Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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WHAT, pron., adv., adj., conj., int. Also Sc. forms whate, whit (Abd. 1900 Weekly Free Press (8 Dec.); m.Sc. 1917 O. Douglas The Setons ii.; Lnk. 1926 W. Queen We're a' coortin 64; m.Sc. 1951 Scots Mag. (Jan.) 281); whut (Kcb. 1901 R. Trotter Gall. Gossip 42; Rxb. 1942 Zai; wm.Sc. 1968 G. Williams From Scenes like These v.); with glottal stop wha' (Sc. 1928 Scots Mag. (July) 250); arch. quhat (Sc. 1857 G. MacDonald Songs 32, 1923 R. A. Taylor End of Fiametta 76); and Sh. form quat (Sh. 1958 New Shetlander No. 46. 24). See Q, letter, 1. For Cai. and ne.Sc. forms see Fat, pron., and for Rs. forms see At, interrog. pron. [ʍɑt, ʍt, ʍɪt, ʍʌt; ʍɑʔ; Sh. + kwɑt]

Sc. usages:

I. pron. 1. As a relative in cases where St. Eng. now uses that. Now only dial. or in ungrammatical Eng. Per. 1883  R. Cleland Inchbracken xxxi.:
I'm but a bederal, sir, but week out an' week in, it's liker twenty shillin's, what I can mak atween that an' my tred.

2. As an interrog. placed after the verb in questions where the speaker asks for a repetition of a word which he pretends ironically to have misheard or misunderstood, as a way of indicating disbelief or disparagement, = forsooth, indeed (Ork., n., m.Sc. 1974). The stress, orig. on the pron., has been transferred to the v. Abd. 1930  :
“I worked it aa out in ten minutes.” “Did ye what?”
Ags. 1972  :
Meh brither's a sodger! Is he what! (i.e. he is nothing of the kind).

II. adv. 1. ln exclam. use followed by adjs. = Eng. how, how very . . .! (Per. 1915 Wilson L. Strathearn 92; n., m., and s.Sc. 1974). Obs. in Eng. since 16th c. Sc. 1812  W. Angus Eng. Grammar 346:
What pretty it is!
Ags. 1872  J. Kennedy Jock Craufurt 122:
What a size The waves are noo, what heigh they rise.
Sc. 1881  A. Mackie Scotticisms 13:
What quiet he is to-night!
Lth. 1914  C. Slater Marget Pow Comes Home xvi.:
She told me what fine these pies were, and where you could get them.
Ags. 1927  V. Jacob Northern Lights 5:
An' oh! what grand's the smell ye'll get Frae the neep-fields by the sea!

2. As an interrog., rare or obs. in Eng.: why; in what way, how (Bnff. 1930; Sh. 1974). Sc. 1816  Scott Antiquary xv.:
It just cam open o' free will in my hand — What could I help it?
Lnk. 1858  G. Roy Generalship 26:
“Well,” quo' John, “What more your mother than mine?”

3. As a relative, used redundantly after than, as (I., n.Sc., Ags., Per. 1974). Sc. 1818  Scott H. Midlothian xxx.:
I think I laughed heartier then than what I do now.
Abd. 1970  :
I could a deen't at ae time twice as fast as what I could dee't noo.

III. adj. 1. = Eng. which (I.Sc., Cai. 1974). Sh. 1899  J. Spence Folk-Lore 150:
“What e'e saw du yon wi'?” enquires one of the trows.
Sh. 1952  Robertson and Graham Sh. Dial. 5:
What o da twa o dem is best aff?
Abd. 1970  :
I dinna ken what bit o' me's the sairest.

2. Used interrog. with abstract nouns where Eng. uses how and the corresponding adj. Gen.Sc. Sc. 1973  :
What age are ye? What hicht is he? What wecht is it? How old are you, how tall is he, how heavy is it?

3. In exclam. use, followed in Sc. by the indef. art. when the n. is in the pl. = how many! what a lot of . . .! Gen.Sc. Edb. 1881  J. Smith Habbie and Madge 112:
What a mournin' coaches line the road.
Rxb. 1925  E. C. Smith Mang Howes 14:
What a different shapes, firrst an last, as Jethart Castle saw.
Abd. c.1950  :
‘Losh, what a houses!' (said by one person to another; they were looking at one of the new housing suburbs).

IV. conj. 1. = Eng. that, after verbs of saying or thinking used negatively, verbs of doubting, wondering or the like (Sc. 1787 J. Elphinston Propriety II. 111). Gen.Sc. Sc. 1823  C. K. Sharpe Ballad Bk. (1880) 22:
Let them never let on to my father and mother But what I'm coming hame.
Ags. 1889  Barrie W. in Thrums xv.:
I wouldna wonder but what I was lossin' my place some o' thae days.
Ayr. 1897  H. Ochiltree Out of her Shroud x.:
I wadna wonder but what ye micht.
Abd. 1970  :
I hae nae dout but what it is; I widna say but what it was him; I dinna think but what it'll be rain or nicht.

2. To the utmost that, as much, far, hard, etc., as (Sh. 1881 Williamson MSS.; I.Sc., Cai., m. and s.Sc. 1974). Obs. exc. n. dial. in Eng. Cld. 1818  Scots Mag. (Aug.) 155:
My ain bonnie grey cam by what he could fiee.
Sc. 1841  Chambers's Edb. Jnl. (Aug.) 228:
Rin what ye can rin, an' tell her to come back.
Fif. 1864  W. D. Latto T. Bodkin xxx.:
We set to wark what we could whinner to a fresh flitting match.
Lnk. 1887  A. Wardrop Mid-Cauther Fair 25:
She cried what she could cry.
Sh. 1900  Shetland News (3 Nov.):
Noo, lasses, poo what ye can.

V. In combs. and phrs.: 1. what a like, see Like, II., 1. (2) and cf. 8. below; 2. what . . . at, why. Gen.Sc.; 3. what be [ < By, prep. (3)], what about, how about . . . (adopting a certain course of action)? (I.Sc. 1974); †4. whate cat, a what-do-you-call-it, a something or another; 5. what for, ‡fore (Per. 1812 J. Ramsay Letters (S.H.S.) 303) (freq. written as one word), why, for what reason (Sc. 1825 Jam.; Per., Fif., Lth., Ayr. 1915–26 Wilson; Arg. 1936 L. McInnes S. Kintyre 24; I., m. and s.Sc. 1974). Used as a n. with def. art, = the reason, and in phrs. what for no, why not, what for that, why so?; †6. what for a . . ., what sort of a . . . (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Ork. 1974), freq. exclam. expressing disapproval or contempt. Cf. Norw. hvad for en, Ger. was für ein. Obs. exc. dial. in Eng.; 7. what ither, what else? (Ork., Cai. 1974). See Ither, III. 7.; 8. what like (freq. written as one word), of what sort, what sort of, resembling what in appearance, nature, etc. = Eng. what is . . . like?, governing a n. directly or predicatively (Sc. 1825 Jam.; Uls. 1880 Patterson Gl.). Gen.Sc. See Like, adv., 1. (2); 9. what o' clock is it?, a popular name for the dandelion, Leontodon taraxacum, so called from the children's practice of taking the seeded head of the flower and blowing on it. The number of seeds left on the flower-head were then counted to give the hour of the day (e.Lth. 1896 Garden Work (26 Feb.) 100; Ork., Cai., em.Sc. (a), Lth., Lnk. 1974); 10. what reck(s), — rack, — raiks, — rick, — traks, watreck, whytrack, (1) what of it?, what does it matter?, used as “an exclamation expressive of surprise” (Sc. 1825 Jam.); (2) used parenthetically as an adv., nevertheless, all the same, notwithstanding (Ayr. 1811 W. Aiton Agric. Ayr. 693, whatrick; Peb. c.1930). See Reck, v., n.; 11. what's like, see Like, adv., 1. (2); 12. what-side, see quot.; 13. what sin, see Whatten; 14. what way, -wey, -wy(e), (1) how, in what manner (Uls. 1880 Patterson Gl.; Ayr. 1923 Wilson D. Burns 61; n.Sc., Per., Fif., Ayr. 1974). What way are you, = how do you do (Patterson); (2) why, for what reason (Per., Fif., Lth., Ayr. 1915–26 Wilson; Arg. 1936 L. McInnes S. Kintyre 24). Gen.Sc.; 15. whistica'd [ < what is't ye ca't], what d'ye call it, what's its name (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.). used when the name cannot be recalled. 2. Lth. 1889  A. S. Swan St Veda's vi.:
Annie, bless me, what are ye fleein at?
Ags. 1972  :
What's she roarin and greetin at?
3. Rxb. 1927  E. C. Smith Braid Haaick 7:
What be taikin oor tei afore ever oo set oot?
4. Fif. 1737  Gentleman's Mag. (May) 282:
Thers a neow neows whate cat cume ute they ka keumin cens.
5. Sc. 1776  D. Hume in Caldwell Papers (M.C.) I. 40:
What for should I burn a' my wee bookies?
Ayr. 1786  Burns Reply to a Trimming Epistle ix.:
Geld you! (quo' he) an' what for no? To cut it aff — an' what for no?
Ags. 1794  “Tam Thrum” Look before ye loup 18:
Whatfor didna we assist Poland?
Sc. 1816  Scott Antiquary xxxi.:
Oh, my bairn! what for is thou lying there! and eh! what for am I left to greet for ye!
Abd. 1868  G. MacDonald R. Falconer i. xiii.:
“I dinna believe 't.” “What for that?” “'Cause I winna believe 't.”
Abd. 1879  G. MacDonald Sir Gibbie xxxiii.:
I canna see the what-for o' 't.
Kcb. 1894  Crockett Raiders xxiv.:
D'ye no jaloose what for it disna gang straight forrit?
Arg. 1911  H. Foulis Para Handy 8:
You never told us what for they called you Sunny Jum.
Rxb. 1919  Kelso Chronicle (17 Jan.) 2:
An' what for no'? What right hae thae tae belang tae the gentry — the gentry disna' feed them.
Lth. 1925  C. P. Slater Marget Pow 31:
I'll admit that they are fond of a daunder in a cementery, and what for no'?
Sc. 1955  J. Beith The Corbies 169:
If you'll tell me what for you are needing it.
6. Sc. 1703  Hist. Mr J. Welsh 5:
[He] after the Discourses, inquired of him, what for of a Man Mr Welsh was.
Sc. c.1750  Young Chevalier 97:
Elphinstone said to me of his Intimates, “What for a damned Scoundrel is that Clerk?”
Gsw. 1761  Session Papers, Adam v. Buchanan (12 Nov.) 10:
What for Questions are these asked by the Petitioner?
Ork. 1929  Marw.:
What for a boat is that coman in? What for a day this is!
8. Sc. 1719  Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) II. 214:
To speer what like a Carlie is he.
Fif. 1806  A. Douglas Poems 18:
What like is the lad I sud love?
Sc. 1822  Scott Letters (Cent. Ed.) II. 136:
I hope you will see Baron de la Motte Fouqué, as I wish to know what like he is.
Abd. 1845  G. Murray Islaford 122:
It look'd like Winter come to see What like a hizzie Spring wad be.
Sc. 1849  M. Oliphant M. Maitland xxi.:
Dear me, William Elder, what like a way is that to speak?
Per. 1881  D. Macara Crieff 207:
Most people remember what like a rural Sacrament Sunday was.
Ags. 1921  V. Jacob Bonnie Joann 5:
But what-like use is sic a show?
Sc. 1930  Scots Mag. (Oct.) 30:
What like time is this for prayers wi' a hungry man kept oot o' his ain hoose?
wm.Sc. 1934  K. R. Archer Jock Tamson's Bairns 34:
Whit-like their wives are, an' sic chit-chat.
10. (1) Sc. 1709  R. Wodrow Analecta (M.C.) I. 156:
What reck? the comfort of beliving is not suspended!
Sc. 1726  Ramsay T.-T. Misc. (1876) I. 104:
Her mill into some hole had fawn, Whatrecks, quoth she, let it be gawn.
Knr. 1813  J. Bruce The Farmer 11:
Whytrack she kens 'Twill mak' them sleekit i' the hair, An' rax their banes.
Sh. c.1815  Mouat MS. (Abbotsford):
What traks, Chouskee? A threat.
Rxb. 1847  J. Halliday Rustic Bard 164:
But yet, what reck? we downa jook, We'll staun' a dunch, nor think o' fa'in?
(2) Sc. c.1715  Hogg Jacobite Relics (1819) I. 123:
Seaforth, Kilsyth, and Auldubair, And mony mae, whatreck, again.
Ayr. 1788  Burns A Fragment ii.:
But yet, whatreck, he at Quebec Montgomery-like did fa', man.
Bwk. 1801  “Bwk. Sandie” Poems 18:
Ye ance were kind; — but yet whatreck, I'm lookit on by you Asklent this day.
Rxb. 1821  A. Scott Poems 189:
Whatreck, a' the stour cam to naething.
Lnk. a.1832  W. Watt Poems (1860) 341:
And yet, watreck, he met his fa' Frae his ain han'.
12. Sc. 1867  Jnl. Agric. 66:
The books in our school are few, for the alphabet in the form of ‘muckle A, little a,' is on the flyleaf of the Shorter Catechism, or ‘carritch,' and the youngster only turns over a new leaf to reach the ‘what-side,' as it is called, because the first lesson begins with ‘What is the chief end of man?'
14. (1) Sc. 1799  H. Mitchell Scotticisms 95:
What way did it happen?, What way will I do this?
Slk. 1827  Hogg Shep. Cal. (1874) vi.:
But what way are we hoaxed? I dinna count ony man made a fool of wha has the cash in his pocket as weel as the goods in his hand.
Cai. 1872  M. McLennan Peasant Life 232:
What way, i' the deil's name, can ony man fancy her?
Sh. 1898  J. Burgess Tang 57:
Hoo is du, boy, an what wy is your folk?
Sh. 1949  J. Gray Lowrie 35:
A'm gled ta see dee. Whit wye is doo, an' hoo cam doo sae shune?
(2) Sc. 1719  Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. 212:
[He] disna care for A how, a what Way, or a wherefore.
Fif. 1767  Session Papers, Hunter v. Robb (27 Jan.) 21:
Robert Peatie asked him, “What way?” To which Bisset answered, “Because that people said he had got money”.
Sc. 1823  Lady of Arngosk in
Child Ballads (1890) IV. 242:
What way are you here at this time?
Rxb. 1897  J. C. Dibdin Border Life 171:
But what way did he gang awa if that was aw?
Per. 1899  C. M. Stuart Sabbath Nights 61:
What way would we be terrified wi' getting answers to our prayers?
Gsw. 1902  J. J. Bell Wee Macgreegor 45:
Whit wey did ye strike puir Wullie Thomson?
Ork. 1956  C. M. Costie Benjie's Bodle 197:
Whit wey am I the last een tae hear aboot id?
Edb. 1965  J. K. Annand Sing it Aince 14:
Whit wey do ye gang there?

What pron., adv., adj., conj., interj.

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"What pron., adv., adj., conj., interj.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 16 Dec 2017 <>



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