Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

Hide Quotations Hide Etymology Cite this entry

BILLY, BILLIE, n.1 Prob. all the examples under this heading may be referred to Billie, dim. of Bill, a familiar abbreviation of William. [′bɪlɪ, ′bl, ′bɪl]

1. A brother in blood or in craft. Sc. 1816  Scott B. Dwarf x.:
Ye should na vex your billy Hobbie that way.
Edb. 1926  A. Muir Blue Bonnet 89:
Her big “billy” (or brother).
Ayr. publ. 1801  Burns To J. Tennant (Cent. ed.) ll. 39–40:
My auld schoolfellow, preacher Willie, The manly tar, my Mason billie.
Kcb. 1897  T. Murray Poems (1898) 53:
And my billie Rab ca's her his ain.
Rxb. 1901  W. Laidlaw Poetry and Prose (1908) 59:
“Now on them, billies!” cries Jock Veitch.

Hence billyhood, “brotherhood” (s.Sc. 1825 Jam.2). Slk. 1818  Hogg Brownie of Bodsbeck, etc. II. ii.:
“Any man will stand py me when I am in te right, put wit a phrother I must always pe in te right.” “Od, man,” quo' I, “that's a stretch of billyhood that I was never up to afore.”

2. Friend, comrade. Sc. 1904  Jock o the Side in Ballads (ed. Child) No. 187 B. xvii.:
“Neer fear ye now, my billie,” quo he; “For here's the Laird's Jock, the Laird's Wat, And Hobie Noble, come to set thee free.”
Abd. c.1803  D. Anderson Sawney and John Bull 21:
Ay's he was the trusty billie, Whan he drew his twa edg'd gullie.
Ags. 1921  V. Jacob Bonnie Joann, etc. 11:
What better can ye desire Than a lass to bring ye the dram ye need An' yer billies aroond the fire?
m.Lth. 1788  J. Macaulay Poems in Sc. and Eng. 117:
Nor wi' a toom pouch e'er look sillie, But blythe an' baul' aye: Sae fare ye weel, my hearty billie.

Comb.: billy fairplay, a game of chance, common at village fairs; the second quot. seems to include the apparatus for the game. Sc. 1905  G.W. in E.D.D. Suppl.:
Billy fairplay. This game of chance or gambling was common at village markets.
Lnk. 1895  W. C. Fraser Whaups of Durley i.:
During the fair time the whole place is covered with shows, sweetie stalls, rowley powlies, and billy fairplays.

3. A lover, actual or potential. Abd. after 1768  A. Ross Fortunate Shepherd MS. 10:
But 'boon them a' young Henny wight by name, Pled the importance of her last night's dream That coils my heart unto the Billy sair.
Lnk. 1922  T. S. Cairncross Scot at Hame 16:
Youth maun be served; a lass sae stout Maun ha'e her billie.

4. Fellow in general, lad as opposed to lass, the word taking its peculiar complexion of affection, contempt or ridicule from its context. Sc. 1887  R. L. Stevenson Underwoods 102:
We maun be watchfü', wise an' skilly, An' no mind ony ither billy.
Abd.(D) 1920  C. Murray In the Country Places 2:
An' jinkit the “Gamie,” oot teeming his girns — A ragie aul' billie was he.
Mearns 1933  L. G. Gibbon in Scots Mag. (Feb.) 332:
The bothy billies . . . riding their pairs to start on some park, would cry one to the other.
Ags. 1925  Forfar Dispatch (16 July) 3/3:
That's a story ma mither used to hae aboot some toon cooncillor billie.
Edb. 1866  J. Smith Merry Bridal, etc. 34:
Wi' billies bauld, an' titties shy, The time flew helter-skelter by.
Ayr. 1785  Burns To W. Simpson x.:
Where glorious Wallace Aft bure the gree, as story tells, Frae Suthron billies.

5. Used also, like boy in colloq. Eng., to indicate a person who is clever at something, has a good or bad name for something, a person or thing that is eminently suitable for some purpose. Sc. 1881  A. Lang Ballades in Blue China 43:
But, a cleek-shot's the billy for me, Tak' aye tent to be up on the green!
Mry. 1934 2 :
Fan Jock wis in his potestatur, he wis a gey billie for the lassies.
Abd. 1928  P. Grey Making of a King 7:
D.D. . . . Noo, lat's think a meenit. . . . Fat aboot tryin' the historical? H.R. (admiringly) — Ay, Dave, ye're the billy!
Ags. 1929  J. S. Buist in Scots Mag. (May) 150:
Ye were aye the billy for the wark, Jeck!

6. Used in the pl., gen. with a qual. adj. such as gude, fine, gran', it denotes “on very friendly terms.” Prob. starting as pred. adj. with a pl. or coll. subject, it is now freq. used with a sing. subject. Mry. 1934 2 :
Still an on, the loon's grand billies wi' his maister.
Abd. 1930  N. Shepherd Weatherhouse iii.:
Me and Mr Garry's great billies.
Ags. 1904  V. Jacob Interloper xxiv.:
A' mind he was ay billies wi' you. attrib.
Edb. 1773  R. Fergusson Sc. Poems (1925) 56:
Regents, my winsome billy boys! 'Bout him you've made an unco noise.

7. Combs.: (1) Billie Beatie, “Parietaria officinalis, L.” (n.Ir. 1886 Britten and Holland Eng. Plant Names 41). [The Eng. book-name for this is Pellitory (Abd.16 1931).]

(2) Billy benty, “a smart roguish boy; used either in a good or in a bad sense; as, “Weel, weel, Billy benty, I'se mind you for that” (Sc. 1825 Jam.2). [For benty, cf. Cock-a-bendy.]

(3) Billy blin', — blynde, Belly Blin, (a) see Belly Blind; (b) a household Brownie, a benevolent spirit. (b) Sc. 1904  Young Beichan in Ballads (ed. Child) No. 53, C. xiv.:
O it fell once upon a day Burd Isbel fell asleep, An up it starts the Belly Blin, An stood at her bed-feet.
Abd. 1925  Greig and Keith Last Leaves () 4:
Then oot it spak the Billy blin' That sat upon the binkie en'.
s.Sc. 1825  Jam.2:
Billy blynde. The designation given to Brownie, or the lubber fiend, in some of the southern counties of Scotland.

(4) Billyblinder (a) “the person who hoodwinks another in the play of Blindman's Buff” (s.Sc. 1825 Jam.2); (b) a blind or imposition. (b) Slk. a.1835  Hogg Tales, etc. (1837) VI. 269:
“Ay weel I wat that's little short of a billyblinder, lad!” said Peter Oliver; “I trow I may say to you as my grandfather said to the ghost, ‘Ay, ay, Billy Baneless, an a' tales be true, yours is nae lie.'”

(5) Billie-dawkus. See Pilliedakus.

(6) Billy-pot, cooking utensil. Abd. 1828  P. Buchan Ballads II. 180:
She boil'd it in the billy-pot. [Billy and billy-can used in the Australian bush for a tea-pot. First quot. in N.E.D. for billy is 1872.]

(7) Billy whitethroat, “golden warbler” (e.Lth. 1885 C. Swainson Brit. Birds 24).

You may wish to vary the format shown below depending on the citation style used.

"Billy n.1". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 24 Mar 2018 <>



Try an Advanced Search

Browse SND:

Browse Up
Browse Down