Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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MAIN, n.1, adj., adv. Also mane, mean. Sc. usages. [men]

I. n. 1. As in Eng., the principal or central section of a discourse. Phr. (tap,) tail and or nor main, lit. beginning, end and middle, “head and tail” (Ags., Per. 1962). In 1894 quot. confused with Eng. mane, of a horse. Sc. 1722  Sober Vanity 51:
A Jackanapes mounts the most eminent Pulpit in Scotland . . . and opens the Synod of Lothian and Tweeddale, with a discourse without either Top, Tail or Main, as we Country People speak.
Bnff. 1866  Gregor D. Bnff. 103:
He ga's a leed o' a sermon, an' nae bodie kent tap, tail, nor mane o't.
Fif. 1894  A. S. Robertson Provost 130:
I can make neither mane nor tail o't.
Abd. 1899  W. D. Geddes Mem. J. Geddes 47:
When criticising in his own way any sermons that did not please him, he would wind up with “'Deed sir, to tell you truth, I cudna mak' out tap, tail, nor mane o't”.

2. Curling: the ice round the tee. Ayr. 1867  M. Porteous Poems 262:
Whan ice was drug an' thowy grup Made stanes gay rough about the doup, He whiskit at them, like to coup, Frae hog to main.

3. In pl.: the strongest part of a tideway. Also in form maan. Cf. O.N. megin árinnar, the chief current in a river, main stream. Ork. 1929  Marw.:
They war right oot i' the mains (maan) o' the ebb.

4. As in Eng., now obs. = strength, physical power, in phr. a man of (the) main, — mean, only as a stereotyped expression in ballads. Cf. Barbour Brus V. 454: man of mekill mane. Sc. 1776  Willie o Winsbury in
Child Ballads (1956) II. 400:
Now is it to a man of micht, Or to a man of mean? Or is it to the ranke robber That robs upon the main. [P. Buchan Ballads (1828) II. 212: main.]
Sc. 1806  R. Jamieson Pop. Ballads I. 89:
“O are ye a man of mean”, she says, “Seekin ony o my meat?”

II. adj. As in Eng. 1. Sc. combs.: (1) main coal, see quots. (w.Lth., wm.Sc. 1962); (2) main door, a door giving sole access from street or garden to a private house, as opposed to a common entrance to a block of flats. Hence main door flat, — house, a ground floor flat of a block of flats which has a door to itself direct from the street (em., wm. and s.Sc. 1962). Freq. in Edb. usage. Cf. front-door s.v. Front; (3) main rope, in mining: “in the tail-rope system of haulage, the rope which hauls the full hutches” (Sc. 1886 J. Barrowman Mining Terms 44; w.Lth. 1962); (4) main-tree, the ridge-beam of a thatched roof. (1) Cld. 1794  J. Naismith Agric. Cld. 36:
At from 10 to 17 fathoms below the last, lies the seam, called the main coal, so called from its possessing all the good qualities found in any of the other strata in the country. It contains rough coal, splint, and parrot, or jet coal, and is preferred, by the consumers, to all the others, as the most profitable.
Sc. 1845  Stat. Acc.2 V. 445:
Main Coal. — This is composed of two bands, divided by a stone from 10 inches to 2 feet thick. It is cubical, of good quality, and suitable for shipping.
Fif. 1902  R. W. Dron Coalfields Scot. 271:
The Blairhall Main Coal has been worked since 1883. . . . It is a good clean coal, 3 feet thick. It is principally used for gas-making purposes.
Ayr. 1946  J. L. Carvel New Cumnock Coalfield 82:
To drive stone mines in Knockshinnoch Castle to develop large areas of Main and Wallsend Coal.
(2) Edb. 1825  R. Chambers Traditions I. 76:
Main doors (now so important) were little thought of, and many of the houses in Prince's Street had only common stairs.
Edb. 1863  Border Mag. (Dec.) 378:
It seems to one born and bred, as I was, in a country of “self-contained” houses, as if only the poor could herd together in large blocks of buildings, and as if respectability were unattainable without a main door.
Edb. 1955  Scotsman (2 May) 2:
[To let] Maindoor Flat, four rooms; small garden; July/August.
(4) Ork. c.1894  W. R. Mackintosh Peat-fires 210:
Again the maintree was taken from her hut, and she was left without a place of shelter.
Ork. 1920  J. Firth Reminisc. 13:
The neat way in which the straw simmons were laced from side to side over the mane-tree to form the inner side of the thatch.

2. Big, strong, great (Ork., Cai. 1962). Now only dial. in Eng. Adv. mainly, very, mightily (Wgt. 1962). Comb. main sweat, the violent perspiration which sometimes precedes death (Sc. 1825 Jam.). Sc. 1748  Smollett R. Random xxiv.:
The captain was mainly wroth, and would certainly have done him a mischief.
Wgt. 1803  R. Couper Tourifications II. 26:
Sometimes accommodating one with mighty slender shanks and a jail, but mainly seldom with a trig poney.
Abd. 1892  Meany MS. 34:
A muckle main brite o' a stane.
Gall. 1896  Crockett Cleg Kelly xxix.:
But the station master was mainly angered. He . . . threatened the drovers wi' the law.
Uls. a.1908  Traynor (1953):
A main pity of it. It's a main pity.
Ork. 1920  J. Firth Reminisc. 97:
One sonsy dame of plethoric tendency, desiring the minister's service in cupping, asked him to “let a main swag rin”.

3. With derogatory force: thorough-paced, unmitigated, “out-and-out” (Ags. 1962). Cf. similar use of Gey, adj., 2. Fif. 1864  W. D. Latto T. Bodkin iv.:
Evil speed her main impudence though.
Ags. 1872  J. Kennedy Jock Craufurt 58:
Oh, the main limmer! — that's what gar'd Her ne'er come yont to hae a cup.
Ags. 1893  F. Mackenzie Cruisie Sk. 133:
We're a kind o' needin' ye the nicht to gie us a hand to get rid o' that main leddy, Bass Nellie. She's a perfect disgrace to the place.
Ags. 1949  Forfar Dispatch (6 Oct.):
Whilk een wiz meetin his lass that nicht, whilk een wiz a main deil.

III. adv. Used with intensive force = exceedingly, very (Uls. 1953 Traynor; Bnff., Ags., w.Lth., Ayr., Dmf. 1962). Only dial. in Eng. after 17th c. Hebr. 1773  Boswell Tour (9 Oct.):
Here a Scottish phrase was singularly applied to him. . . . One of the company having gone out on a stormy evening and brought in a supply of peats . . . M'Sweyn said “that was main honest”!
Sc. 1826  Scott Journal (11 Dec.):
I felt main stupid the whole forenoon, and though I wrote my task, yet it was with great intervals of drowsiness and fatigue.
Ayr. 1835  Galt in Tait's Mag. (Jan.) 131:
Ye are main stoopit at times.
Bnff. 1872  W. Philip It 'ill a' come richt xv.:
He's main coorse, but we'll commend 'im to the han's o' the Almichty.
Kcb. 1893  Crockett Raiders xiii.:
She ran her ways up to take a peep at the window, and came down again main angered.

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"Main n.1, adj., adv.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 20 Mar 2018 <>



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