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

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First published 2000 (DOST Vol. VIII).

S(c)hell, n. Also: schel, schele, schelle, chel(l; shall; scheill. [ME and e.m.E. schelle (Manning), shel (1387–8), OE sciell, scill (Angl. scell); sc(e)alu peel, rind, egg-shell, pod, etc. MLG, MDu schelle, OTeut. *skaljō.]

I. 1. The hard, freq. calcareous, outside covering of certain invertebrates; the shell of a mollusc or crustacean; a sea-shell.Also, defined by the name of a particular species, see Clamschell n., Cokkil(l)schell n., Oyster-schell n., Mussil(l n. attrib. and Scalop n. a1400 Leg. S. xxix 518.
Ȝet wes lewit hym [sc. Job] a schele To schrape his scabbis rycht snel
Ib. xxxvii 308.
& vndir hyme [sal] be nocht ellis To ly apone bot brokine schellis
1460 Hay Alex. 6536.
He … has na dantye of na warldis gude Na settis nocht by the gold mare na the schellis
1494 Loutfut MS 32a.
Thir fische that beris the margaritis has a vaik and soft schell
Ib. 34b.
Limache of the sey quhilk is … within a schell of the fassoun of the limacon and is nwrist tharin without removing
a1568 Scott v 33.
Lapstaris, lempettis, mussillis in schellis
1595 Duncan App. Etym.
Testa, a shell or layme potte
1596 Dalr. I 62/4.
Euerie foul conueining to the gretnes of the schel
a1688 Wallace Orkney (1700) 39.]
[As to their land shells, I cannot so well describe. … Since there are no rivers, there can no river-shells be expected here; … And of the sea-shells I found the [etc.]

b. specif. A scallop-shell.Allusively, with reference to the fact that pilgrims who had visited the shrine of St. James at Compostella wore a scallop-shell. 15.. Sym & Bruder 25.
Sanct James schellis on the tother syd sleuis As pretty as ony pertane
Ib. 41.

c. specif. The shell of a snail. Also attrib. in shall snail. c1420 Wynt. I 821.
In to the Yndys Se … Snaylys gret ar fundyn ay, And men thare makys of thare schelle Lugyngys
c1515 Asl. MS I 160/15.
Thair is snalis als mekle that men may be herberijt in thair schellis
1513 Doug. xiii iv 80.
The snaill, Schakand hir coppit schell
a1538 Abell 6a.
He fand the schell of ane deid snaill of the quhilk he drew the synonis to his eir
attrib. 16.. Nat. Lib. MS 22.2.11, 4th last p.
[A receat to strenthen sennens.] Then putt in, 12 blak snalles and 12 shall snailes and let all boyll … and then strain it through a plading cloath and anoint that pairt of the body that is diseased, as said is morning and evening and putt a litle brandevyne among that portion ȝe are to make present use of

2. A shell, or a representation of one, used as a target. b. fig. The female pudendum, viewed as the target of sexual desire.Chiefly in the phr. to schute at (the) schell. 1497 Treas. Acc. I 360.
To the king, to schut at the schell xvj d.
1508 Ib. IV 119.
To the king quhilk he tynt schutand at the schell with Schir William Murray and Schir Duncane Cambell
b. c1500-c1512 Dunb. (OUP) 193/13.
He that hes … Ane plesand prop, … And schuttis syne at ane uncow schell, … He wirkis sorrow to him sell
1536 Lynd. Answ. Flyting 37.
Thocht ȝe rin rudelie, lyke ane restles ram, Schutand ȝour bolt at mony sindrie schellis
Ib. 45.
Tholand ȝow rin schutand frome schell to schell
a1568 Balnaves Bann. MS 139a/58.
Few honour wynnis … For schutting at the schellis Out of thair schynnis the substance rynnis
a1568 Bann. MS 256b/26.
The man I call vnnaturall … That hes bot small stufe corporal syne schutis at that schell Quhen principall and materiall & natur is expell

3. ? A pebble or cobblestone or ? a representation of a shell in some sort of decorative work.[Cf. North. Eng. dial. shilla a pebble, shingle.] 1460 Hay Alex. 614.
Quhair Busefall the cursour inclusit was … With schillis gret oure-braudit was the flure; He fra the stane that he mycht ly on loft Thik strinklit with the gloy he lay dry and soft

4. Calcareous shells regarded as a source of lime.Also comb. in shell-lym, Lime n. 2.(a) 1530 M. Works Acc. (ed.) I 55.
For the furnissing and gaddering of schellis to the aislaris laying the hale somer sessone
1560–1 Edinb. Old Acc. II 129.
jc small schellis for the mynȝellis
1640 Thanes of Cawdor 299.
For schellis to be lyme to the hous of Calder
a1688 Wallace Orkney (1700) 46.
Those shells burn'd … makes a very fair lime, and does very well in plaister
(b) 1556–7 Edinb. Old Acc. I 218.
x burding of sklatis and scheillis
1628 M. Works Acc. (ed.) II 212.
For ane puncheoun of scheillis xii s.
(c) 1639 Thanes of Cawdor 284.
To burn the chelis in lyme

5. The hard outer shell of a bird's egg. a1500 Colk. Sow iii 128.
Sum of this stoir this Cokkelby did sell Sum auld sum ȝung sum eggis in the schell

6. = Nut-schel(l n. a1500 Henr. Fab. 15.
The nuttis schell … Haldis the kirnell, sueit and delectabill

II. 7. A large and relatively shallow metal vessel, semi-circular in shape or circular at the rim and tapering to a smaller base; a vat or tank used in the process of salt-making or brewing.(1) 1505 Exch. R. XII 673.
j brow caldron, x gallonis, ane schell of a caldron of copyr of xiiij gallonis
1519 Reg. Episc. Aberd. II 177.
The breuhous witht … ane schel of ane leid … ij breuing caldrovnis
1556 Dundee B. Ct. III fol. 63 (1 Aug.).
Jhon Strathachine litstare grantis hym to have sald to James Ogulvy ane schell of ane coppir leid for the some of xij liis. x s.
(2) 1589 Edinb. Test. XXI 125.
Ane schell of ane salt pan price thairof iijc lib.
1594 Ib. XXVI 331b.
Ane schell of ane salt pan price thairof ic xxxiij li. vj s. viij d.
1674 Culross II 165.
Ane exact accompt and list of the haill girdles and shells that shall be weekly made

b. ? A bowl-shaped container or vessel.Quot. 1522 may belong elsewhere. 1522 Dunferm. B. Rec. I 209.
Ane bakbred, ane girdill, ane sif, ane bakyn claitht, ane schil
1542 Rec. Univ. Aberd. 574.
Granarium … Ane schele and ane straik

8. A scale, or pan, of a weighing instrument. = Scale n.1 1 a. 1561 Dumfries B. Ct. 19a.
Ane pair of ballance with ane irne balk with brasing schell
1573 Aberd. B. Rec. II 10.
A pair of schellis to wy madder
1573 Edinb. Test. II 335.
Ane pair weyis with the schellis
1577 Ib. V 352.
Tua schellis of ballandis
1621 J. Bell Acc. Bk. in Glasgow Herald (1864) 25 June.
2 pair schells at 2 sh. peice
1621 Edinb. Test. LI 76.
Ane pair of schellis with ane steill balk price therof [£5 13 s. 4 d.]
1637 Rutherford Lett. (1894) 520.
Our Lord … hath all you the nobles lying in the shell of His balance
1643 Glasg. Univ. Mun. III 534. 1649 Edinb. Test. LXIV 230.
Ane pair of meikill bras chells, ane great balk
1657 Melrose Reg. Rec. I 167.
An Flanders balke and ane paire of schells
1658 Brechin Test. VI 163b. 1685 Soc. Ant. LVIII 354.
A box with shells & weights for weighing of gold

9. A rounded metal cap or helmet worn under a fabric covering, or as part of a protective bonnet.For further examples see Knapscall n. b (2). 1563–4 Prot. Bk. Thomas Johnsoun 138.
Ane schell of ane bonet of stele
1575–6 Dumfries B. Ct. 20 Jan.
Ane schell of ane steilbonat price ix s.
1582–3 Perth B. Ct. 1 March.
Ane knapskaill bonnett with the schell
1585 Prot. Bk. G. Fyiff 39.
Ane schell of ane knapska

III. 10. As a type of roundness. Cf. various of the prec. senses. a1500 Henr. Fab. 2395 (Ch.).
Now se ȝe not the caboik weill ȝour sell Quhyte as ane neip and round als as ane schell?

11. ? The ribs collectively, or skeleton, of a ship. 1540 Acta Conc. & Sess. MS XIV 152.
He … can get nane of the grayth … except the how and schell of the samyn

12. Appar. the rounded part of the forehead. a1598 Ferg. Prov. MS No. 881.
Ise' gar yow sweat at the shill of the forret
1650 Dunlop P. II 94.
The said Margaret … cursed … him … and threatend that shoe should garr him sweet at the shill of the forret

13. A piece, or fragment, of something broken. 1560 Rolland Seven S. 1776.
The falcon … russillit & rang hir bellis, Almaist scho had al schakin thame in schellis
a1598 Ferg. Prov. No. 727.
Quhair the pig breaks, let the shells [Carmichael Prov. No. 1285 schairds] ly

14. A scale of a dragon. = Scale n.2 1. 1581-1623 James VI Poems I 151/356.
Beginning uith his handis no handis but strongest turkes ellis Most boldly uraithfull for to smoare The draigon bearing schellis

15. Oringe shell, ? a piece of candied orange peel. 1678 Stirling Common Good 128.
8 pund weight of cordeciderin & confected oringe shells at 40 s. per pund
1679 Ib. 129b.

16. ? Some part of a pulley. But see the note to S(c)held n. 6 b. 1563 Dumfries B. Ct. 236b.
Smithis … The making of ane schell to ane cruk the price iiij d.
1638–9 Aberd. Shore Wk. Acc. 238.
To James Smith hammer[man] for making new schells to tua pair auld haiks to the cran

IV. 17. attrib. Made of shell, here ? tortoise-shell; ? shell-shaped. = Schellit adj. 1643 Edinb. Test. LX 234b.
Ane schell combe pryce thairof xxx s.
1626 Edinb. Test. LIII 225.
Ane schell daiger pryce xl s.

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"Shell n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 14 Aug 2022 <>



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