Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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SILLY, adj., v. Also sillie, selly (Lnk. 1910 C. Fraser Glengonnar 153); sully (m.Sc. 1919 J. Buchan Mr Standfast iv.). Sc. forms and usages:

I. adj. 1. (1) Deserving pity or compassion, freq. as an epithet expressing kindness or sympathy, = Eng. poor (Rxb. 1808 Jam.). Obs. in Eng. exc. n. dial. Sc. 1724  Ramsay T.-T. Misc. (1876) I. 80:
Goodwife, for your courtesie, Will you lodge a silly poor man?
Sc. 1764  T. Reid Inquiry 31:
Is this thy pastime, O Nature, to put such tricks upon a silly creature?

(2) Expressing commendation or approval: good, worthy (Rxb. 1825 Jam. “a sense peculiar to Liddesdale”).

2. Hapless, helpless, unable to fend for oneself (m.Sc., Rxb. 1970), esp. of women. Slk. 1818  Hogg B. of Bodsbeck xvi.:
His daughter asked how he could be frightened to go where a silly girl, his own child, led the way?
s.Sc. 1839  Wilson's Tales of the Borders V. 11:
I am a poor, silly, undone woman, in my old age.
Fif. 1896  D. S. Meldrum Grey Mantle 25:
She cam' to us a bit silly lass rising seventeen, and ower auld for schulin'.
Peb. 1964  Stat. Acc.3 53:
A herd would be a gey sillie body if he hadna a good dug.

3. Weak, feeble, frail, in poor health, delicate, sickly, of persons or animals (Sc. 1808 Jam., 1825 W. Mitchell Scotsman's Library 361; Per. 1915 Wilson L. Strathearn 269; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; Fif., Lth. 1926 Wilson Cent. Scot. 265). Gen. (exc. I.) Sc., obsol. Also in n.Eng. dial.; lean, meagre (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Per., Fif., Lth. 1915–26 Wilson). Sc. 1708  Seafield Corresp. (S.H.S.) 462:
The prisoners of the ship are sillie lyck men and ill clothed.
Lnk. 1746  D. Graham Writings (1883) I. 158:
Cold water struck the women's belly, It made them both prove faint and silly.
Bwk. 1764  Session Papers, Yules v. Others State of Process 90:
John Hog in Bedshiell carried away the straw thereof upon an old silly beast or horse.
Dmf. 1817  W. Caesar Poems 51:
But now, though fail'd, and unco silly, I scarce dow work, though right weel willy.
Sc. 1818  Scott H. Midlothian xvii.:
Is there onything you would particularly fancy, as your health seems but silly.
Ayr. 1821  Galt Annals i.:
She was but of a silly constitution, the which would have been better for her than spinning from morning to far in the night.
Ags. 1888  Barrie Auld Licht Idylls ix.:
I was silly for my age and not strong in the arms.
Slg. 1896  W. Harvey Kennethcrook 235:
There's twa times i' the year that try silly bodies.
Rxb. 1927  E. C. Smith Braid Haaick 20:
She's aye been a silly bairn; she's never thrivven sin she hed the mizzls.
Dmf. 1962  Stat. Acc.3 297:
A “silly laddie” means a frail boy, not a mentally afflicted one.

4. Weak, shaky, flimsy, unsubstantial, spindly, lacking strength, of things (Uls. 1924 Northern Whig (31 Jan.); ne. and m.Sc. 1970); in 1706 quot. = Eng. mere. For phr. a silly slump see Slump, n.1, 1. Sc. 1706  Earls Crm. (Fraser 1876) II. 11:
Shee never did, nor never intends, to apply mor of it to herr self then silly 4000 merks per annum.
Sc. 1728  Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) II. 44:
Some Experiment of Nature, Whase silly Shape displeas'd her Eye, And thus unfinish'd was flung by.
Sc. 1759  Session Papers, McKenzie v. Scot (25 Jan.) 84:
The Deponent observed no other Arms with them but one silly Sword or Shabble.
Per. 1773  Fergusson Poems (Grosart 1879) 76:
A fouishenless and silly leek Nae worth a strae.
Ayr. 1786  Burns To a Mouse iv.:
Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin! Its silly was's the win's are strewin!
Sc. c.1802  Lord Thomas in
Child Ballads No. 73 I. viii.:
Ye'll but sit a silly sate Wi naught but fair beauty.
Gall. 1824  MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 214:
His scythes row owre a famous swaird, and no a silly whittery.
Per. 1883  W. Cleland Inchbracken vii.:
I'm but a puir door-keeper in the house of the Lord, juist a puir silly earthen vessel.
Ags. 1889  Barrie W. in Thrums xxii.:
Twa o' them [chairs] was mended wi' glue, an' gey silly.
Ags. 1931  M. Angus Turn of the Day 10:
Ane wha gaed like thistle doon, Ane wi' silly feet.
Abd. 1946 15 :
Leuk for a thicker stick nor that, min; that een's ower silly. That [spindly plant] 'll never grow. It's ower silly.

5. Of soil: poor in quality, unfertile. Fif. 1896  D. S. Meldrum Grey Mantle 103:
Harvest was always late, the land being high and silly.
Lnk. 1907  Trans. Highl. Soc. XIX. 172:
It is naturally very poor, “silly” land.

6. Weak in the head, feeble-minded, mentally deficient, imbecile (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Sh., ne.Sc., Ags., Per., Ayr., Kcb. 1970). Orig. and still chiefly Sc. Comb. silly wise, id. Sc. 1721  R. Wodrow Sufferings iii. vii. s. 4:
He did not recover the Exercise of his Reason fully, but was silly, and next to an Idiot.
Sc. 1814  Scott Waverley lxiv.:
Davie's no sae silly as folk tak him for.
Sc. 1824  S. Ferrier Inheritance II. xxx.:
He's just quite silly wise . . . he just lies there snottering awa'.

Combs. (1) silly cuddies, the game of leap-frog (wm.Sc. 1970), a corruption of skin-the-cuddie. Cf. Cuddy, n.1, 6. (8); (2) silly-willy, a fool, a ninny. Cf. colloq. Eng. silly-billy. (1) Lnk. 1925  W. Queen Guide to We're a' Coortin' 39:
I played at the bools, an' sully cuddies.
(2) m.Lth. 1881  A. Wardrop J. Mathison 110:
A silly willy glarin' Called our hero back again.

II. v. refl. To make a fool of (oneself), to show lack of sense. Bnff. 1866  Gregor D. Bnff. 155:
He silliet himsel' in answerin' that stoopit letter i' the newspaiper.

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"Silly adj., v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 18 Oct 2018 <>



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