Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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SMA, adj., adv., n. Also smaa; smaal (Arg. 1920 H. Foulis Vital Spark 100), †smal. Sc. forms and usages of Eng. small. [smɑ:, m.Sc. sm:]

I. adj. 1. As in Eng. Sc. combs. and phrs.: (1) small blue hawk, the merlin, Falco columbarius aesalon (Slg. 1885 C. Swainson Brit. Birds 139) from the greyish-blue colour of its wings; (2) sma bouk, little bulk, small size, gen. used in ppl.adj. sma-bookit, -boukit, small and compact in size, of small and neat dimensions, physically small or shrunken, not large (Lth. 1926 Wilson Cent. Scot. 109), freq. applied to persons in old age. Gen.Sc. See also Bouk, n.3; (3) sma' breid, a term applied to bakery ware which is neither loaf-bread, cake nor confectionery, such as rolls, scones, buns, biscuits, etc., tea-bread, see Tea and II. 2. (2) below. Gen.Sc.; (4) small corn, = (20). Hist.; (5) small customs, a tax levied on goods for sale within burghs as distinct from the great customs affecting imports and exports from the country, more usu. called petty customs after 1700. Now only hist.; (6) small debt court, a court established under the jurisdiction of Justices of the Peace in 1800 for settling actions for debt under ¥5 in value, and under a Sheriff in 1837 in causes up to ¥20; (7) small doucker, the little grebe, Podiceps ruficollis. See Dooker, n.1; (8) sma drink, weak liquor, as in Eng. Used fig. of persons (i) in phr. Scallowa' sma-drink, a nickname for an inhabitant of Scalloway in Shetland (Sh. 1883 J. R. Tudor Ork. and Sh. 614, Sh. 1958); a conceited nonentity (Sh. 1970); (ii) freq. in phr. to think anesel nae sma drink, to have a high opinion of oneself, to be pompous and self-important, to think oneself “no small beer”. Gen.Sc.; (9) smaa evens, a very small or inadequate quantity, insufficient means, short commons (Sh. 1866 Edm. Gl., Sh. 1970). See also Even, adj., 3. (6); †(10) sma fairns, the small intestines (s.Sc. 1825 Jam.). See Ferm, n.2, Thairm; (11) small fish, fish, such as haddock, whiting, flounders, mackerel and herring caught inshore by the smaller fishing boats with small lines (see (18) below) in distinction to the larger deep-sea fish, such as cod, ling, skate, halibut, etc. caught by the larger boats further out to sea (Sh., Ags., Kcb. 1970); †(12) sma-fit, Sh. fishermen's taboo-name for a mouse (Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928)). Cf. Fittin, Foodin; (13) sma' folk, people in a humble station in life; (14) sma hours, the very early hours of the morning, those immediately after midnight, because of the small number of the strokes of the clock, freq. in phr. the wee sma hours, after Burns's “wee short hour ayont the twal” (Death and Dr Hornbook xxxi.). Gen.Sc. Cf. lang hour s.v. Lang, adj.; (15) sma hunner, the normal hundred of five score as opposed to the augmented hundred, gen. of six score or more, used for purposes of bargaining, see Hunder, n., 3. (Ork. 1970). Also in Eng. dial. In 1957 quot. used loosely, = about a hundred, roughly a hundred; (16) sma laird, a small landowner (Ork. 1970). Cf. bonnet laird, cock laird, pickie-laird, peerie-laird, Laird; (17) small leader, see Leader, n., 3.; (18) sma lines, smallins, the lines used by inshore fishermen to catch small fish, see (11) above (Sh., n. and em.Sc. 1970). Cf. great-line s.v. Great, I. 6. (8); (19) small maa, the common gull, Larus canus (Sh. 1885 C. Swainson Brit. Birds 207, 1899 Evans and Buckley Fauna Sh. 180, Sh. 1970); †(20) small oats, see 1956 quot. (Abd. 1700 S.C.Misc. II. 21); (21) sma-raip, the lower main horizontal rope in a herring drift-net, the sole-rope (Ags., Fif. 1970); (22) sma sheen, fine shoes for wear on special occasions or Sundays. See Shae; (23) sma shot, a strengthening thread of stout cotton inserted in Paisley shawls at a six- or eight-strand interval. Hence sma-shot (day), (Saturday), a Paisley holiday, originating in 1856 as an excursion of the Amalgamated Weavers' Society and still celebrated on the first Saturday in July (see 1904 quot.); (24) sma stanes an' stew, fig., the dust kicked up by sudden flight or hurry (Abd. 1970). See also Stew; (25) sma still, see Stell, n.2, Combs.; (26) sma thing, smaa ting (Ork.), (i) a small sum of money (Mry. 1921 T.S.D.C.; n. and em.Sc. (a), Wgt. 1970). Cf. III. 2.; (ii) in pl.: small odds and ends, trifles, bits and pieces; a very little; (27) sma water, see 6.; (28) sma wheel, the smaller type of spinning wheel (see quot.), in contrast to the muckle wheel, see Muckle, I. 8. (45); (29) sma wife, a female shopkeeper trading in small cheap wares; (30) sma write, small-text cursive handwriting (Sc. 1825 Jam.; Cai. 1904 E.D.D.; n.Sc., Ayr., Wgt. 1970). Hence sma-written, adj., written in a small hand, almost illegible; (31) sma wud, the shorter pieces of wood on a roof, urlins and the like; (32) the sma'est adv., the least little bit. (2) Hdg. 1892  J. Lumsden Sheep-Head 219:
The gas set fire to the fat, the fat to the flesh, an' the three thegither sune made sma' bouk o' Auld Red.
Fif. 1899  Proc. Philos. Soc. Gsw. XXXI. 39:
An undersized sma-boukit, dwarfish person.
Bnff. 1923  Banffshire Jnl. (24 July) 2:
He leaves sma'er bookit chielies t' cairry on the wark.
s.Sc. 1926  H. M'Diarmid Penny Wheep 43:
Earth's sma'-bookit under a clood.
Abd. 1931  M. Angus Turn of Day 25:
Quo' she, “Ye'r sma'-bookit, Yer broos's runkled sair.”
(3) Fif. 1831  Fife Herald (6 Oct.):
The small bread of all those bakers.
s.Sc. 1904  Border Mag. (Sept.) 178:
A cake an' some sma' bread an' things for the tea.
(4) Dmf. 1757  Nithsdale Baron Ct. Bk. MS. 5:
The Great Corn at 25 pence per peck, the Small Corn at one shilling per peck.
Sc. 1803  Prize Essays Highl. Soc. 190:
The grey oat, or small corn, as it is called in some places.
Abd. 1880  J. Skelton Crookit Meg i. iii.:
He never sold the oats or ‘sma' corn' off the glebe.
(5) Sc. 1700  Acts Parl. Scot. X. 262:
The said Elizabeth had uplifted some of the small customes at Fifeness.
Sc. 1769  Abd. Journal (30 Jan.):
The Small Customs of said Burgh [Banff].
(6) Sc. 1824  Scott St Ronan's W. viii.:
Your counsel may do very well in a small-debt court.
Sc. 1838  W. Bell Dict. Law Scot. 923–5:
A case remitted to the small debt court. . . . The Sheriffs must, in addition to their ordinary small-debt courts, hold circuit courts for the purposes of this act.
Sc. 1927  Gloag and Henderson Intro. Law Scot. 15:
In the Small Debt Court actions for the recovery of debt, for the delivery of moveables, and of sequestration for rent.
Sc. 1933  Encycl. Laws Scot. XIV. 130:
The Justice of the Peace Small Debt Court is regulated by the 1825 Act.
(8) (ii) Edb. 1773  Fergusson Poems (S.T.S.) II. 186:
Our Johny's nae sma' drink you'll guess.
Abd. 1790  A. Shirrefs Poems 117:
But I'se assure ye, Helen's nae sma' drink!
Sc. 1836  Scottish Annual 179:
I felt myself already nae sma' drink.
Kcb. 1885  A. J. Armstrong Friend and Foe xxix.:
Ye're nae sma' drink yersel, lassie.
Ags. 1892  Brechin Advertiser (22 March) 3:
Ye needna be thinkin' 'at Auld Eppie's sma' drink.
Rxb. 1897  E. Hamilton Outlaws xviii.:
She thought ‘no small drinks' [sic] of herself for having overset our schemes.
wm.Sc. 1934  T. Smellie Mrs. Goudie's Tea-Pairty 10:
A heap o' relations that has a gude richt to think themselves nae sma' drink.
Abd. 1955  W. P. Eppie Elrick i.:
The Elricks were beyond question accounted “nae sma' drink” in the district.
(9) Sh. 1914  Angus Gl.:
Shu did it upo smaa evens.
(10) Slk. 1818  Hogg B. of Bodsbeck iii.:
For fear he had run his bit spit through my sma-fairns.
s.Sc. 1898  E. Hamilton Mawkin xiii.:
I'll weisse a ball through your sma'-fairns.
(11) Bnff. 1795  Stat. Acc.1 XIII. 403:
The income of the small fish is estimated by the fishers to be at least equal to that of the great.
(13) Edb. 1801  J. Thomson Poems 19:
Wha here assemble wi' the bra' fo'k, They shou'd be patterns to us sma' fo'k.
(14) Sc. 1717  Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. 20:
To the sma' Hours we aft sat still.
Sc. 1825  J. Wilson Foresters xli.:
Old Donald among the “sma' hours,” without asking leave of any one, blew up his chanter.
Edb. 1928  A. D. Mackie In Two Tongues 44:
A wooin' in the wee sma' oors.
(15) ne.Sc. 1957  Mearns Leader (12 April):
A sma' hunner o' bairns o' a' ages.
(16) Sc. 1872  E. B. Ramsay Reminisc. 171:
A sma' sma' laird named Hamilton.
Ork. 1874  Trans. Highl. Soc. 51:
Many of the so-called “small lairds”.
(18) Bnff. 1795  Stat. Acc.1 XII. 403:
A good many great fish are caught with the small lines.
Fif. 1865  St Andrews Gazette (20 May):
Their small lines, as those used in the haddock fishing are called.
Ayr. 1886  J. Meikle Lintie 115:
Barney got as thrawn as a fankl't sma' line.
Sc. 1930  P. F. Anson Fishing Boats 9:
In a small-line boat of the older type used chiefly for taking haddock or cod, each man had a line of fifty fathoms.
Sc. 1968  Sc. Geog. Mag. (April) 18:
Small and hand lines, used by small inshore craft on day trips.
(20) Inv. 1769  I. F. Grant Old Highl. Farm (1924) 154:
Small oats by the Dyke.
Sc. 1956  W. M. Findlay Oats 18:
The Small or ‘Sma' or Grey or Grey-bearded oat was sown on the poorest soil in the outfield in the high-lying districts. It is what we know now as the Bristlepointed oat (Avena strigosa).
(22) Bnff. 1866  Gregor D. Bnff. 169:
Ma Sunday claise an ma sma' sheen.
(23) Rnf. 1904  M. Blair Paisley Shawl 61:
In one of these [Trade Union] contests over what was called the “sma'” shot, they gained a notable victory, which they commemorated by instituting a holiday under the name of “Sma' Shot Saturday.” The “sma' shot,” as already explained was a binding thread not included in the design but necessary for making a perfect fabric. The masters did not wish to pay for this, but the weavers stoutly held to their demand and were suceessful.
Rnf. 1925  A. M. Stewart Paisley Shawl 22:
A bridle is just this same range of colours — seven in this case — repeated over and over again in the same order, with, of course, the small shot as the Cinderella of the eight. It was a much finer shot, usually of cotton. That was the main support of the whole fabric.
Rnf. 1957  Scots Mag. (Aug.) 376:
The day chosen was the first Saturday in July and from that sprang the Sma' Shot Day holiday that we know.
(24) Abd. 1929 4 :
A buddy wudna see yer tail for sma' steens an' stew.
(26) (i) Abd. 1970  Huntly Express (23 Jan.) 2:
Did he leave a sma' thing tae ye?
(ii) s.Sc. 1897  E. Hamilton Outlaws vii.:
I'd think sma' things o' the man that wadna dare that muckle.
Ork. 1929  Marw.:
I must gether me smaa-tings taegether.
(28) Rxb. c.1800  Mem. S. Sibbald (Hett 1926) 130:
The “sma' wheel,” for spinning wool.
(29) Sc. 1830  W. Chambers Bk. Scotland 245:
They [shops] are kept mostly by widows or women in fallen-back circumstances, who are known by the designation of sma' wives, or dealers in small articles.
(30) Ayr. 1822  Galt Sir A. Wylie ix.:
The first copy-line that the Maister set, when he put us in sma' write.
m.Lth. 1894  P. H. Hunter J. Inwick 27:
He could mak neither heid nor tail o't, it was that sma'-written.
(31) Cai. 1916  John o' Groat Jnl. (31 March):
The “birks” were laid on, then the “sma' wud”, the divots and floss.
(32) m.Lth. 1857  Misty Morning 109:
Never let that pit ye the sma'est aboot.

2. Of persons or animals: slim, slender, slightly-built; of things: narrow, thin, of small width or diameter (Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928), 1914 Angus Gl.; Fif., Lth., Ayr. 1923–6 Wilson; Sh., ne.Sc., Per. 1970). Obs. in Eng. exc. dial. Combs.: Small Back, a designation of Death, represented as a skeleton; sma-leggit, with slender legs; phr. wee (and) sma, of persons: low in stature and slightly built, small and thin (Sc. 1940 Scotsman (23 Aug.)). See also Smally. Dmf. 1810  R. Cromek Remains 5:
O whare gat ye that leal maiden Sae jimpy laced an' sma?
Sc. 1823  Scott Q. Durward xxxvii.:
Small-Back must lead down the dance with us all in our time.
Dmf. 1846  R. W. Thom Dominie's Charge I. 108:
He's as lang and sma' as a rod of nail airn.
Lth. 1853  M. Oliphant J. Rintoul viii.:
Sma' and white and downcast.
s.Sc. 1873  J. A. H. Murray D.S.C.S. 171:
Grytt stycks an' smaa stycks, lang smaa fyngers.
ne.Sc. 1881  W. Gregor Folk-Lore 17:
This is the way the ladies rides, Jimp an sma, jimp an sma.
Sc. 1940  Scotsman (14 Aug.):
Many farmers kept a “roadster” which ran to kirk and market, and to distinguish it from the Clydesdale breed of horses that did the heavy work of the farm it was commonly referred to as “the sma' leggit ane.”
Abd. 1955  Abd. Press & Jnl. (7 April):
Taking infinite pains to make the mustard “sma' as mice feet.”

3. Small in number of years, young, freq. in phr. a sma' faimily, a family of young children (Gall. 1824 McTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 428; Sc. 1825 Jam.; I., ne.Sc., Per., Slg., sm. and s.Sc., Uls. 1970). Abd. 170  W. Cramond Ch. Aberdour (1896) 42:
He being old and his numerous smal family the Session alows ¥2 18s.
Wgt. 1717  Session Bk. Glasserton MS (17 Dec.):
The Session considering that he has a small family of children.
Gsw. 1754  Burgh Rec. Gsw. (1911) 419:
Towards her own and her young small family their subsistence.
Sc. 1799  Ebd. Weekly Jnl. (27 Nov.) 382:
She has left a small family to lament her loss, of the youngest of whom she was but a short time delivered.
Ayr. 1822  Galt Provost xliv.:
With his small family of nine children.
s.Sc. 1873  J. A. H. Murray D.S.C.S. 171:
“A big sma faimilie”, i.e. a large family of little children.
Lth. 1883  M. Oliphant Ladies Lindores viii.:
Sore hadden down with a sma' family.
Abd. 1951  Buchan Observer (25 Dec.):
The tenth to the whole fourteenth member of a swarm o' some o' yer big sma' femlies.

4. Of persons: slightly unwell, not up to the mark, ailing. Kcd. 1921  T.S.D.C.:
“Hoo are ye the day?” “O gey sma'.”

5. Fine: (1) in texture, not coarse, composed of small particles or droplets. Gen.Sc. Rare or obs. in Eng. Sc. 1727  A. Hamilton New Acct. E. Indies I. 262:
A small Rain happened to fall that damped my Powder.
Ayr. 1790  A. Tait Poems 110:
May mak the grun as sma' as meal.
Sc. 1823  Scott Q. Durward i.:
Heaven, who works by the tempest as well as by the soft small rain.
Sc. 1907  Annals Sc. Nat. Hist. 21:
When there is a night of “sma'”, rain or Scotch mist.
Ags. 1924  M. Angus The Lilt 9:
Saftly, saftly, ower the hill Comes the sma', sma' rain.

(2) as applied to mesh or the like, having small apertures (I. and ne.Sc., Per., Kcb. 1970). Also in Eng. dial. Sc. 1856  J. C. Morton Cycl. Agric. I. 193:
This is done by sieves just smaller in the mesh than the size of the grain.

6. Of the water (1) of the sea, a lake, etc.: smooth, unruffled, calm , undisturbed (Cai., ne.Sc., Fif., wm.Sc. 1970). Abd. 1798  Session Papers, Burnet v. Earl of Aberdeen State of Process 115:
In a small water when it is quite calm, and the river smooth like oil.
Abd. 1887  G. Macdonald M. of Lossie xvi.:
Ye was naething but a fisher-body upon a sma' watter.
Abd. c.1890  Gregor MSS.:
From the oil that exuded from it [whale ] the water was kept “sma”, in the neighbourhood of the boat.
m.Sc. 1933  J. Ressich Thir Braw Days 107:
A fine sma'-water breeze oot o' the wast.

(2) of a river or the like: low, not in spate or flood (ne., m. and s.Sc. 1970). Also in Eng. dial. Hence smallness, low water. Abd. 1795  Session Papers, Leslie v. Fraser (29 March 1805) 124:
Whenever they begin to have sight in the river by her smallness.
Ags. 1795  Session Papers, Arbuthnott v. Scott (11 March) 151:
When the water was small, and in droughty summers.

II. adv. 1. Finely, subtly. Combs. sma-drawn, fine-drawn, subtle; to sma'-spin, fig., to make over-subtle, to refine to excess. Sc. 1797  Scots Mag. (Aug.) 534:
Our southern nibours have sae dumfounder'd and sma' spun, and refined their hobble shew o' words.
wm.Sc. 1837  Laird of Logan 207:
You're sma'-drawn the night, but I'm ower auld a cat to draw a strae before.

2. In a small voice, quietly (Ags., Per., wm.Sc. 1970). Obs. in Eng. Comb. sma-spoken, having a thin, soft voice (Slk. 1970). Sc. 1887  Stevenson Mem. & Portraits viii.:
The reposing toiler, thoughtfully smoking, talking small, as if in honour of the stillness.
Rxb. 1895  J. B. Webber Rambles 38:
There they [children] play at serrin' shops Tryin' tae speak sma'.
w.Sc. 1931  A. A. Macgregor Last Voyage to St Kilda 104:
“Whisht!” he whispered. “You must be speaking small.”

III. n. 1. A small quantity or amount (a) little, not much. Rare or obs. in Eng. Phrs. by or in sma's, in small amounts or portions, piecemeal, little by little (Sc. 1825 Jam.; I. and n.Sc., Ags., Fif., Lth. 1970). m.Lth. c.1700  Discourse between an Old-Meal-Maker, etc.:
Buying of Victual whole sale, and retailing it in smalls for the use of the poor.
Sc. 1736  Ramsay Proverbs (1776) 54:
Mony sma's make a great.
Ayr. 1792  Burns O, Leeze me iv.:
Wi' sma to sell and less to buy.
Sc. 1826  Wilson Noctes Amb. (1855) I. 114:
God's blessings are aye God's blessings, though they come in sma's and driblets.
Abd. 1877  W. Alexander Rural Life 135:
The Aberdeen Merchants who got their wool chiefly from the south of Scotland, and then sold it out in “smalls” to the country people.
Bwk. 1897  R. M. Calder Poems 203:
No' content to save by sma's.
Sh. 1900  T. P. Ollason Mareel 95:
We's just jog in da sam' auld gaet; content wi' sma's.
Abd. 1930 4 :
Athing 'at's gweed's made up in sma's.

2. A small thing, specif. (1) of money, gen. in pl.: a unit of small change (ne.Sc. 1970). Abd. 1910 11 :
Isna' that a lot o siller t' come in in smas.
Ags. 1962  D. Phillips Lichty Nichts 57:
Eh'll gie ye a sma'.

(2) a half-gill of whisky. Edb. 1895  J. Tweeddale Moff 213:
“John, ma man, I'll haud 'e wi' sma's,” said Mrs. Duffy pouring out a glass.

(3) small wares, small (drapery) goods (Ork., Per. 1970). Ayr. 1856  H. Craig Aspirations 59:
Ye high-born Brides in search o' braws, Wha think we Scotch keep naught but sma's.

3. A period of calm at sea between rough water, a lull (Fif. 1911; Mry. 1914 Trans. Bnff. Field Club 26). Abd. c.1890  Gregor MSS.:
The lull that comes after a succession of waves is called a sma'.

[O.Sc. smaw, 1475, small corne, 1679, small customs, 1423, small folk, the humble people, smalyn, 1374, 1375, small, adv., to a small degree, c.1375, smale, adj., narrow, of ribbon, 1473, smale, adj., fine, of cloth, 1473, in smallis, in small amounts, 1526.]

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"Sma adj., adv., n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 17 Dec 2017 <>



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