ‘skellum’ “A worthless fellow, scamp, scoundrel, rogue, now sometimes used playfully to a young boy”.