Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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SLAISTER, v., n. Also slester, -ir; sleester, slister, slyst(h)er; scloister, sk-, sclyster. [′slestər; Cai. ′sləi-]

I. v. 1. intr. (1) To work messily in water or the like, to splash the hands about in a liquid; to work awkwardly, clumsily or ineffectively (Sc. 1808 Jam., slyster; Bwk. 1942 Wettstein; Rxb. 1942 Zai). Gen. (exc. ne.) Sc. Ppl.adjs. slesterin, untidy, slovenly (Sh. 1866 Edm. Gl.); slystered, overworked, harassed (Cai. 1921 T.S.D.C.); vbl.n. slysterin, hard, exacting work (Cai. 1934). Also in n.Eng. dial. Sc. 1756  M. Calderwood Journal (M.C.) 135:
They have nothing to do but slester and wash.
Bwk. 1823  A. Hewit Poems 96:
Banish'd frae yer native place, To slaister here.
Abd. 1868  W. Shelley Wayside Flowers 66:
Wee Troutie tak's pairt i' the slaisterin wark.
Sc. 1893  Stevenson Catriona xxiii.:
Slestering and scrubbing at the very stones upon the public highway.
Per. 1908  M. & J. Findlater Crossriggs xii.:
To “slaister” among the toffee with an old knife.
Rxb. 1927  E. C. Smith Braid Haaick 23:
Hir slaisterin way o wurkin wad ug onybody.
Ork. 1931  J. Leask Peculiar People 133:
Sibbie waas a slesterin' pell.
Edb. 1965  J. K. Annand Sing it Aince 7:
Seekin worms, seekin grubs, Slaisterin in the clarty dubs.

(2) to slack or idle at work, to waste time in trivial occupations, to lead an idle purposeless life, to loaf about (Cai. 1970). Vbl.n. slystherin, “a term of contempt for a branch of cookery the object of which is to please a fastidious taste” (Uls. 1930). Cf. II. 2.

(3) to wade in mud or water, to flounder through mire (Sh., Cai. 1970). Fif. 1827  W. Tennant Papistry Storm'd 89:
As Johnnie slaister'd throu' the stank.
Cai. 1932  John o' Groat Jnl. (4 Nov.):
Ye've been sleesterin' aboot wi' 'is weet day til yir gutter til 'e knees.

(4) to eat or drink messily and greedily. Combs. slaister-kyte, a messy eater, a glutton (Rxb. 1825 Jam., 1923 Watson W.-B.); slaister-pokes, id. (Watson). Edb. c.1750  R. Chambers Traditions (1825) II. 149:
A wheen puir slaister-kytes.
Sc. 1816  Scott Antiquary x.:
It will set ye better to be slaistering at them and the lapper-milk.
Kcb. c.1850  Vale of Urr Verses MS. I. 167:
They slaister and eat till they scarcely can sit.

2. tr. (1) To make messy, smear, bedaub (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; Sh., Cai., em.Sc.(a), sm. and s.Sc. 1970); to splash, bespatter (Sh. 1966 Edm. Gl., 1914 Angus Gl.). Deriv. slaisterer, n., a dauber. Edb. 1773  Fergusson Poems (S.T.S.) II. 112:
The Pomet slaister'd up his Hair!
Edb. 1813  “Edinias” Ramble to Roslin 37:
Wi' the oil bottle she slaister'd it weel.
Ags. 1887  A. D. Willock Rosetty Ends 77:
Slaistered frae head to fit wi' mud an clay.
Slk. 1894  J. Bathgate Aunt Janet's Legacy 65:
Dinna slaister the entry haddin' folk cairryin' in shairn on their feet.
Lnk. 1904  I. F. Darling Songs 102:
This couthie wee thing slaisters a' my goun.
Kcb. 1911  Crockett Rose of the Wilderness xviii.:
He called them [house painters] “puir craitures — mere slaisterers o' coloured dirt.”
m.Lth. 1925  C. P. Slater Marget Pow 93:
I hope it'll no' slaister the windy-sole.
Rxb. 1933  Kelso Chron. (3 Nov.) 5:
He aye wis slaistered at the sark.
Kcd. 1970  Abd. Press & Jnl. (30 Aug.):
Jim's breeks lie slestered there wi' clay.

(2) to smear (a substance) on a surface, to spread or scatter in a messy way (em.Sc., Lnk., sm. and s.Sc. 1970). m.Lth. 1925  C. P. Slater Marget Pow 53:
Slaisterin' the grease upon the floor as usual.
m.Sc. 1933  W. Muir Mrs. Ritchie xxi.:
They slaister their hairs ower everything.

II. n. 1. A state of wetness and dirt, a splashy mess, dirty water, slops (Sc. 1880 Jam.; Sh. 1914 Angus Gl.; Per., Fif., Lth. 1915–26 Wilson; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; Gen. (exc. ne.) Sc.), also in extended form slaistery, id. Adj. slaist(e)ry, wet and dirty, muddy, slimy; of persons: slatternly, working messily. Sc. 1808  E. Hamilton Glenburnie vii.:
We cou'dna be fash'd to gang sae far wi' a the slaistery.
Sc. 1824  Scott St. Ronan's W. i.:
Are ye at the painting trade yet? an unco slaister ye used to make with it lang syne.
Sc. 1825  Jam.:
That's slaistry wark ye're at. The weather is said to be slaistry, when one is exposed to a good deal of rain, or has one's dress soiled by the miriness of the roads.
Sc. 1832  Carlyle in
Froude Life (1882) II. 268:
They are painting in the dining-room, lobby, and staircase; and, to avoid much slaister for the future, doing it in oil.
Slg. c.1860  Trans. Slg. Nat. Hist. Soc. (1924) 24:
Splash! splash! splash! In slaistery, sliddery glaur.
Sh. 1906  T. P. Ollason Spindrift 85:
Da wishin' o' lame, an' da slav'ry an' slester.
Lth. 1923  S. A. Robertson With Double Tongue 27:
It's best to dye Pace eggs when hale; when broken they're a slaister.
Ork. 1930  Orcadian (13 Feb.):
Slaistery was a word applied to wet slimy oats, or other stuff in a wet hairst-time.
Dmf. 1953  :
A richt slaister o' a day.

2. An unpalatable or nauseating mixture of foods, etc. (Sc. 1808 Jam.; em., wm. and s.Sc. 1970). Deriv. slaistrie, id., the eating of such, gormandising, “the offals of a kitchen, including a mixed refuse of solids and fluids” (Sc. 1825 Jam.; Cai. 1970). Edb. 1773  Fergusson Poems (S.T.S.) II. 64:
Ye lowns that troke in doctor's stuff, You'll now hae unco slaisters.
Sc. 1824  Scott St. Ronan's W. xxxii.:
Taking it [wine] naked, and no wi' your sugar and your slaisters.
Sc. 1834  Chambers's Jnl. (May) 106:
“Lunch!” said he, in a tone of the utmost contempt. “Eneuch to bring down judgements, to hear the like o' you speakin' o' sic slaistrie.”
m.Sc. 1863  J. W. Carlyle Letters (Carlyle 1903) II. 287:
No weak broths, or what we used to call “slaisters”.
Edb. 1873  D. MacLagan Nugae 107:
Labster-sauce wi' saumon Wae's me that sic a slaister suid Gang into mortal maw, man.
Gsw. 1898  D. Willox Poems & Sk. 73:
Tae say that ye wad throw awa' aboot four an' sixpence, or four an' sevenpence, on a lot o' slisters!
Ags. 1956  Forfar Dispatch (4 Oct.):
I got a shooer o carrots and cabbages a' ower me and intae my open handbag, sittin at the table-leg. Sic a scloister.
Sh. 1962  New Shetlander No. 61.13:
Nane o dis slester o shugger an seerup at yon Englishmen laeks apon hit.

3. transf.: a state of confusion, a hurlburly (I.Sc., Cai., em., sm. and s.Sc. 1970). Fif. 1873  J. Wood Ceres Races 3:
And e'er the sclyster's fairly owre, The Laird himsel' will stap anour.

4. A botch, bungle, unskilful work. Ork. 1950  :
What a slester yir makin' o' dain' that.

5. Of persons: a slovenly, dirty worker, a slut (Slk. 1825 Jam.; Bwk. 1942 Wettstein; Rxb. 1942 Zai), also in form slesters, id., a messy eater, “one who bedaubs himself” (Rxb. 1825 Jam.; em., wm., s.Sc. 1970); a botcher, unskilful worker (Ork. 1950). m.Sc. 1954  Scotsman (26 July):
He maladroitly spilled his tea on the glistening tablecloth, and was promptly but not unkindly called a wee slaister.

[Immediate orig. uncertain, poss. altered, under the influence of Plaister, from a form *slaisker, slesker, and ultimately from Scand. Cf. Sw. sliske, sweets, tit-bit, sliskig, over-luxurious food, Dan. sleske, dial. sleste, to cajole, fawn, be a lickspittle, slesk, unctuous, ingratiating, O.Dan. sleske, to creep, slink, cogn. with slik-, to be smooth, to slink, to lick. Cf. Slaik above.]

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"Slaister v., n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 15 Feb 2019 <>



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