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A Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue (up to 1700)

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First published 2001 (DOST Vol. X).

Thef(e, Theif(e, Thief, n. Also: theiff(e, theyf(f, theef(f, theaf(f, thieffe, theff(e, teif, tyif, theve. Pl. thefis, theiffis, -es, theifs, theyffis, theffi(i)s, thevis, -es, -ys, thewis, -ys, theives, theiwes, thieves, theeves, theavis, thevvis, thavis. Possess. thefis, theif(i)s, theiffis, -es, theiffues, thiefes, thiffis, thevis, theivis, -es, theev(e)s. [ME and e.m.E. þief (c1200), ðef (c1250), þeef (a1300), theif, thif, thefe, þeof (all Cursor M.), theff (c1420), OE þíof, þéof, ON þiófr.]

1. One who steals, a thief or robber. Also proverb. and fig.Also in place names.Cf. Kittie-theif n. 1147–60 Liber Calchou 78.
1493 Reg. Episc. Aberd. I 332.
Ad pontem qui wlgariter dicitur Theuisbrig
1501–2 Acta Conc. III 159.
The tothir croft liand … on the west syde of the theiffis brig
1604–5 Misc. Spald. C. V 77.
To William Findlay, calsey maker, to help to repair the theiwes brigis
(a) a1400 Leg. S. xii 246.
Cryste gef it hyme ay in ȝemsele, Tho he wes thefe & ay wald steyle
a1400 Leg. S. xl 451.
A bule … As kepare of the catel, One the maister thef ruschit
c1420 Wynt. v 1630.
14.. Acts I 376/2.
Giff a theff brek in a hous or vndermynis it wyth delfyng
1456 Hay I 154/34.
And I defend me sa agayne that thef that I dyng him wele, and takis fra him it that he wald have tane fra me, bathe hors and othir gere
a1605 Montg. Flyt. 74 (H).
Syne hyd them in a how, starke theife, quhen thou staw them
(b) 1375 Barb. vi 470 (C).
To hunt hym out of the land With hund and horn, rycht as he were A … theif [E. theyff]
?1438 Alex. ii 4523.
The wyffis cryit, ‘Assailȝe the theif!'
14.. Acts I 53/2.
Of everilk theyff throu al Scotland … the weregilt is xxxiiij ky and ane halffe
c1450 Cr. Deyng (STS) 106.
He gaif … mercy and grace … to the theif that hang besyd hyme one the cros
c1460 Consail Vys Man 324.
Quhai dois nocht [sc. hand over lost property] … Be law a theif may callyt bee
1460 Hay Alex. 2255.
c1475 Wall. ii 392.
I trow thow be sum spy; Or ellis a theyff, fra presens wald thé hid
1491 Treas. Acc. I 180.
The hangman of Edinburgh to cum to Lythqow to hang a theyf of Levin
c1500-c1512 Dunb. Flyt. 176.
Lyk to ane stark theif glowrand in ane tedder
c1500-c1512 Dunb. (OUP) 108/32.
1540 Lynd. Sat. 672 (Ch.).
[Dissait:] For Katie vnsell was my mother, And common theif my father-brother
c1575 Balfour Pract. 525.
Quhasoever apprehendis ane theif committand thift … he sould raise the cry … and mak the king's baillie to be certifyit thairof
a1578 Pitsc. I 66/10.
To theif and reiver he was ane sicker targe
1588–9 Prot. Bk. J. Inglis 24 Jan.
The theiftwos steling & away taking of Patrik Stewardis guddis … be Willem Stene, quha wes apprehendit as theiffe thairof
1590 Crim. Trials I ii 208.
Thow art indytit for ane commoun theif
1661 Black Sc. Witches 40.
I was ewer sure that he wold goe that gett and mak a theiffues end
(c) 1678 Mackenzie Laws & C. i xx 1 (1678) 211.
1680 Bonckle Kirk S. 58.
Adam Boge [said] … that shee lied … shee having called him a thief … Isobel Robertson … confessed that shee had in her anger called him a theif, without any ground
(d) 1456 Hay I 150/29.
c1520-c1535 Nisbet Matth. xxvi 55.
c1520-c1535 Nisbet John x 1.
Theef [P. theef]
(e) 1558-66 Knox I 199.
As the theaf abydis the tryall of the inqueist
(f) 1525 Wigtown B. Ct. 229b.
Fore the vrangus calleyne hyre ane teif
1531 Wigtown B. Ct. 258a.
pl. 1375 Barb. vii 291.
Thewis [C. thevis]
c1420 Wynt. vii 765.
This Henry … Ordanyd thewys [W. theiffis] for to be … Hangyd apon a galow tre
c1460 Consail Vys Man 295, 297.
For stelaris only thevis are nocht, Bot als at wald stell and thai mocht; Thus is man theif als weil … For his dissir as for his deid
1513 Rentale Dunkeld. (SHS) 184.
Watching the stable in Clony against thieves for 5 nights, 2 s. 9 d.
1516 Reg. Privy S. I 412/2.
To ras and assemblie thame als of[t] as neid beis for resisting and develling of theves, rebellis and tratouris
1553 Treas. Acc. X 190.
To charge the Maister of Maxwell to tak tua commoun thevis, and to put them to the knawlage of ane assis
1569-73 Bann. Memor. 112.
They [sc. the watch] of the stiple meiting with the croseguard … cryed ‘Lay upon the theives!’ And the vtheris said ‘Get the traitouris!’
a1578 Pitsc. I 25/6.
He maintenit a gret companye of thewis … and wald bring thame … in the kingis sicht to lat him vnderstand his michtie power
c1590 Fowler I 266/8.
Who … moves more teares then theeues who murnns on crux
c1590 Fowler II 51/3.
Quhairfoir suld they [sc. Protestant ministers] be reput as theauis and halden as reuars?
1613–14 Misc. Spald. C. V 94.
For mending the hoill in the thack … that the theves brak
1624 Edinb. B. Rec. VI 250.
A nomber of the counterfute theives and lymbers callit Egiptianes
1611-57 Mure Spirituall Hymne 162.
Thy soule commending to Thy syre, While twixt two theeues Thou didst expire
(b) a1400 Leg. S. i 256.
a1400 Leg. S. v 417.
14.. Acts I 108/2.
Thai sal nocht distrobil the men passand forouttyn hund folowand theyffis
1558 E. Loth. Antiq. Soc. VII 57.
For towwis to theiffis
a1578 Pitsc. I 79/27.
Deliegent in punisching of murtheraris and theffiis and reveris
1600-1610 Melvill 277.
It was fund that na steirage at all was in the countrey of Papists or theiffes
proverb. a1598 Ferg. Prov. No. 759.
Speir at Jock thief my marrow, if I be a leal man
a1628 Carmichael Prov. No. 215.
A thief wald have a marrow
a1628 Carmichael Prov. No. 482.
Evil uplayes maks manie theves
a1628 Carmichael Prov. No. 1287.
Quhen theifs reakins leil men commis to their geir
fig. 1490 Irland Mir. III 71/22.
Quhow may thou cheris the wikkit thef dedly syn in thi hert mynd and curage

b. With specific reference to Border (or Highland) reivers. Chiefly 1517 Treas. Acc. V 120.
Lettrez of our soverane lordis to … charge all the thevys and brokin men out of Tweddale and Eisdaile to thair awn cuntreth
1547 Treas. Acc. IX 75.
Writtinges … to the haill barones of Gallovay and Nethisdaill [etc.] … to remane in Moffet ane moneth for stancheing of thevis
1547–8 Treas. Acc. IX 145.
To ane other futeman send to Crauffurde Jhonne to caus the artalȝere to remane thair upoun my lorde governoures passing to Wandoun upoun the thevvis
1551 Treas. Acc. X 34.
Lettres of proclamatioun to Selkirk and Roxburght chargeing the inhabitantis … to pas upoune the thevis of the Debatable ground
1553 Treas. Acc. X 208.
For ane byrnyng irne to byrn the thevis of Lyddisdale on the cheik vj s.
1570 Sempill in Sat. P. xii 23.
Be quhome, lat se, wes pirats sa opprest? Or ȝit the theiffis sa dantonit, dung, and drest?
a1578 Pitsc. II 308/20.
1578 Bk. Carlaverock II 488.
[If] the lard of Johnnestoun sall have the ane half of the escheittis of his men executit be justice … vther baronis may tak the lyke occasioun of dissobeydience, quhill they obtene the same libertie our thauis
1598 James VI Basil. Doron 78/11.
I neuer founde uith any heelande … or bordoure thefis sa great ingratitude … as … uith sum of thaime [sc. puritans]
sing. 1562-3 Winȝet I 108/7.
Think ȝe nocht that this maist barber ruidnes … wald be spittit at be a Jow or an Ethnik, ȝe be the starkast theif in Liddisdale?

2. As a term of insult or reproach, more generally: Scoundrel, rogue, villain. a1508 Kennedy Flyt. 473.
Throu Ingland, thef [B. theif], and tak thé to thy fute
1540 Lynd. Sat. 2157 (B).
With all my hairt, Fra that fals hursone to depairt, Sa that theif [sc. the souter] will consent
a1568 Scott ii 133.
‘Fy, theif, for schame!’ sayis littill Sym, ‘Will thow nocht fecht with me?’
1596 Misc. Maitl. C. I 82.
Johne Graye … callit Sir Bartilmo Simsone ane wastourfallo, commoun theve, mansworne theve and lowne
1660 S. Ronaldshay 34.
[Calling his neighbour] ane evill favored theaff
1664 Cullen Kirk S. 10 July.
They deponit that the said Helen cursed Janet Pyrie … & called her harlot theife

b. As an epithet for the Devil, or a devil or demon of Hell. 1490 Irland Mir. II 7/27.
The thevis & innemeis of hell tempand Adam and induceand him to syn
1650 Brechin Presb. 42.
Shee … confessed … that the foull theiff appeired to her in the likeness of an man
1662 Crim. Trials III 607.
And if the wind will not lye instantlie … we call wpon owr Spirit, and say to him, ‘Thieffe! Thieffe! conjure the wind’
1662 Crim. Trials III 614.
The names of owr divellis that waited upon ws ar thes … Thieffe of Hell, Wait upon hir self [etc.]

3. attrib., comb. and possess. a. In sense 1 above: Theff stelling (stollyn), theef deed, theft. Theif leider, takar, one who captures or arrests a thief or delivers him to prison. Theives holme, theifis den, a resort of thieves.attrib. or comb. 14.. Acts I 386/2.
Salbe borows in all thing for the ox outan ij cases ferand ded and theff stelling [Acts I 386/1, stollyn]
1698 Cramond Ch. Aberdour 34.
There are severall families in the paroch under a bad report of theefdeed
1698 Cramond Ch. Aberdour 35.
Theefdeed … a certificate
1535 Stewart 2955.
The theif takar suld haif the forder spald
1624 Edinb. B. Rec. VI 407.
That nicht he came to Campheir [he] was taiken be the thieffeleiders for debt
1669 Conv. Burghs III 619.
The … conservator caused first arreist … Robert Andersone … by a toun officer, and therefter … he sent the scout and a theef leader to carie him to prisone
possess. 1536 Kirkwall Chart. 10.
Totum et integrum dictum lie holme nuncupatum Theivesholme qui fuerat olim locus in quo omnes fures malefactores executi fuere
1567 Sat. P. vii 70.
The royall hous … Was maid ane bordell and ane theifis den

b. Chiefly or only in sense 2 above.attrib. or comb. c1500-c1512 Dunb. Flyt. 183.
Obey, theif baird, or I sall brek thy gaw
1540 Lynd. Sat. 2146 (B).
Theif cairle, … In faith my freindschip thou salt feill, And I thé fang
1543 Elgin Rec. I 74.
[They] callit the said Master Thomas … theif carle … and siklik vtheris iniurius vordis
1541 Aberd. B. Rec. MS XVII (Jam.).
Calling of him theiff, geytt, howris geyt, preistis kitlyne
?1565 Stirling B. Rec. I 83.
The said Cristiane wrangouslie … callit my wife theiff hure
1573-1600 Burne Disput. in Cath. Tr. 140/16.
Thou art ane obstinat stifnekkit Papist and it var almous to hang thé, fals theif knaif
1603 Shetland Sheriff Ct. (ed.) 88.
For sclandering the said Walteris wyfe ane theife hure without ony liklines or probatioun
1604 Rec. Old Aberd. I 34.
For miscalling of Thomas Kempt be callin him theif knaif
1615 Brechin Kirk S. 3 Sept.
Calling hir fals theiff harlot witch geit [etc.]
1617 Brechin Kirk S. 4 June.
For calling him theiff drunken carl
1705 Boharm Kirk S. 24 June.
Confessed that he called the said John Thomson thief and thief-faced loune and murray doge
possess. 1542 Elgin Rec. I 72.
Bessie Mores wrangit in the calling of Angnes Stone thiffis bird, lipper menis bird
1566 Inverness Rec. I 138.
Elspet and Mareoun … callit hyr commond theiffis geit
a1605 Montg. Flyt. 827 (T).
Allace! theifis face, na grace for that grunȝie
1641 Aberd. B. Rec. III 267.
Convict … for mispersoning his said maister, be calling him theiffes geit
1695 Boharm Kirk S. 18 Aug.
He called the said Williams wife thiefes guit and witches guit

c. Thefes hole. Also attrib.‘The ‘theivis hoill’ was the name often bestowed upon the most wretched apartment in a prison.' John A. Fairley in Bk. Old Edinb. C. IV 85. ‘When a freeman entered ward he was in every case entitled to be confined in a superior part of the gaol. He was not put alongside the unfreeman for whom the laich-house or poorer accommodation was reserved. The poorest part was the thieves’ hole.' Murray Early B. Organ. II 139. 1540 Lynd. Sat. 1017 (Ch.).
Wee haue gart bind him with ane poill, And send him to the theifis hoill
1553–4 Edinb. B. Rec. II 285.
For making of vij stane … of irne wark in bolts to the irne hous and theivis hoill and over tolbuith
1554–5 Edinb. B. Rec. II 294.
Ane greit lang chenȝe of irne to the thevis hoill with foure armes gangand fra it, with foure loks and bolltis
1561 (c1650) Dundee B. Laws 25.
The person that hes no geir … sall be put in the thiefes holl the space of two dayes
1604 Ayr Kirk S. in Edgar Old Church Life 311 n.
[Sabbath-breakers] ordained to be put in the thefis hoal
1606 Irons Leith II 63.
To remove presently furth of thir boundis … under the paine of sitting in the theiffis holl xxiij hours and standing in the jogis six hours
1637 Rutherford Lett. (1894) 339.
I ought to esteem the walls of the thieves' hole (if I were shut up in it) … all hung with tapestry, and most beautiful
1643 Dunferm. Ann. 310.
Being delaittit … for a witche and being detained … in the laiche thieves' hole, shoe hangit hersel
1647 Dunferm. Kirk S. 24.
Margaret Johnstone being fund guiltie of drunkness … to be put in the theeves hole
a1651 Calderwood VII 510.
To suffer their theeve's hole, or their axe
1664 Stirling Common Good 22.
For a dayes work at the over theevs holl quhen it was broken [15 s.]
1683 Bk. Old Edinb. C. VIII 142.
The magistrats … to receave & keep in suire firmance in the iron hous of the prison … the persones … now in the theifs holl
attrib. 1575–6 Lanark B. Rec. 70.
To mend the thefis holl dur cheik and windo

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"Thef n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 3 Oct 2022 <>



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