scad

I’m sure you know this word in the plural: scads, as in scads of money or scads of any of various other things. Meaning ‘lots, plenty’ – but with that /æ/ vowel that can allow the same broad long sound as in “faaabulous” or just tap into the louche quality of skag and stab and scab and similar words, like a flat skid.

But when we say tons of money or loads of money or lots of money or gobs of money or or or, we know what tons, loads, lots, gobs, et cetera are when they’re at home. Any idea what a scad is when it’s not a whole bunch?

For me, as long as I’ve known any sense other than the ‘plenty’ one, it’s been ‘a sudden, brief rain shower’. Now, that makes decent sense. It even sort of sounds right for that meaning. But there’s just one problem: you’re not going to find that sense in your dictionary. Not Merriam-Webster, not American Heritage, not even Oxford. You will find it betokening a kind of wild black plum, a kind of fish of the Caranx genus, salmon fry, a slab of peat or tuft of grass, or – in Scotland – a word for a faint appearance of colour or light. And pretty much all these scads are of obscure or unknown origin. But a rain shower? No.

Egad. Did I make it up? No, I know where I learned that sense. I learned it from a play by Newfoundland playwright Michael Cook. That’s a sense of the word that is, or at least used to be, current in Newfoundland. You can check the Dictionary of Newfoundland English. So if you’re a Newfoundlander out fishing for cod or shad, a scad can make you skid on the deck as your boat scuds on the ocean. I don’t know if there’s any link between this scad and the ‘plenty’ one; the shower scad appears to be related to a noun scud. Perhaps they came from the same place.

But we don’t know for sure. Like a good scad, the word just shows up from who-knows-where and does its stuff. Lots of stuff. Scads.

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