Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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BACK, n.1, v., adj., prep. [bɑk Sc.; bak I.Sc., n.Sc. + ɑ; bk em.Sc. (b), wm.Sc.]

1. n. (1) The turf placed at the back of the fire, the fire being on a flat stone. Bnff.2 1932:
Rin oot t' the stack, Jess, an' get a big truff for a back to the fire.

(2) The back of a dress. Bnff. 1872 W. M. Philip It 'ill a' come Richt 32:
Jeanie “fastened Betty's back.”

(3) The outermost boards from a sawn tree. ne.Sc. Bnff.2 1932:
Sen' Tam t' the saw-mull for a led [load] o' backs for fire-wid. [Known also to Mry.2]
Ags. 1932 (per Kcb.1):
In that district [Montrose] “backs” is the only term for the first cut off a tree-trunk at the saw-mill.
Ayr. 1932 (per Kcb.1):
“Backs” is the usual term there [Dailly] for the first cut off a tree-trunk. [Found in O.Sc. See Narrative of James Nimmo 1686 (S.H.S. 1889) 88: “in buying backs at the saw miln.”]

(4) A body of followers or supporters, a backing. [Older Sc. 1566 Knox Hist. Ref., Wks. (1846) I. 89:
Without knowledge of any back or battell to follow.]
ne.Sc. 1898 W.G. in E.D.D.:
He's sure to win throuw, for he hiz a gueede back.

(5) The endorser of a bill. Nai. 1828 W. Gordon Poems 107:
He was my cautioner and back, My credit he defended.

(6) The concluding part of anything. Ags. 1924 A. Gray Any Man's Life 49:
'Twas a cauld, cauld nicht i' the back o' the year.
Gall. 1932 (per Ayr.8):
Spoken by an old farmer in Galloway, Kirkcudbright, at the death of the last of an aged couple: “That's the back o' an auld sang.”

2. v. tr.

(1) To carry on one's back. Ayr. 1892 H. Ainslie Pilgrimage, etc., and Poems 339:
In stoppin' at the steppin'-stanes I bode to back her o'er.

(2) To give a horse its first lesson in carrying a rider. Bnff.2 1932:
Dinna ride on the black colt; he's nae backit yet.

(3) To bank a fire. Abd.(D) 1905 W. Watson Glimpses o' Auld Lang Syne 182:
An “aise backetfu'” [of drush] . . . was used every morning for “backing the hearth.”
w.Dmf. 1915 J. L. Waugh Betty Grier iii.:
When Milligan the postman handed this yin in this mornin', an' when I thocht o' taxes an' sic fash, I was sairly tempted to back the fire wi' it.

(4) To address a letter. Gen.Sc. Abd.(D) 1917 C. Murray A Sough o' War (1918) 33:
For, Jock, ye winna grudge the stamp to cheer a dweeble frien', An' dinna back it “Sandy” noo, but “Sergeant” Aberdein.
Ags. 1889 J. M. Barrie W. in Thrums ix.:
He had written a letter to David Alexander, and wanted me to “back” it.
w.Dmf. 1925 W. A. Scott Vern. of Mid-Nithsdale, Trans. Dmf. Gall. Antiq. Soc. 16:
Back, to address a letter you back it.

(5) To wager. Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B. 45:
A'll back ee echpence that [etc.].

3. adj. Late, backward, falling, behindhand. Sc. 1914 R. B. Cunninghame Graham Sc. Stories 39:
“We've had a braw back end, McKerrachar,” Borland remarked. . . . “No just sae bad . . . markets are back a wee.”
Sc. 1932 (per Slg.3):
The glass is back — i.e. the barometer is going down.
Ags. 1821 D. Shaw Humorous Songs and Poems 3:
Gin back wi' your rent they will load you wi' curses.
Ags. 1872 Kirriemuir Observer (2 Aug.) 1/3:
[Sunshine] made the craps bud forth, though they're a gey bit back by fat they were this time laist year.
Ags. 1932 (per Ags.1):
He's no very far back — He's clever.

4. prep. At the back of. Per. 1915 J. Wilson L. Strathearn 105:
Baak dhe cloas: In the entry, back from the street. [O.E. bc, n., back.]

5. Phrases and combs.: (1) At a back, at a loss. see At, prep., B. 3. Bnff.2 1932:
Come an' gie's a han', for I'm clean at a back.

(2) Back and breast. Prob. deformed in back and breast — i.e. hump-backed and chicken-breasted. Sc. 1824 Scott Redgauntlet Letter v.:
Miss Dolly MacIzzard, who is both “back and breast,” as our saying goes.

(3) Back and breested, backed and breasted. Said of one who has lost heavily at cards. Sc. 1912 (per Kcb.1):
Capt. McNeil . . . was introduced to the club and though not an habitual card player he won heavily. He was told he must come back next night to give them their revenge but said that would be difficult as his ship was being moved in dock next night and would sail the following morning. One of the company, also a Scotsman, said “But you must come. A Scotsman always goes after his money, and you have us ‘baith backed and breasted'”
Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 36–37:
In that Scottish game at cards called Lent, [Lant for lanter loo, old form of loo] which is generally played at for money, when one of the gamblers stands, that is to say, will play, and is lented, which is, outplayed by those who stood and played also; then, if this happen, and the divide too at the same time, this person is said to be — back and breested.

(4) Back an edge. Completely, entirely. Sc. early 19th cent. W. Godshaw Sc. Gloss., etc., in MS.:
Back an edge. Completely, entirely. The back and the edge being nearly the whole of some instruments. [Rare in St.Eng. N.E.D. gives it as equal to everything, through everything, through thick and thin, with a quot. in a neg. sentence from Mrs Behn 1716.]

(5) Back and face. Completely. Dmf. 1820 A. McNay Poet. Works 51:
The Smuggler's beat them back and face.

(6) Back an' fore, back and forret. Arch. or dial. in Eng. Gen.Sc.

(a) Backwards and forwards. Ags.(D) 1922 J. B. Salmond Bawbee Bowden xvi.:
When they shuved doon his feet up cam' his heid, back an' fore juist like a shogin' boat.
Lth. 1925 C. P. Slater Marget Pow 107–108:
We saw . . . leopards . . . sittin' in cages, or takin' a turn back and forret behind the railins.
Edb. 1773 R. Fergusson Sc. Poems (1925) 29:
Bar-keepers now, at outer door, Tak tent as fock gang back and fore.

(b) Of a sick person's health, or of an ordinary slightly varying condition of health: sometimes better, sometimes worse. Sh.(D) 1919 T. Manson Humours Peat Comm. II. 141:
Oh, shu's no sae bad; kind o back an fore.

(7) Backs an' forrits, at one time or another. The s termination is the adv. genitive. Lnk. 1893 J. Crawford Scotch Verses and Sangs 107:
Ilka ane blythe to tell what has happened himsel' Backs an' forrits sin' last time they cam'.

(8) Back-an-side. “Completely” (S.D.D. Add. 1911). Not known to our correspondents. Cf. (4). [O.Sc. has the phrase — e.g. Dunbar The Passioun of Christ (S.T.S.) ll. 57, 58: Agane thai tirvit [stripped] him bak and syde, Als brim [fierce] as ony baris woid [wild boars].]

(9) Back o' Bafuff. See Bafuff.

(10) Back o' beyont, — beyant. Somewhere remote and inaccessible. Sc. 1834 Wilson Noctes Amb. (1855) IV. 134:
Kick Lord Althropp to the back-o'-beyont.
Abd.(D) 1909 C. Murray Hamewith 33:
Fae the Back o' Beyont the carlie cam', He fittit it a' the wye.
Ags. 1932 (per Ags.1 and Ags.2):
Back o' beyont — far the gray mare foaled the fiddler.
Kcb.6 1914:
He comes frae the back o' beyont whar the coo calved the fiddler.
Uls. 1904 J. W. Byers in Victoria Coll. Mag. 52:
When a place . . . is out of the way and hard to reach, and altogether uninteresting, it is said to be “at the back of beyant” (beyond).

(11) Back o' my hand to. A contemptuous term for a farewell or dismissal. Sh. 1914 Angus Gl. 164:
Da back a my haand ta dee.
Cai. 1916 John o' Groat Jnl. (14 Jan.):
“'E back o' ma han' till ye” — I'll have nothing more to do with you.
Abd. 1768 A. Ross The Rock and the Wee Pickle Tow 131:
Syn on on a rock wi't, an' it taks a low, The back o' my hand to the spinning o't.
s.Arg. 1917 A. W. Blue Quay Head Tryst 92:
The back o' my hand tae that manœuvre!

(12) Back or fore. More or less in degree or amount; a little before or after a point of time. Mry.(D) 1897 J. Mackinnon Braefoot Sketches 43–44:
“Wad ye tak' a pennyworth mair. It's richt fine cheese.” “Ou, A'm nae parteeklar till a bittie back or fore.
Abd.(D) 1920 G. P. Dunbar A Guff o' Peat Reek 24:
Back or fore aboot the twal'.

(13) Back o' the fire. (See quot.) Cai. 1911 John o' Groat Jnl. (13 Jan.):
Back o' the fire. That part of a Caithness farm-kitchen which was reserved for peats, etc.

(14) On (or at the) back o'. Not long after. Obs. or dial. in Mod.Eng. Gen.Sc. Sc. 1816 Scott Antiquary xl.:
Skirling at auld sangs on the back of a loss like hers.
Ags. 1924 A. Gray Any Man's Life 48:
When it's nicht on the back o' four.
Edb. 1897 P. H. Hunter J. Armiger's Revenge xvi.:
I mind o' ae year when it started on the back o' the Martinmas term, an' we never saw the ground again till after the Borrowin' Days.
Ayr. 1822 H. Ainslie Pilgrimage 233:
Poor body, my mither died on the back o't.

(15) Ower the back. Sufficiently and more, enough and something over. Ags. 1893 “F. Mackenzie” Cruisie Sketches xiii.:
He wad be paid ower the back wi' twa shillin's i' week.

(16) Owre the back o' yin's hand. Unwillingly. Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B. 45 (s.v. Back):
“To do a favour, etc., owre the back o' yin's hand” (= unwillingly; with bad grace).

(17) To be the back of an old tradesman, etc. Spoken of one who has given up or changed his trade but can still show his skill at it; also used of an animal or thing that still has something left of its former excellence. Abd. 1825 Jam.2:
He's the back o' an auld farmer. [Known by Abd.2]
Per. 1898 G.W. in E.D.D.:
“Sma' thanks to him,” said a neighbour of a farmer, who had made a good job of mending a door, “he's the back of an auld joiner.”

(18) To come up one's back. To fit in with one's own inclination, to be one's good pleasure; to come into one's mind (to do something). Arg.2 1932:
A divna ken hoot's [what's] come up his back noo.
Kcb.6 1914:
He'll no steer a fit till it comes up his ain back.

(19) To go up one's back . To be beyond one's power. Abd. 1932 (per Abd.9):
The mole-catcher was accosted by an acquaintance: “Far hae ye been th' day, John?” “Oh, I've jist been up at the manse gairden takin' a mole 'at gie'd up the minister's back.”

(20) To take the door on one's back. To go out of the room or house, to “make oneself scarce.” Ayr. 1822 Galt Sir A. Wylie vi.:
“Ay,” said his grandmother, “tak' the door on your back, and play yoursel till me and the maister hae come to an understanding.”

(21) With or having one's back at or to the wall: hard-pressed, struggling against odds. More common in Sc. than Eng. Bwk. 1863 A. Steel Poems 192:
When my back's at the wa', O she's aye my best friend.
Slk. 1819 Hogg Jacobite Relics II. 33–34:
O wae be mang ye, Southrons, ye traitor loons a'! Ye haud him aye down, whase back's at the wa'.

[Earl Haig's famous phrase in April 1918, “with our backs to the wall,” etc., is based upon the Scottish expression. There is only one modern example for this phrase in the N.E.D. and it is from a Sc. author (Hugh Miller). It occurs also in Older Sc., Stewart Chron. Scot. II. 73 (1535).]

Back n.1, v., adj., prep.

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"Back n.1, v., adj., prep.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 12 Jun 2021 <>



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