Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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DEIL, n. The Gen.Sc. form of Eng. devil. Found also in n.Eng. dial. Also diel, deel. In usages peculiar to Sc. devil is also exemplified. Cf. Deevil. [dil (see P.L.D. § 70.1)]

I. As in Eng. = The Devil, but in Sc. indicating esp. a familiar or humorous personification of the spirit of mischief. Sc. a.1776  Herd's MSS. (ed. Hecht 1904) 206:
Some say the deel's dead And buried in Kirka'dy.
Sc. 1818  Scott H. Midlothian xvii.:
As like to each other as the collier to the de'il.
Abd. 1947  (per Abd.27):
“Weel, ye've gotten the deil oot o' yer basket”, said to an angler when he has caught his first fish.
[Cf. Cyarlin.] Ayr. 1792  Burns Deil's awa (Cent. eb.) ii.:
And monie braw thanks to the meikle black Deil, That danc'd awa wi' th' Exciseman.

Hence 1. ¶deilish, adj., devilish; 2. ¶deilry, n., devilry. 1. Abd. 1917  D. G. Mitchell Kirk i' the Clachan 175:
The new lot were the fause leaders — — the weel-maskit feigners. Rabbis — wi' slim tongues, tax-gaitherers — grippy an' deilish.
2. Sc. 1929  W. Wood in Scots Mag. (April) 66:
Her heirt will aye be tearin', Like ma duds t' win aw a' When I hing them on a whin bush While the winds o' deilry blaw.

II. Expressing strong negation.

1. Prefixed to nouns or quasi-nouns, most freq. with the indef. art. (deil a; de'illie, deily (Ork.)) = no —, not a — never a —, as in (1) deil a', nothing at all (Bnff.2 1940); (2) (the) deil a fear(s) (o't) (Abd. 27 1947; Fif.10 1940), devil a fears (Cai.7, Fif.1 1940; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.), not likely, no fear; (3) deil (a) haet, see Haet; (4) deil a hair, see Hair, n.; (5) deil a mony, not many, very few; (6) deil a muckle, not much; (7) deil ane (Fif.1, Slg.3 1940). (the) — a ane, not one; no-one at all; in Hdg. quot. contr. simply to deil; (8) deil a o(u)cht, not a thing, nothing at all; (9) deil the bit, not at all; (10) deily (= deil a) me'tin'. not a grain, not a particle (Ork.1 1940). (1) w.Dmf. 1917  J. L. Waugh Cute McCheyne 34:
The young lad used to be very feart for his faither — mony a wallopin' he got for daein' deil a'.
(2) Sh. 1891  J. J. H. Burgess Rasmie's Büddie 50:
An haena muckle toucht or care For daily bread; An dootliss ken dir deil a faer Bit dey'll be cled.
Edb. 1894  P. H. Hunter J. Inwick viii.:
“Deil a fear o' him,” says I; “man, An'ra, ye shape a'body's shoon by your ain shauchled feet.”
Rxb. 1919  Kelso Chron. (22 Aug.) 2/6:
Nannie would remonstrate: “De'il a fear, Nan; there's a Hand abune that guides the gully.”
(5) Knr. 1891  “H. Haliburton” Ochil Idylls 14:
Deil a mony troots we gruppit, Baith owre and in the linns we luppit .
(6) Abd. 1948 26 :
Jeannie's affa prood o' her new frock bit deil a muckle div I think o't.
(7) Sc. 1816  Scott B. Dwarf vii.:
That's the auld Border law . . . Deil ane need doubt it.
Abd. c.1750  R. Forbes Jnl. from London (1755) 27:
Diel ane has glacked my mitten.
Ags. 1924  A. Gray Any Man's Life 43:
And deil a ane the waur, O!
Hdg. 1885  J. Lumsden Rhymes and Sk. 12:
The lads hail clad, the lassies braw, An' deil o' either sickly.
Ayr. 1784  Burns O Tibbie (Cent. ed.) vii.:
The Deil a ane wad spier your price, Were ye as poor as I.
(8) Sh. 1947  New Shetlander I. 10:
Dey kin bide naethin, na, deil a oucht.
Abd. 1889  W. Allan Sprays 35:
Wha tae gain their ain ends deil a ocht they wad hain.
(9) Arg. 1914  N. Munro New Road xxi.:
Deil the bit, my lord! . . . 'Twas him that did it! I know it in my bones.
(10) Ork. 1880  Dennison Sketch-Bk. 41:
Bit Deily me'tin' wus on yin wisps mair or's on the back o me hand.

2. In verbal phrs. (1) deil be lickit, see Be-licket; (2) diel fetch hit, nothing at all; (3) deil perlickit, id.; a corruption of (1); (4) deil soupet, id.; (5) the deil blaw-lickit, id.; (6) the deil-sticket a . . ., not a . . . (2) Sh. 1922  J. Inkster Mansie's Röd 152:
Diel fetch hit ye can mak o' da tief if ye kent him.
(3) Mearns 1825  Jam.2:
“Hae ye gotten ony thing?” “Na, deilperlickit.”
Uls. 1880  W. H. Patterson Gl. Ant. and Dwn.:
“What fortune did his wife bring him?” “Oh, deil perlickit, tied up in a clout.”
(4) Dmf. 1820  Blackwood's Mag. (May) 162:
Deil soupet's here . . . save an auld man . . . and a poor lassie sabbing o'er a sick bairn.
(5) Edb. 1791  J. Learmont Poems 159:
The de'il blaw-lickit! cared he!
(6) Ayr. 1787  Burns Letter to W. Nicol in Letters (ed. Ferguson) No. 112:
The deil-sticket a five gallopers acqueesh Clyde and Whithorn could cast saut on her tail.

III. Used in expressions of impatience, surprise or irritation, and in various grammatical constructions, such as deil care, deil kens (Bnff.2, Abd.9, Fif.1, Slg.3, Kcb.1 1940), (the) de'il o' (a) me kens (Ags.17 1940), goodness knows, deil a bit, never!, you don't say! Sc. 1769  Woo'd and married and a' in D. Herd Sc. Songs (1776) II. 116:
Out spake the bride's mither, What d . .l needs a' this pride?
Sc. 1816  Scott O. Mortality xiv.:
“De'il gin they wad gallop,” said Cuddie, “wad it but gar her haud her tongue.”
  Ib. xiv.:
Deil an I care if he wad roar her dumb, and then he would hae't a' to answer for himsell.
Sc. 1818  Scott H. Midlothian xxiv.:
De'il that they [the Hanoverian dynasty] were back at their German kale-yard.
Sc. 1874  A. Hislop Sc. Anecdotes 115:
Deil care how mony mae times I may hae to turn him ower yet!
Bnff. [1847]  A. Cumming Tales of the North (1896) 83:
“Were they rebels?” “De'il a me kens, sir,” returned Gaut.
Abd. 1865  G. Macdonald Alec Forbes I. xviii.:
“Whaur does the sowl o' a bitch bide?” “De'il kens . . . gin it binna i' the boddom o' Rob Bruce's wame.”
Abd. 1947 28 :
“I hear that yon aul' randy o' a wite is gettin' mairriet again.” “Deil a bit!”
m.Sc. 1870  J. Nicholson Idylls 51:
Get aff to yer seat! yer the plague o' the schule! The de'il o' me kens if yer maist rogue or fule.
Edb. 1870  J. Lauder Warblings 100:
It looks a deil sight better on Coal Jock.
Gall. 1944  K. D. Frost in Scots Mag. (Jan.) 266:
Someone remonstrated with Marshall about his intemperance, and told him that whisky was a slow poison. “It maun be deil's slow than,” replied Billy.
Rxb. 1833  A. Hall Sc. Borderer (1874) 44:
The muckle deil, ye idiot, how dare ye talk such nonsense?

IV. = Deevil, n. (1) (Abd.27 1948).

V. “A tool used to unscrew broken bore rods when the beche [q.v.] fails to do so” (Edb.6 1944).

VI. A lever in a loom which helps to lift the weight of the warp. Rnf. 1872  in M. Blair Paisley Shawl (1904) 38:
When the completed shots of each bridle had passed through, then would follow the ground shot; but as this was often a heavy lift, too much for a boy to raise, he had the control of a strong wooden lever, moving on a spindle, called the “deil” or “douge.”

VII. Phrs. and Combs.:

A. In plant names (mostly with the possessive): 1. deil (devil)-in-a-bush, the herb Paris, Paris quadrifolia (Sc. 1911 S.D.D., deil —; Abd.2 1940; Per. 1886 B. and H. 148, devil — ); 2. deil's apple-riennie, the wild camomile, Matricaria chamomilla, or an allied plant (Slg. 1886 B. and H. 147); cf. Aippleringie; 3. deil's appletrees, the sun spurge, Tithymalus helioscopia, and other species (Clc. 1886 B. and H. 15); 4. deil's barley, the crimson stonecrop, Sedum spurium (sw.Sc. 1884–96 Garden-work XIII. 112); 5. devil's churn staff, see 14; 6. deil's darning needle, shepherd's-needle, or lady's-comb, Scandix pecten-veneris (Bwk. 1853 G. Johnston Botany E. Borders 87; 1870 Proc. Bwk. Nat. Club 159); also in Nhb. dial.; 7. deil's dung, asafœtida (Per. 1915 Wilson L. Strathearn 243); 8. deil's elshin, = 6 (Bwk. 1870 Proc. Bwk. Nat. Club 159); 9. deil's fit, “the palmate tuber of certain orchids (O. maculata, O. latifolia)” (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.); 10. deil's flower, germander speedwell, Veronica chamœdrys (Dmf. 1886 B. and H. App. 529); 11. devil's guts, the creeping buttercup, Ranunculus repens (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.); also in Nhb. dial.; 12. devil's hair, the matgrass, Nardus stricta (Ib.); 13. deil's keps, monkshood, Aconitum napellus (Ags., Per. 1890 (per Abd.27)); 14. deil's (devil's) kirnstaff, — churnstaff, (1) the petty spurge, Tithymalus peplus (w.Sc. 1825 Jam.2; Ayr. 1811 W. Aiton Agric. Ayr. 675, devil's churnstaff); (2) the sun spurge, Tithymalus helioscopia (Lnk. 1831 W. Patrick Plants 209–210; Uls. 1880 W. H. Patterson Gl. Ant. and Dwn., — churn staff); ‡15. deil's lingels, “common knotgrass, Polygonum aviculare; spotted persicaria, P. persicaria; and other plants, or their long tough roots” (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.); in first sense, found in Nhb. dial.; 16. deil's meal, the wild beaked-parsley, Anthriscus sylvestris (Dmf. 1886 B. and H. 147); 17. deil's milk-plant, the dandelion (Gall. 1901 Trotter Gall. Gossip 126); cf. C. 15; 18. deil's rattles, the horse-tail, Equisetum (Lnk. 1822 G. R. Kinloch MS.); 19. deil's sneeshin' mills = 20; 20. deil's snuffbox, the common puff-ball, Lycoperdon bovista (Sc. 1808 Jam.; 1904 A. Geikie Sc. Reminisc. 115; Per. 1915 Wilson L. Strathearn 243; Ayr.9 1949); common in Eng. dial.; 21. deil's spoons, (1) the great water plantain, Alisma plantago (Sc. 1808 Jam.); (2) the broad-leaved pondweed, Potamogeton natans (Ib.); 22. dielstrings, the seaweed, Chorda filum (Arg. 1936 L. McInnes Dial. S. Kintyre 9), the sea lace. 1. Per. 1899  J. Shaw in Country Schoolmaster (ed. Wallace) 164:
In Perthshire it [Herb Paris] is known as “Devil in a Bush,” probably because the uncanny-looking blackberry is surrounded by four leaves.
9. Bwk. 1853  G. Johnston Botany E. Borders 193:
The root, from its shape, is sometimes called the Deil's-foot.
11.   Ib. 27:
R. Repens . . . Devil's-guts, — a name which indicates its troublesomeness, and its peculiar habit of throwing out long runners or trails.
15.  173 Ib. :
Being difficult to cut in the harvest time, or to pull in the process of weeding, it has obtained the sobriquet of the Deil's-Lingels.
19. Sc. 1883  R. Turner in Good Words (Sept.) 589:
The puff-balls are known in Scotland as “deil's sneeshin' mills.”
20. Bwk. 1853  G. Johnston Botany E. Borders 281:
The fuss-ba's, the devil's snuff-boxes, the blind-man's-buff of our children and youngsters, who puff the light powdery contents of the fungus into each other's faces.
21. Sc. 1904  A. Geikie Sc. Reminisc. 115:
Some of the broad-leaved water-plants have been named “deil's spoons.”
22. Arg. 1937 1 :
I wuz soomin away fine, but I got amang a lot o' dielstrings an' I wuz gey an' near droont afore I won clear o' them.

B. In names of birds, insects, animals, etc.: 1. de'il, de'il, de'il tak' you, the yellow-hammer, Emberiza citrinella (Sc. 1885 C. Swainson Brit. Birds 70; Abd.2 1940); 2. de'il dogs, “black dogs, met with under night . . . it is confidently thought by many that the Prince of Darkness trounces through this world in the form of a black dog” (Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 166); 3. deil's (devil's) bird, (1) the magpie, Pica pica (Sc. 1911 S.D.D.; Abd.9 1940); (2) = 1 (Sc. 1837–52 W. Macgillivray Brit. Birds I. 445); 4. devil's buckie, the whelk, Buccinum undatum; 5. deil's butterfly, the tortoiseshell butterfly (Dmf. 1899 J. Shaw in Country Schoolmaster (ed. Wallace) 346); 6. de(v)il's coachman, the large black rove beetle, Ocypus olens (Ayr.9 1945; Uls. 1880 W. H. Patterson Gl. Ant. and Dwn.); Eng. devil's coach-horse; 7. deil's (darning) needle, -dernin'-, (1) the dragonfly (Sc. 1904 A. Geikie Sc.Reminisc. 115; Ayr. 1825 Jam.2; Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 168, deil's needle); also found in Eng. dial.; (2) a centipede (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B., -dernin'-); 8. deil's horse, = 6. 3. (1) ne.Sc. 1881  Gregor Folk-Lore 138:
It [the magpie] was sometimes called “the devil's bird,” and was believed to have a drop of the devil's blood in its tongue.
(2) Fif. 1895  G. Bruce Land Birds 381:
It [the yellow-hammer] used to be called the “yellow yeldrin,” and “devil's bird,” but why can only be answered from the limbo of superstition.
4. Fif. 1842  in County Folk-Lore (1914) VII. 58:
Sir Michael, taking a devil's buckie from his pocket, gave it to his servant, and desired him to return to the farm-house, and place it unobserved above the lintel of the door.
7. (1) Lnk. 1853  W. Watson Poems (1877) Intro. xiv.:
Many a happy hour he spends in chasing from flower to flower the flickering butterfly, or gazing in a half-timourous admiration on the lustrous beauty of the green-glancing “deil's-darning-needle.”
8. Fif. 1844  J. Jack Hist. Acc. St Monance 63:
She [witch] vanished, with a sonorous noise, in the shape of a droning beetle; and that insect is known by the title of the Deil's Horse to this day.

C. Gen. Phrs. and Combs.: 1. deil amo' the dishes, a children's game (Abd. 1898 A. B. Gomme Trad. Games II. 413); 2. deil-ma(y)-care, no matter, for all that (Bnff.2 1940; Fif., Lth. 1926 Wilson Cent. Scot.); 3. deil-mak-matter, (1) adj., happy-go-lucky; (2) = 2; 4. deil's bairn, dee'ls —, a mischievous person, a rascal (Bnff.2 1940; Per. 1915 Wilson L. Strathearn 243); †5. devil's breath, a winnowing machine; see also 25 (2); 6. deil's buckie, = 4; see Buckie, n.6; 7. deil's club (see quot.); 8. de(v)il's dozen (dizzen), = thirteen (Sc. a.1796 Merry Muses (1827) 30, — dizzen; 1808 Jam.; Per. 1915 Wilson L. Strathearn 243; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.) [from the number of witches at a Covine (n., 2, q.v.) or Devil's Sabbath, in imitation of the number of Jesus and His Apostles]; 9. deil's-dukkie, a doll; 10. deil's fit, a shoemaker's last (Abd.9 1940; Ayr.9 1949; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.); 11. deil's lee, a “whopper”; 12. deil's luck, (1) bad luck (Fif.1, Arg.1 1940); also attrib.; (2) success in wrongdoing (Abd.27 1948); see first quot. under 4; 13. deil's mark, the round marks, in the shape of a crescent, found on the foreleg of a pig (ne.Sc. 1881 W. Gregor Folk-Lore 129; Fif. 1950 (per Fif.14)); 14. deil's metal, mercury (Ags.17 1940); 15. deil's milk, “the white milky sap of many plants, called so because of its bitter taste” (Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 168); applied to the juice of the dandelion, which is called the Deil's milk-plant, see A. 17. (Rnf. 1949 (per Abd.27); Gall. 1901 Trotter Gall. Gossip 126); 16. deil speed the liars, a quarrel, a dispute (Bnff.2 1940); 17. deil's pots-and-pans, pot holes in the bed or rocky margin of a stream (Gall. 1903 Gallovidian V. 85); 18. deil's putting stane, a boulder (Sc. 1904 A. Geikie Sc. Reminisc. 115; Abd.9 1940); 19. devil's rings (see quot.); 20. deil's sowen(s) bowie, a children's game (Sc. 1911 S.D.D.), see quot.; 21. deil's spadefuls (see quot.); 22. deil's specs, “‘cup and ring' marks” (S.D.D.), a form of prehistoric sculpture consisting of cups within circles, etc.; known to Kcb.9 1940; 23. deil's testament, a pack of playing cards (Sh.11 1949); cf. Eng. deil's books; 24. devil's toddy, punch made with hot whisky instead of water; 25. deil's wind, †(1) “a wind blowing when Satan was supposed to hold a conference with witches” (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.); (2) (see quots.); cf. 5. 2. Abd. 1940 9 :
If warned that a certain course might be fraught with risk, I can imagine myself saying: Deil-ma-care! I'll tak' ma chance.
m.Lth. 1816  J. Aikman Poems 218:
A warlike sang! but de'il may care, Quo' they, we'll skirl nae sic air.
Ayr. 1787  Burns Death and Doctor Hornbook (Cent. ed.) xvi.:
But Deil-ma-care! It just played dirl on the bane.
Kcb. 1940 1 :
I'll dae't, deil-ma-care.
3. (1) Rnf. 1842  R. Clark Random Rhymes 15:
A throther deil-mak-matter birkie.
(2) Rnf. 1790  A. Wilson Poems (1844) 95:
I tauld you this; but deil-mak-matter, Ye thought it a' but idle clatter.
4. Sc. 1721  J. Kelly Proverbs 333:
The Dee'ls Bairns have Dee'ls Luck. Spoken enviously when ill People prosper.
Sc. 1928  L. Spence in Scots Mag. (July) 271:
Ay, Weelum Morton wes a richt ill-deedie man, a deil's bairn at the hinder-end o' a braw and noble line o' forebears.
5. Per. 1879  P. R. Drummond Bygone Days 214:
When “fanners” were first introduced he denounced them and called them “The devil's breath.”
7. Gall. 1824  MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 167:
De'il's club. Many people fancy that the Devil carries a club with him wherever he wanders, and whatever object he is allowed to touch, from that moment it becomes his property.
8. Sc. 1831  Blackwood's Mag. XXX. 343:
Instead of one kick, he deserves and gets a devil's dozen.
Ork. 1880  Dennison Sketch-Bk. 67:
I'll be bound you and I shall stand the Deil's dizzan.
Edb. 1844  J. Ballantine Miller v.:
The members present at dinner on this occasion amounted to twelve, the landlord himself making the devil's dozen.
9. Sh. 1916  J. J. H. Burgess Rasmie's Smaa Murr (Maerch 12):
Caandles an cloots can be mair dan Deil's-dukkies.
11. em.Sc. 1926  H. Hendry Poems 117:
Then honest men shall tell Deil's lees Withouten shame.
12. (1) Arg. 1917  A. W. Blue Quay Head Tryst 23:
Botheraations, named by other folk deil's luck, they consider may be open providences. The deil's luck man'll bleeze away aboot his trouble an' relieve himself wi' langwudge.
14. Sh. 1886  J. Burgess Sk. and Poems 77:
He's been swallyin' some o' da Deil's metal oot o' Tammy's aald wadder-gless, I tink.
15. Gall. 1824  MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 114:
De'il's milk frae thrissles saft, Clover blades frae aff the craft.
16. Sc. 1747  Lyon in Mourning (S.H.S.) I. 189:
He had seen him frequently at Deel speed the leers with the Prince.
Sc. 1824  Scott Redgauntlet Letter xi.:
While he and Laurie were at de'il speed the liars, he was wanchancie aneugh to abuse his doctrine as weel as the man.
19. Fif. 1894  T. Chapman Hand Book to Elie 29:
On the flat ground close to the Law are a good many perfect circles in the grass, vulgarly called “the devil's rings” — caused, tradition says, by the Druids celebrating their religious rites.
20. Abd. c.1900  J. E. Crombie in Cal. Customs Scot. (1941) III. 230:
Children played a game called “The Deil's sowens bowie,” at Old Yule. The sowens were served out in wooden cappies which were placed on the big kitchen table, one of them being filled with ashes and water resembling sowens in colour. The children had to pick their cappies blindfolded, and the one who got the ashes and water was said to have got “the Deil's sowens bowie,” and was an object of terrible derision.
21. Sc. 1904  A. Geikie Sc. Reminisc. 115:
Natural heaps and hummocks of sand or gravel have been regarded as “Deil's spadefuls.”
24. Ayr. 1890  J. Service Notandums 30:
Having mind of the “Devil's Toddy,” which was beginning even noo . . . to barm in some o' their noddles.
25. (1) Rxb. 1820  in Edb. Mag. (June) 533/2:
The elder daughter was accounted as “rank a witch” as her mother. One evening the deil's wind, as it was proverbially called, having begun to blow, two young men, more resolute than their neighbours, “made it up” to go and look in at the old woman's window, to see what passed between her and the man in the “side black goun.”
(2) wm.Sc. 1868  Laird of Logan 499:
The fanners were denominated “the Deil's win' for dichting corn.”
Ayr. 1889  H. Johnston Glenbuckie 6:
The winnowing-machine . . . had been brought into the parish by Girtle of the Mains . . . but it had been set down by his neighbours as an implement of the enemy, and was testified against as the “Deil's Wind,” invented to overreach Nature, and take the bread out of the mouths of honest families.

VIII. Proverbial Saying: the deil gaes o'er Jock Wabster, see Jock.

[O.Sc. has dele, c.1450, deill, c.1500; Mid.Eng. del, 1310. But the contr. form is already found much earlier in O.North. dīul, dīol, phs. under Celtic influence.]

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"Deil n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 17 Oct 2017 <>



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