A lad o pairts, left home at 16, but, encouraged by the local minister, went to university. Served in the Royal Artillery during WWII, rose to rank of sergeant major, commended for bravery by Montgomery. In 1948 became assistant editor to Sir William Craigie on 'A Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue', and later senior editor. Alongside his life work on the dictionary he lectured in English language, and effectively created Scots language as a university subject. He published extensively on all aspects of the history and structure of Scots and served on many related committees. Married to Norma (Chandra) Manson, three sons and a daughter.