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

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First published 2002 (DOST Vol. XI).

Unabil(l, -able, adj. Also: unabile, -abyll, -abell, -eabill, -e(a)ble, unnable, unhabil(l, -habile, -habell, -hable, -haible, -hablie, wnabill, -able, -habill, onabil, -able, -habill, -hable, onnabyll. [ME and e.m.E. vn(h)able (both Wyclif), F. inhabile, L. inhabilis. Cf. MDu. onabel. Cf. also Inhable adj.]

1. Of a person or his attribute: Lacking the means or power, not able (to do) (something).(a) c1475 Wall. vii 119.
My witt vnabill is To runsik sic, for dreid I say off mys
1515 Reg. Privy S. I 397/1.
To remane at hame fra all the kingis oistis, becaus he is ageit and unhabil to travel
1533 Boece 66a.
Ane ȝong chylde vnhabill to gide the realme
1568 Buch. Indict. 35.
Ladie Reres … being corpolent and vnhabell to clyme wes lattin downe in ane belt
a1570-86 Maitl. F. 400/43.
Giff to the court thow mak repair And thow haue materis to proclame Thow art vnhabill weill to fair
1600 Conv. Burghs II 69.
c1600 Montg. Suppl. iv 11.
My toung vnabile is to paint That constant lufe that dois remane
1644 Edgar Old Church Life 193 n.
The minister and thay both knew thay war unhabill to keip the forsaid aith
1653 Dumfries Council Min. MS 27 June.
Beand wisitat with seiknes and thairfoir beand … vneabill to trewell to Cowper
(b) 1580 Douglas Chart. 279.
The said George, be the mittolatioune maid wnabill to serve the saidis nobill lord
(c) 1549 Compl. 9/12.
The quhilkis humours nocht beand degeistit, mycht be occasione to dul ther spreit, ande to mak ther body onabil to resist ydilnes
1550 Corr. M. Lorraine 323.
I find me … onabil to do your grace sic service as [etc.]
1587–8 Aberd. Council Lett. I 32.
Lyand deidlie woundit onable to recover
1587–8 Aberd. Council Lett. I 32 (see Onabil(l adj. (2)).

b. Of a thing: Lacking the capacity for (something); inadequate, insufficient (to do) (something). 1533 Boece 94a.
Cesare … leiffing the schippis maist … vnhabill for saill
1587 Acts III 488/1.
The rentis of the foirsaid college … be … vnhable to sustene the few nowmer of present maisteris and … vtheris foundit personis

2. a. Of a person: Unsuitable, incapable, incompetent; lacking the requisite ability or qualities (of, to or to do) (some role or task). b. Of a thing: Unfit, useless (for some purpose).a. (1) 1532–3 Dunferm. Reg. Ct. 89.
Gif the tenenttis … beis awin of the mallis fermys [etc.] … of termes bygayne … efter fastronsevyne nixt heyr efter that thai be reput vnthankfull and unhabill tenenttis
c1552 Lynd. Mon. 4863.
Geueand vnhable men auctorite, As quho wald mak ane steirman tyll ane barge Off ane blynd borne
1562 Bk. Univ. Kirk I 25.
There wer manie popishe preistis, unabill and of wicked life, admitted to reading at kirkis
1562-3 Winȝet I 100/24.
The electioun and admissioun of the vnqualifeit and vnable ministeris
1568 Bk. Univ. Kirk I 123.
Ane called Flecher, a reader in the kirk of Lewchars, whom Mr. Knox had found unable
1658 Stitchill Baron Ct. 15.
Ilke ane qho fee ane insufficient and unable herd to pay 5 lib.
1689 Dunlop P. III 51.
If it please God to continue our king amongst us and to deliver him from uneable and unfaithful councelors
(2) 1589 Lothian and Tweeddale Synod 5.
The presbiterie of Hadingtoun … admitting a young man to teich in the kirk … being unable of the said office of the ministrie
(3) 1456 Hay I 109/34.
The Pape … inqueris … quhethir the Emperour [be] laufully chosyn or nocht … or gif he be ane unworthy persone and unhable tharto
1528 Selkirk B. Ct. (ed.) 95.
Jhone Clerkis wyf vas fondin be devis of the communite unabyll to unlaw and vas ordinit to be put out of the toun
(4) c1550 Rolland Ct. Venus iii 172.
Of thame sum part be fluctuant. And for to be on the assyis vnabill; To the ane part thay ar our fauorabill; To the nixt part agane ouir odious
b. 1533 Boece 479b.
The grete sandis castin up be the sey the land for lauboring was maid vnabill
1592 Acts III 614/2.
Quhen thai [sc. solan geese] … ar auld and leyne, vnhable for ony manis meitt

3. a. Ineligible (to do something). b. Prohibited, forbidden (to be something).a. 1456 Hay I 263/22.
Gif a man hatis ane othir, and sais that he is manesuorne, and be that wald mak him unhable to stand in pruf na witnes
1513 Doug. vi v 162.
Wenys thou, onerdyt now, and thus onhabill [Sm. vnable, Ruddim. vnabil] Owr Stix … to fair
1641 Acts V (1817) 530/1.
His posteritie war dishabilitat and maid wnhabill to bruike and joyse the landis
1678 Mackenzie Laws & C. i xvii 10 (1699) 93.
Parliament … did very consequentially declare the succession to be begotten by such unlawful conjunctions to be unhabile to succeed as heirs to these parents
b. 1527 Selkirk B. Ct. (ed.) 91.
Alsua we ordand swyne unabyll to be haldin in nychtbourheid within the burgh without yoikis

4. Not capable of being done, impossible. 1567 Reg. Privy C. I 512.
The Quenis majestie [etc.] … considdering … how unabill it salbe to the nobilitie … alwayis to abyde and continew at court
1576 Cal. Sc. P. V 220.
[There is nothing] uneble [to good stout hearts]
1585 Misc. Spald. C. II 344.
And throw the said seiknes in that estait of weakness that it is vnabill to him to travell
1597 James VI Dæmonol. (STS) 5/8.
Hee beeing the enemie of mans salvation, vses al the meanes he can to entrappe them so farre in his snares, as it may be vnable to them thereafter … to rid themselues out of the same

b. Void, invalid. 1520 Thanes of Cawdor 134.
And gif sa beys … that the sayd Alexander brekis in ony poynt abon vryttyn to the sayd Sir Johne this endentour to be onnabyll nor geit effect

5. a. Of a person or animal: Lacking in bodily strength or vigour; disabled, incapacitated, infirm (also, in or of some organ, etc.). b. Of the body, a limb: Incapable of functioning properly through infirmity or injury.a. 1531 Selkirk B. Ct. (ed.) 117.
The inqueist fyndis that the hors that David Brydin sauld to Thome Ker vas infekit with schabe and unabyll
1558 Crim. Trials I i 404 n.
Allegis that he is seik in the gravel, and … mycht nocht ride, and is vnable of his body and guttis
1573 Grey Friars II 148.
For clayth to cleyth the puir infantis and unabill personis of the said burgh
c1575 Balfour Pract. 361.
Gif … the partie … is … of greit age … the judge sould … send his clerk … upon the expensis of him that is unhabile and seik, to pois and ressave his aith upon sic thingis as ar referrit to the samin
1583 A. Hay Nobility 37.
Dauid Drummounde … vnnable in his hearinge
1590-1 R. Bruce Serm. 30.
Sa to helpe our beleif, our weaknes, and inhabilitie that is in us, for we are sa unable be nature that we can beleeve nathing but that quhilk is of our selfis
1594 Misc. Bann. C. III 166.
To wemen, barnis, and vnable persounis he did na hurt
1596 Haddington B. Rec. (Robb) 21 July.
Hew Chepman … being agit & unhablie, & not ablie to execute his office
1612 Sutherland Bk. III 185.
In strait prisoun … quhair he wes keipit … in fetteris and irnis, quhairby he is maid vnable in his leggis and feitt
1665 Aberd. B. Rec. IV 219.
Ilk ane absent [sc. from watch duty] being able to pay fywe pund for ilk tyme, and such as are found absent wnable, to be tyed neck and heells
1676 Dunbar Social Life I 293.
I am not at this tyme able to goe the length of Edinburgh by reasone of sickness & unabilitie of body, haveing beine now sex or seven weeks wery unabell by reasone of the hard usage I mett with in Strathspey
b. a1597-1617 Hist. Jas. VI (1825) 144.
Be the eating of salt meates, thair bodeis grew unable
1618 Crim. Trials III 456.
Thre fingeris, quhilk ar nocht cut aff, bot mutilat and maid vnhable

c. Of a person or community: Impoverished, straitened. 1570 Conv. Burghs I 18.
Be the occasioun of weris and manifold troublis … within this realme … ane greitt pairt of the burrowis quhilkis … war riche and substantious are now becumin vnable and pure
1645 Edinb. Surgeons 171.
They are unhabill in meanis

6. Awkward, difficult to deal with. 1572 Sat. P. xxxi 94.
And ȝit I rid thame leaue thair tressoun … Sen Fortoun … Hes wrocht thame ane vnabill charr And blawin thame blind or thay wer warr

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"Unabil adj.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 8 Aug 2022 <>



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