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

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First published 2001 (DOST Vol. X).
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Tail, Tale, n. Also: taill, taile, tayl(e, tayll(e, tayill, tall, teill, teyll, teal(l, taillie, tailyie, (thail). [ME and e.m.E. tail (Layamon), teil (Ancr. R.), taile (c1290), tayl (1297), tayle (Manning), taylle (1470-85), OE tæᵹel, tæᵹl, ON tagl, LG tagel.]

1. The tail of an animal or bird. Also fig., in fig. context and proverb. a1400 Leg. S. xlvii 183.
Thai bestis … faynand hir thare talis knet, & as a cheare thar-on hir gert set
?1438 Alex. ii 5093.
He saw ane poune, That with his tale maid iolely The quheill, and turnit him fetasly
c1420 Wynt. i 778.
A best thai call Manticora … Hys taylle [C. tayl] is lyk a scorpyown
c1420 Wynt. iii 237 (C).
14.. Burgh Laws c. 26 (A).
The burges sal … ger sla it & he sal ger halde the frount & the tail
c1450-2 Howlat 835 (A).
1460 Hay Alex. 507.
[A horse] with ane weill sett on taill
a1500 Henr. Fab. 2314.
On the toddis taill sworne thay ar to stand
1513 Doug. iii vi 138.
Hir hynd partis … Quharto beyn cuppillit mony meyrswyne taill
c1550 Lynd. Meldrum 405.
Ane greit otter … The quhilk was blak, with ane lang taill
1560 Rolland Seven S. 6726.
Thay war baith condampnit be the law, That officers at hors taillis suld thame draw
1596 Dalr. I 19/5.
The scheip … beir verie schorte tailis, als schorte as the tail of ane hyne
1630-1651 Gordon Geneal. Hist. 3.
All the deir that ar bred therin, … have forked taills, thrie inches long
1636 Banff Ann. I 74.
George Henrie … flescher finds caution that he sall bring na meit to the croce but skin, hyid, horne, tayills, tauche in sufficient forme, and wncuttit out betuix the schoolderis
1665–7 Lauder Jrnl. 110.
The punishment of women that beats their good men in Poictiers is that they are monted on a asse with their face to the taile
proverb. a1598 Ferg. Prov. No. 541.
I cannot finde you baith tailes [MS teals] and eares
a1598 Ferg. Prov. No. 536.
I have a sliddrie eill by the tail
a1628 Carmichael Prov. No. 1445.
The day wil com, the kw wil mister her awin taile
1667 Argyll-Lauderdale Lett. 59.
Take the goose by the taill and not by the neck

2. A part of something resembling the tail of an animal. a. The end of a grain of barley. b. One of the strips of a piece of parchment to which a seal is appended. = Tag n. Cf. 6 c below. c. A tail on a pennon. d. The tail of a comet. e. The end of a leather strap or piece of rope.a. c1420 Bute MS 119a.
The ynch salbe off lynth off thre ber cornis without the talis
14.. Acts I 309/2.
[The inch should be measured] … efter the lenth of iii bear cornis gud and chosyn but tayllis [L. sine caudis]
1624 Huntar Weights & Measures 5.
3 barlie cornes faire and round lying in length without the tailes maketh an inch
b. 14.. Quon. Attach. c. 41.
The balȝeis sal opin the bref sa sum part of the sell hing & anherd to the tall of the breff
1474 Frasers of Philorth II 236.
In vitnes … the sele of the giffare in nexte taile eftir my sele be appensit
1480 Antiq. Aberd. & B. IV 324.
In the witnyssing of the executione of your offeis heng your seil to the secund tail efter ouris
c1587 Montrose Baillie Ct.
He producis … ane auld chartour … in the taill thairof bering the ballies seill
c. 1494 Loutfut MS 121a.
His armes … in a pailȝon that is callit a pennon of armes with ii tallis And quhen thir tallis war cuttit the armes remanyt in a squar baner
d. 1600-1610 Melvill 58.
A terrible comet, the stern wharof was verie grait, and … a lang teall, in appeirance, of an eall and a halff, lyk unto a bissom or scurge maid of wands, all fyrie
e. 1617 M. Works Acc. (ed.) II 74.
For 12 quhip tawes and tua taillis to girthis
c1680 W. Row Blair 142.
Holding a tail of a tow in his hand, lest he should have been tossed to and again

3. A piece of land attached to a larger portion like a tail, also, one attached to the end of the site of a building or the lands of a community.Esp. in reference to the far end of a piece of land, or land which is lower ground. Freq. translating L. cauda.(a) 1432 Ayr B. Ct. p. 33 (15 Dec.).
That ilka man clos with in the plegw of the toun his top & his tail wnder the pain of viii Ss
1438 Ayr B. Ct. p. 62 (4 May).
1465 Ayr B. Ct. 9 Oct.
The landis … of Hectowr McGathan lyand in Are … hes na tayll forder bot to … the hows and land of the trinite of Fayll Furd
1472 Reg. Cupar A. I 162.
The twa talis of land left and made to ws be the last perambulatioun
1479 Wigtownshire Chart. 24].
[Manricus Andersoune … resigned 12 shillings of yearly rent out of his tenement … and 6 d. of the bear tail of the said tenement
1480 Liber Melros 694.
They should have a house with a tale to the Tuede
1490 Foulis Chart. (Reg. H.) 4 Dec.
The heddis of the saide vi roude to the sovth and thar talis to the north
1530 Edinb. Guild Ct. 13 June.
Thar ȝard endis and taill of thar land
1552–3 Lanark B. Rec. 22.
The yardis, barnis, and croft, lyand at the tall of the said tenement
1577 Kirkcudbr. B. Rec. I 44.
Ane tenement perteining to Johne McMorran … with fronts yairds taills and pertinentis of the samyn
1578 Rec. Earld. Orkney 354.
[Boundaries of Kirkwall tenements] on the south syid the taill of Quoybankis strakand to Scalpay
1586 Perth B. Ct. 8 April.
That land betuix the land of vmquhill Thomas Cranby on the eist the land of vmquhill Thomas Foulis … on the west the taill of the ȝearde of vmquhill James Andersone on the north
1608 Rec. Old Aberd. I 45.
For the thiftious steilling … tuelff threwis aittis furth of the taills of Auld Aberden
1609 Retours II Inq. Spec. Roxburgh (53).
Annuo redditu 10 m. de turre lie toure cum cauda lie tail ejusdem
1613 Yester Wr. 314.
That peice of land or taill annexat to that my tenement of land
1655 Peebles B. Rec. II 33.
He alwayes … repairing that pairt of the toun wall in so far as his berne, yaird and taill of land extendis within the toun wall
(b) 1611 Aberd. Sheriff Ct. II 204.
The tuelft elne croft or peciess of land of that latitud and teillis thairof lyand beyond the loche … and fra the said teillis lyand beyond the said loche haueand the riggis and teillis of [blank] upone the eist pairt [etc.]

4. The train or skirt of a woman's dress, etc.; the flowing part of a gown, cloak, etc.; the train of a robe; the tails of a coat or shirt.(a) 1457–8 Acts II 49/2.
As to thar gownys that na woman weir … talys of vnsittande lenthe nor forryt vnder bot on the haliday
c1475 Wall. vii 546.
Quhethir will yhe the byschoppys taill wpber, Or pas befor and tak his benysone
1503–4 Treas. Acc. II 224.
ij steik chamlot to be ane albenat to the king … xij elne worsait ribane to the tail of it
1525 Treas. Acc. V 253.
For crappis to lyn the said cot, and bucram to the tail thairof
1529 Treas. Acc. V 370.
Ane doublat with ane tale
c1540 Lynd. Syde Taillis 18.
Bischoppis in thare pontificallis Haue men for to beir up thare taillis, For dignite of thare office
c1570 Dumfries B. Ct.
[He] said he wald cut ane lug out of hir heid and cupill it to hir kirtill taill
1575 Dumfries B. Ct. 25 Oct.
Ane pair of blak camlett taillis conteining aucht ells
1591 Crim. Trials I ii 253.
The slewis of the serk vpoun his leggis, and the taill about his heid
1602 Tailor's Acc. Bk. A 26b.
Scottis gray clayth to be … ane pair of rydding taillis
1607 Edinb. Test. XLIII 169a.
Scho … levis to Kathrein Adam hir thik cloth taillis with bodyes and slevis thairof
1632 14th Rep. Hist. MSS App. iii 235.
Ane petticott of cramissie velvot, laid about the taill with aucht gold lace
1669 Jus Populi 31.
Domineering abjured prelats, withal their taile and traine
(b) 1558-66 Knox II 381.
All thingis myslyking the preachearis, thei spack boldlie against the tarejatting of thair [sc. women's] taillies, and against the rest of thair vanitie

5. The tail of the human body, the backside; the sexual parts of a woman. Freq. in contrast with hede or top. Also top our taill see Top n.1 1 c and to steir one's taill see Ster(e v.1 3. Also proverb.(1) a1500 Peblis to Play 73.
Ane winklot fell and hir taill vp Wow quod malkin hyd ȝow
c1508 Ch. & M. Prints iib 23.
To haue a trew wyf with a wantoun taile … accordis nought
c1500-c1512 Dunb. Tua Mar. W. 262.
Be as turtoris in your talk thought ȝe haif talis brukill
1541–2 Elgin Rec. I 69.
Allegeand the forsaid Janat and Merȝone callit hyr commownd hwir, pintill in pintill out hyr and ane horne at thair taill, freris hewir, and prestis hewir, and monkis hewir, as was giffin for dowme
1554 Duncan Laideus Test. 162.
In the nycht the loud corrinoch, … Wes at oure taill … We had the ky, and thai gat bot the glaikis
1560 Rolland Seven S. 7550.
Gif ane doctour … reprufe vice … In the same vice he is gyltie him sell … He smottis him self … And his awin taill hard on the heillis him hittis
1574 Glasgow B. Rec. I 21.
For harlyng of hir be the feit and castyng wp hir taill
1583 Cal. Sc. P. VI 499.
Gang hame & tell your king that we bid the queine wyip hir taill with thar licences
a1605 Montg. Flyt. 509 (T).
Thair taillis with the tounge of it they lyk and ruther
1649 Sc. N. & Q. IV 27.
Bessie was desired by her mother … to goe down to Magie Bells house and ask her health of her for Godsake and pouke her taile
1686 G. Stuart Joco-Ser. Disc. 72.
With his foot he kick't my tail
proverb. a1628 Carmichael Prov. No. 595.
Gif ye get my fair dochter, ye mon have hir foul taill too
a1628 Carmichael Prov. No. 621.
Hald your hands fra your taile ye may happin be som honest man
(2) 1554 Knox III 257.
Take hede that the Lorde roote thee not out bothe heade and tayle in one daye
1560 Rolland Seven S. 7888.
Now to the treis him ta. … Tak ȝe the taill, and I sall tak the top
1657 R. Moray Lett. 12/22 Oct.
When I ros I found him lying & his heid to the town and his tail formost a posture which I could not guess how he come into but by playing cowp my lundy

6. The lower, hindmost or concluding part of something. a. The stern of a ship. b. The hinder part, end or extremity of a piece of machinery, rope, etc. c. The concluding part of a word, document, etc. Cf. 2 b above. d. The tail-race of a mill.a. 1513 Doug. iii ii 123.
The followand wynd blew strek in our tail, Quhill finaly arrive we, with bent saill
a1568 Sempill in Sat. P. xlvi 13.
Draw weill the takill to hir taill Scho will nocht mis to lay ȝour mast
b. 1541 Treas. Acc. VIII 125.
At the … melting becaus of ane vent in the cuppeling of the mulde witht the tayll, the pece felȝeit
1561–2 Edinb. Old Acc. I 372.
Ane pair of bands to the clous and talis thairto
a1585 Maitland in Maitl. Q. 40/33.
Then cummis ane findis it waist lyand Ȝoikis his pleuche teillis at his awin hand
1595 Duncan App. Etym.
Buris, vel-a, the plough taile
a1598 Ferg. Prov. MS No. 1339.
That hes nather tap taill nor main
1610 Haddington B. Rec. (Robb) 10 Dec.
Archibald confessit the getting fra the said Jonet Ȝoung the taillis of ane wob of linnen & ane bit of gray
1625 Misc. Spald. C. V 223.
It sall not be leifsum to na husbandman … that sall … flit frome ane rowme to ane wther … to tak doune, transport or away tak any mair hous calit taills, bot tua taills furth of ane pleuche, ane taill aff halff ane pleuche, and ane cotter or greas man ane taill; and whosoeuer transportis any mair aff thair labouring nor the number aboun wreattin … sall pay to the laird tene punds money for ilk taill
1697 Foulis Acc. Bk. 215.
To William Bishop for a lock to the new coatchhouse … 4 tails to the cruiks [etc.]
c. 1584-9 Maxwall Commonpl. Bk. 8a.
Ane rowndall … Syne tak the secounde semicall With ane dowbill nwik of the taill of sax [sc. the letters ax]
1581-1623 James VI Poems I 71/11.
In this word Arabia … the lenth of the secound syllabe (ra) eating vp the lenth of the vther lang syllabe, [a] makes it to serue bot as a tayle to it
1622-6 Bisset I 125/15.
That, quhilk is subscryvit at the taill be ane writer to the signett
1672 Rothesay B. Rec. 235.
The said Williames resait at the taill of the letter
1689 Reg. Privy C. 3 Ser. XIII 524.
Ther is ane lyne on the taill of the said act declaireing the samen under the hand of Mr Collin McKenzie
d. 1574–5 Haddington Treas. Acc. 29.
Redding the taill of the dame and laiffing watter
1595 Edinb. B. Rec. V 145.
To caus … mak ane clowse at the taill of the sclaitt mylne

7. fig. or transf. With reference to an event, action, etc. coming after or as a conclusion to some other event, etc., the end of something. c1400 Troy-bk. i 499.
The sonne … May tak eclyps … gif it ware In the coniunctioune of the moon … Owthire in the tayle or in the hewid Ritht as the wheill about is wryde
c1400 Troy-bk. i 501.
1456 Hay I 29/35.
Efter the dede of pape Gregore thai renconfortit the cardinalis … Bot quhen thai war in the conclave thai … bostit thame [etc.] … And thus thai stangit with the taile, as the scorpioun
1513 Doug. iv iv 65.
The hevynnys … gan to rummyll and rowt. A bub of weddir followyt in the tayll
1570 Bann. Memor. 6.
Ilke guidfallow may get a lumpe of thair landis, quhilk will gar thame fight like savages [Misc. Bann. C. I 39, swyne] and uthir men willbe suire of the spange of thair taill

8. A following, a retinue. 1552 Reg. Privy C. I 134.
Charge all and sindry Bischoppis, … and Baronis … togidder with the nowmer of the men at thair taillis, that [etc.]
1565 Reg. Privy C. I 369.
Undir pretence of that plausabill argument to draw eftir thame a large tale of ignorant personis
a1578 Pitsc. II 6/11.
[He] dispatchit him againe to Scottland, and send in his taill ane ambassadour callit Mr. Saidlar

9. a. attrib. With but, ende, fork, foote, plait, post and string. Also in place-names with bog and end. 1219–33 Antiq. Aberd. & B. II 427.
Ad Thailbog
1611 Reg. Privy C. IX 711.
Archie Lytill in Potholme … Thome Lytill, called of the Tail End
1667 Melrose Reg. Rec. II 182.
Halfe ane rig in the Mains, and in the taill buts ane but
1667 Murray Early B. Organ. I 98 n.
Ane half of the yeard and tailbut
a1510 Aberd. Univ. Rev. XXXVI i 47.
Scho walde nocht lene to me For luwe the taile ende of hir e
1572 Inverness Rec. I 221.
Ane chalmer rowme within the kirk yeard, extending to thre cuppill and tuay taill forkis
1673 Peebles B. Rec. II 87.
The magistrattes … gives power to John Edmond … to build outwith his dyke betuixt the croce dyke at the taill foote at the Ludgait, als farr out as the end dyke of Patrik [Dikisones] yaird
1626 M. Works Acc. (ed.) II 190.
For making of ane new brig baksprent foir plait and taileplait for Patrik Gilcrystis durre
1630 Bamff Chart. 224.
Inwentar of Georg Ramsay his biging … ten pans with fiftie tuo keabers with ane coupell with tuo knit taill posts
1614 Soc. Ant. X 224.
The haill furnishing to the bark … for tailyie stringis to be vlyeitis and keis iij li.

b. comb. Tail dam, the tail-race of a mill; cf. 6 d above. Tail dyk, the boundary wall at the farthest or lowest part of a piece of land; cf. Hed(e)-dyk n. Tail rig, a strip of land lying at the farthest extremity of a piece of land. Also pl. Cf. Hed(e)-rig n., Ley-rig n. and Ta(i)ling-rig n. 1621 (1623) Reg. Great S. 149/1.
5 acrarum (inter lie taill-dam currentem a molendino de Tynnynghame)
1682 Peebles B. Rec. II 106.
The counsell … ordaines him to cast the taill-dam
1684 Fountainhall Decis. I 314.
The Carse-mill and its tail-dam used, by spring tides of the sea, or inundations, to be put in back-water
1705 Dumfr. & Galloway Soc. II 59.
Ane good and sufficient … water-miln … with dams, wearis, sluices, watergangs, taledams, and hail othir pertinents
1476 Ayr Friars Pr. Chart. 54.
The tenement … with four and twenty elln of lenth on the baksyde ewyn furtht fra the baksyde of his foir hous til his tail dyk
1534 Ecclesia Antiqua 305.
The said tenement of land with the pertinentis togiddir with the taile reggis, liand on the northt syd of the said burgh
1664 Irvine Mun. II 185.
List of the roll … for the toune rent and teind … Hew Cunynghame for his lands … £3 1 s. … maire be him for his tailrig 6 s. 8 d.

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"Tail n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 10 Dec 2022 <>



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