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

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First published 2002 (DOST Vol. XI).
This entry has not been updated but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

Unstabil(l, -stable, adj. (adv.). Also: unstabyl, -il(l)e, wnstabill, onstabil(l, -able. Compar. unstaiblar. [ME and e.m.E. vnstable (Ancr. R.), onstable (c1290), vnstabile (Rolle), vnstabylle (Cath. Angl.); Stabil(l adj.]

A. adj. 1. a. Not fixed, constantly moving; unsteady. b. Irregular.a. a1500 Henr. Fab. 595.
Thy strenth is nocht, thy stule standis vnstabill [Bann. vnstable]
1567 G. Ball. 106.
As quheill vnstabill and caffe befoir the wind
(b) 1513 Doug. iv vii 4.
Dydo … Rollyng vmquhile hir eyn now heir now thar With syght onstabil waverand our alquhar
b. 1549 Compl. 54/5.
Venus … makkis ane onstabil reuolution in thre hundretht xlviij dais

2. Without constancy of purpose; fickle, changeable; unreliable; unpredictable.(a) a1400 Leg. S. xviii 918.
I had ofte … ȝarnige … Vnleleful … Fillit of filthe & vnstabil
a1500 Henr. Test. Cress. 235.
All fleschelie paramour … Is sum tyme sweit, sum tyme bitter and sour; Richt vnstabill, and full of variance
1501 Doug. Pal. Hon. 74.
Thy godly lore, cunning incomparabill, Dantis the sauage beistis maist vnstabill [L. vnstabyl]
c1500-c1512 Dunb. G. Targe 123.
With variand luke rycht lyke a lord unstable
c1500-c1512 Dunb. Flyt. 75.
Dissaitfull tyrand with serpentis tung unstable
c1520-c1535 Nisbet 2 Peter ii 14.
[They] has een full of adultrie, and vnceessing trespas, desaving vnstabile [W. vnstedefast, P. vnstidfast] saulis
1570 Leslie 183.
The wyld, unquiet and unstabill natour of the Irichemen duelling in the Hielandis and Ilis of Scotteland
a1570-86 Maitl. F. 423/131.
Esteim this stourt as ane wnstabill storme
1629 Boyd Last B. 372.
Sinfull pleasures which like faire ladies come with alluring propines to woo and catch the vnstable soule
(b) 1513 Doug. ii i 49.
The onstabill [Sm. vnstable, Ruddim. vnstabill] common voce [L. incertum vulgus] Diuidit was
1513 Doug. iv iii 38.
Bot I affeir me les the fatis onstabill [Sm. onstable, Ruddim. vnstabill] … consent not

3. Subject to chance or vicissitude; ever-changing, impermanent. = Instabill adj. c1420 Ratis R. 1108.
Sa is our tyme vnstable here And led with mony fanteseis sere
a1570-86 Dunb. in Maitl. F. 4/1.
I seik about this varld vnstabille [376/1 onstable] To find ane sentence conuenabille
1513 Doug. x iii 75 (Sm.).
Exhortand hym … how vnstabill [C. instabill] was all warldis chance
1535 Stewart 19345.
Fortoun … Quhilk is vnstabill as wethercok in wynd
1535 Stewart 57949.
Fals Fortoun that is so variabill Of hir fauour and eik alway wnstabill

B. adv. Unsteadily, shakily. Only compar. 1582 Misc. Stair Soc. I 120.
It is nocht grantit that as menis increscis in yeris that thai wreitt greater and unstaiblar

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"Unstabil adj.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 3 Oct 2023 <>



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