Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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SPEAK, v., n. Also speik (Abd. 1865 G. MacDonald Alec Forbes vi.), speyk (Abd. 1879 G. MacDonald Sir Gibbie xxiv.; Rs. 1916), spyke (Abd. 1874 W. Scott Dowie Nicht 44; Mry. 1925), spike (Abd. 1837 J. Leslie Willie and Meggie 25; Mry. 1927 E. Levack Lossiemouth 20), spaik (n.Sc. 1891 A. Gordon Carglen ii.; Wgt. 1912 A.O.W.B. Fables frae French 31), spake (Ork. 1915 Old-Lore Misc. VIII. i. 38), spake (Ork. 1880 Dennison Sketch-Bk. 140; Sh. 1931 Shetland Times (14 March)), speck (Cai. 1930 John o' Groat Jnl. (31 Jan.)), spek (Cai. 1904 E.D.D.); spick (Abd. 1928 A. Black Three Sc. Sketches 38), spikk (Abd. 1914 J. Leatham Daavit ii.), spik (Abd. 1923 L. Coutts Hotch Potch 14), ¶spak (Kcb. 1913 G. M. Gordon Auld Clay Biggin' 92, 105). Sc. forms and usages. [spɪk; I.Sc., Cai. spɛk; Abd. †spəik]

I. v. A. Forms. Inf. and pres. t. as above. Pa.t. strong: spake (Edb. 1812 W. Glass Cal. Parnassus 9), spack (Dmf. 1877 R. W. Thom Jock o' Knowe 13; Bnff. 1862 R. Sim Leg. Strathisla 82; Sh. 1897 Shetland News (13 Nov.)), spak (Sc. 1725 Ramsay Gentle Shep. i. i.; Abd. 1768 A. Ross Helenore (S.T.S.) 33; Ayr. 1792 Burns Duncan Gray ii.; Sc. 1816 Scott B. Dwarf iii.; m.Lth. 1844 J. Ballantine Miller ii.; Ork. 1880 Dennison Sketch-Bk. 13; Sc. 1893 Stevenson Catriona xv.; Kcb. 1895 Crockett Moss-Hags xxxii.; Per., Fif., Lth., Ayr. 1915–23 Wilson; Rxb. 1942 Zai; I., ne., em. and wm.Sc. 1971): spakk (Sh. 1953 New Shetlander No. 36. 20), neg. form spakna (Lnk. 1919 G. Rae Clyde & Tweed 72); weak: ¶spakd (Sh. 1888 Edmonston and Saxby Home of a Naturalist 144). Pa.p. spoken (Gen.Sc.); spak (Edb. 1812 P. Forbes Poems 34; Fif. 1899 E. T. Heddle Marget 249), reduced form spoke (Sc. 1733 P. Lindsay Interest Scot., Preface xxxi.; Ayr. 1790 J. Fisher Poems 125; Dmf. 1877 R. W. Thom Jock o' Knowe 9).

B. Usages:

1. To listen to, attend to (Sc. 1825 Jam.), freq. in imper. (‡Sh., Bnff., Abd., Ags., Per. 1971). Hence phr. to speak a word, to listen to what is going to be said, sc. to speak with one for a moment. Sc. 1787  J. Beattie Scoticisms 84:
And when they mean to call the attention of another to what they are going to say, they are apt, instead of hark ye, or some such word, to say, Speak to me, or but speak, which expresses just the contrary of what they mean.
Ags. 1794  W. Anderson Piper of Peebles 14:
A gentleman . . . order'd an' o' them . . . To tell the Laird To speak a word — he came in haste.
Sc. 1820  Lockhart Scott xlvii.:
Mr. Purdie then asked the sheriff “to speak a word.” They withdrew together into the garden.
Per. 1915  :
I remember a certain tradesman coming every now and then to report to my mother on work in progress saying, “Speak a meenit, mistress.”

2. To order (goods), ask in advance for the supply of, bespeak (Sh., Abd., Slg., Fif., Dmb. 1971); also with for (Sh. 1971). Per. 1903  H. MacGregor Souter's Lamp 25:
I'll mebbe gang in masel' to speak a new pair o' boots.

3. Phrs. with advs. or preps.: (1) to speak back, to reply, ripost by way of argument; later, specif., to retort impertinently and defiantly. Gen.Sc.; (2) to speak from afar, to approach a subject cautiously, to speak indirectly; (3) to speak hame, = 1. (Cai. 1971); (4) to speak in, to pay a fleeting visit, to drop in (Ork., Per., Kcb. 1971); (5) to speak to, (i) to ask in marriage (‡Per. 1971); ‡(ii) of an employer, freq. a farmer: to engage a worker for another term (Cai., em.Sc. (b), wm., sm. and s.Sc. 1971). Used esp. in pa.p. spoken tae, asked to stay on. Cf. Seek, v., 4.; (6) to speak well in mind, to accord with what one has in mind, to agree with one's own thoughts on a matter. (1) Ayr. 1790  D. Landsborough Contrib. Local Hist. 33:
He could not be allowed to hold communion with us: but if he altered in his opinions he might speak back, for we had no more time at present.
Abd. 1871  W. Alexander Johnny Gibb xvii.:
Sandy spak back in a wye 't was lickly to gar the body cantle up.
Fif. 1866  G. Bruce Poems 92:
In case the bairnies should speak back.
Abd. 1900  G. Williams Fairmer's Twa Tint Laddies 190:
Wi' cankirt words the son spak back.
Abd. 1969  Huntly Express (28 Nov.) 2:
To “speak back” was the unpardonable sin with some farmers.
(2) Ayr. 1887  J. Service Dr Duguid 122:
Maybe t'ou'll see the doctor, and gin t'ou see him, t'ou can speak to him frae afar, and maybe he'll mention some freevolous bit thing that'll dae me some guid.
(3) Sc. 1871  P. H. Waddell Psalms iv. 1:
Speak hame till me, God o' my righteousness.
(4) Per. 1816  J. Duff Poems 51:
Passin' your door, I made free to speak in.
Sc. 1825  Jam.:
I spak in, and saw them, as I cam by.
(5) (i) e.Sc. 1900  E. H. Strain Elmslie's Drag-Net 217:
When Jamie ‘spoke to' Janet Carson, she told her people at once, having no opposition to expect.
(ii) Sc. 1810  Farmer's Mag. (Dec.) 482:
I have spoken to my servants, as it is called here in other words, have engaged them for another year, upon the same terms as formerly.
Rxb. 1925  Kelso Chron. (13 March) 4:
Those whom he wishes no longer to remain on, he does not call at. They are “no' spoken tae,” and that means they must flit.
(6) Sc. 1805  Katharine Jaffray in
Child Ballads (1886) IV. 216:
The Englesh spiered gin he wad fight. It spak well in his mind.

4. Combs. and derivs.: (1) speakable, (i) adj., affable, approachable (Sc. 1825 Jam.); (ii) adv. on speaking terms; (2) speakan sweetie, a conversation lozenge (Sh., Ork., Cai. 1971). Cf. Read, v., 1. (1) (ii); (3) speak-a-wee, a small ante-room or parlour in which one may speak privately to callers; frequently in old-style manses for the convenience of parishioners consulting the minister (em.Sc. (a) 1966); (4) speak-a-word-room, = (3) (Sc. 1825 Jam.); (5) speaking-drink, see Drink, n., 2. (4); (6) speaking-gless, enough drink to make one talkative (Bwk.2 1951); ‡(7) speaking-time, the time of year at which employers, esp. farmers, renew or terminate the contracts of their workers (em.Sc.(b), wm., sm., s.Sc. 1971). Cf. 3. (5) (ii). (1) (ii) Abd. 1921  M. Argo Janet's Choice 24:
Dancin' wi' a man that she's hardly speakable acquaint wi'.
(5) Lnl. 1775  Session Papers, Fram v. Paul (8 Dec.) 14:
The candidate or intrant applies to the deacon, after having given his speaking-drink.
Slg. 1823  Trans. Slg. Nat. Hist. Soc. (1921) 43:
An unfreeman, who has not shown himself qualified for admission, and has refused the dues of speaking drink.
(7) Dmf. 1887  Mod. Sc. Poets (Edwards) X. 337:
I was daein' halflin's wark when the speakin'-time cam' roun', And the maister's kindly hand was clappit on my croon.
Dmf. 1963  J. Littlejohn Westrigg 54:
In this district the summer hiring fair was held on the last day of May. Six months later came ‘the speaking time.' The farmer had to approach the servant and in an indirect way the two either reaffirmed the bargain of the previous May or agreed to dissolve it.

5. Ppl.adj. spoken as the second element in combs. where the first element is the name of a place or region. Gen.Sc. In Eng. only with adjs. and advs. as fair-spoken, rough-, soft-, etc. Abd. 1969  :
I canna aye mak out fat he says. He's South-spoken. She's Glesca spoken.

II. n. 1. A chat, conversation (Sh. 1971). Lnk. a.1779  D. Graham Writings (1883) II. 209:
I maun hae a word o' the bride outby to convoy me, and a quiet speak to hersel about it.
Sc. 1953  Scots Mag. (Feb.) 371:
So that your Grace can have a speak wi' her Majesty.

2. A speech, pronouncement, statement, comment; a popular saying, proverbial utterance (Abd., Kcd., Ags. 1971). Abd. 1790  A. Shirrefs Poems 247:
Only foes to common sense, Frae sic a speak can tak' offence.
Edb. 1791  J. Learmont Poems 30:
Their unco speaks o' sax hours lang.
Fif. 1827  W. Tennant Papistry 5:
Notin' down within thy book Ilk motion, gesture, speik, and look.
Slk. 1829  Hogg Tales (1874) 436:
It was a very unreverend speak o' me.
Kcd. 1932  L. G. Gibbon Sunset Song 27, 283:
But that was just a speak of his. . . . Out of the world and into Blawearie, as the old speak went.
ne.Sc. 1946  Scots Mag. (Oct.) 74:
The uncomfortable silence that aye greeted fat they cried mither's “queer speaks.”

3. A “story” without substance; a piece of make-believe (Sh., ne.Sc. 1971). Sh. 1916  J. Burgess Rasmie's Smaa Murr (Janniwary 25):
Parlament wis eence spaek-yer-mind; noo it's spaek.
Abd. 1928  N. Shepherd Quarry Wood xiii:
‘Weel, she tells me whiles aboot him.' ‘O ay, a' a speak.'

4. Gossip, scandal-mongering, tittle-tattle (Sh., ne., em.Sc.(a), Lnk., Kcb., s.Sc. 1971). Ags. 1887  A. D. Willock Rosetty Ends 129:
There was a deal o' speak aboot a burglary in Gowdiehowe.
m.Lth. 1897  P. H. Hunter J. Armiger xi.:
I thocht ye wad a' ken what I mean It's been makin' plenty o' speak, onyway.
m.Sc. 1927  J. Buchan Witch Wood xiv.:
There will be an awfu' speak in the parish.
Kcd. 1933  L. G. Gibbon Cloud Howe 90:
That sermon fair raised a speak in the toun.

5. The subject, theme or occasion of topical conversation, esp. current gossip or rumour, the talk (of a place) (Sh., ne.Sc., Ags., Per., Kcb. 1971). Sc. c.1770  Herd's MSS. (Hecht 1904) 110:
Now she's as peeck [sic] to a' the whole nation.
Ags. 1894  F. MacKenzie Cruisie Sk. 45:
Tut, man, haivers! You'll be the speak o' the parish.
m.Sc. 1920  O. Douglas Penny Plain xxiii.:
Pamela's engagement had made “a great speak” in Priorsford.
Abd. 1949  Buchan Observer (20 Dec.):
It weel may hae been a gey speak in its day.
Bnff. 1970  Banffshire Jnl. (6 Jan.) 8:
It was the ‘speak' o' the village that Maisie was afa' dirty, and the house wasna' much better.

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"Speak v., n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 13 Dec 2018 <>



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