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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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About this entry:
First published 1952 (SND Vol. III). Includes material from the 1976 and 2005 supplements.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

DABBITY, n. [′dɑbɪtɪ̢]

1. (1) A chimney-piece ornament; gen. applied to small ornaments of china, knick-knacks. Now rare.Sc. 1923 J. Arnold Fleming Sc. Pottery i. 28:
On the East Coast of Scotland the fisherfolk are famous for their gallery of “wallie” dogs, lions, parrots, cats, etc. The Aberdonians call them “dabbities.”
Sc. 1995 Herald 18 Mar 5:
During the early nineteenth century the Prestonpans pottery William Cadell & Co produced a variety of finely-modelled Scottish figures - or dabbities - which included a fishwife, currently in the collection of the National Museums of Scotland.
Bch. c.1875 K. M. MacLeod in Letter (20 Feb. 1947):
He recalls his granny saying to him when he was standing near his mother's mantelpiece as a bairn: “Tak' care, Willie, an' nae brak yer mother's dabbities.”

(2) Extended to refer to small ornamentations of any kind, such as on confectionery or dress (w.Sc. c.1890 C.C. in Abd. Press and Jnl. (24 Feb. 1947)).

(3) A small round toffee.Ib.:
I can recall buying toffee blobs that were called honey or treacle dabbities.

2. “A game played with small pictures cut out of books and placed between the leaves of other books to be ‘dabbit' for with a pin on payment of a button, ‘bool,' etc.” (Ayr.4 1928); known to Gsw.1, Lnk.3 1939; one of the pictures themselves, “a transfer” (Gsw. 1936 J.C.E.).Sc. 1993 Herald 4 Mar 12:
Glasgow's reaction has been subtler. Rules of fair play and propriety are being observed. Diehard traditionalists first remove the no-smoking dabbities on top deck windows. Only then do they smoke on.
Sc. 1999 Herald 8 Feb 12:
Watching the highlights of Murrayfield and Lansdowne Road and what they had done to decorate the respective pitches I was suddenly reminded of the childhood days when I would have stolen a pram from a steamie to get my hands on "dabbities" or "transfers" as they were called by folk up wally closes.
Sc. 2000 Sun 12 Aug :
She also had a large stick-on tattoo of a dragon on her arm. Whoever dressed her should have mentioned: "Oh yes and I've stuck a big dabbity on you."
Gsw. 1894 Memorial Catal. Old Gsw. Exhibition 429:
Lotteries, popularly known as “Dabbities.” . . . These sheets contain numerous small pictures representing animals and objects of every description, which, when cut separate, were used in a lottery game played by children and known as “Dabbity,” hence the name.
Gsw. 1988 Michael Munro The Patter Another Blast 17:
dabbity A transfer, that is a design printed on glossy paper that when licked and applied to the back of a child's hand will leave an image: 'Call that a tattoo? Ah've seen better dabbities.' The word probably derives from the action of dabbing at the transfer on one's hand to make it print properly.
Gsw. 1992 Jeff Torrington Swing Hammer Swing! (1993) 56:
Here too could be bought caps for our toy pistols; kites, peeries and dabbities; clay pipes for bubble blowing;...
Gsw. 1999 Jimmy Boyle Hero of the Underworld 7:
Stormy nights are not for me, I reckoned, so from that minute on I became the keenest laxative hoarder since Joe Walsh, the champion dabbity collector.

[In sense 1. a dim. of Eng. dab, a lump, small amount (cf. s.Eng. dial. dabbit, a small quantity); however it may also be from Eng. dab, from the spots of colour dabbed on the ornaments as decoration, dabbit being from the pa.p.; in sense 2. from Dab, v.1]

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"Dabbity n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 23 Apr 2024 <>



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