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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1952 (SND Vol. III).
This entry has not been updated but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

DRIFT, n. and v. Sc. usages.

I. n.

1. A drove, flock, herd (Ayr. 1808 Jam.; Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 185). Also in Eng. dial. Also used fig.Sc. c.1775 Hobie Noble in Ballads (ed. Child) No. 189, x.:
And Anton Shiel, he loves not me, For I gat twa drifts of his sheep.
Sc. 1816 Scott in Lockhart Scott (1837) IV. i.:
Think of carrying off a drift of my neighbour's sheep, or half-a-dozen of his milk cows.
Abd. after 1768 A. Ross Fortunate Shepherd (S.T.S.) l.1162:
A' his beasts yeed wi' him in a drift.
wm.Sc. 1835–37 Laird of Logan I. 59:
You may be sure that the ministers hae a drift o' their ain to drive.
Arg. 1701 Arg. Justiciary Records (Stair Soc.) I. 194:
Ane large black mear with ane foal . . . with other three pieces of horses making up drift of the whole.
Ayr. 1786 Burns Halloween iv.:
Poor hav'rel Will fell aff the drift, An' wander'd thro' the Bow-kail.

Comb.: drift-lock, “a tuft of wool on the head of a sheep's tail” (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.).

2. Falling snow driven by the wind. Gen.Sc. Also in n.Eng. dial. In phr. like drift = with speed, hastily. For comb. blin'-drift, see Blin', v.2, n., adj.Sc. 1718 Ramsay Chr. Kirk iii. i. in Poems (1721):
. . . the Lads frae Hand Bang'd to their Breeks like Drift, Be Break of Day.
Abd. 1871 W. Alexander Johnny Gibb xviii.:
Shoo'ers o' drift an' hail scoorin' across the countra.
Abd.13 1910:
“He winna sell's hen in a rainy day, nor yet his dog in drift.” Said of a person who is greedy and hard at making a bargain.
Fif. 1806 A. Douglas Poems 54:
Wha can bide his surly blenter, Blindin' drift an' rattlin' hail.
Edb. 1772 R. Fergusson Poems (1925) 9:
Whan Winter, 'midst his nipping train. . . . Sends drift owr a' his bleak domain.
Ayr. 1788 Burns Up in the Morning Early i.:
Cauld blaws the wind frae east to west, The drift is driving sairly.

Hence drifty (Abd. 1825 Jam.2).Sc. 1729 T. Boston Memoirs (1852) 381:
That drifty day stopt a burial appointed to have been upon it, at Kirkhope: so that the corpse behoved to be kept another day.
Mry. 1806 J. Cock Simple Strains 106:
Ae drifty night, 'bout Crowdy time, Deep lay the driven sna'.
Ayr. 1786 Burns Winter Night viii.:
While through the ragged roof and chinky wall, Chill, o'er his slumbers piles the drifty heap!
Rxb. 1918 Kelso Chron. (15 Feb.) 4/1:
The lee sides of the woods would be simply perfect bields on a drifty day.
Slk. 1829 Hogg Shepherd's Cal. II. ix.:
The most dismal storm . . . on record is the Thirteen Drifty Days.

3. A set of fishing-nets, suspended from a cable and allowed to drift with the tide.Sc. 1829 H. Miller Schools (1860) 213:
But though they played beside our buoys by thousands, not a herring swam so low as the upper baulk of our drift.
Sc. 1864 J. M. Mitchell The Herring 93:
Where the nets are not anchored, and the boat attached to one end of the whole . . . they are termed a drift.

Combs.: drift fish, -fisher, -herring.Sc. 1864 Gsw. Daily Herald (24 Sept.):
I have sold drift fish for 12s., and on the same day both drift herring and trawled herring would be selling for 8s.
I was a trawler when trawling was permitted, and a drift fisher as well.

4. A bouncing gait.Sh. 1901 T. P. Ollason Mareel 10:
“Behowlds doo da drift 'at's apon 'er [woman]. What düs hit pit dee amind o'?” “I don't know . . . unless hit bes a lemonade bottle bobbin' aboot atil a jap o' watter.”

II. v.

1. tr. To allow (something) to pass gently (through something), to sift.Sc. 1897 “L. Keith” Bonnie Lady 87:
Before he had taken a dozen turns at the [porridge] pot, she had the spurtel out of his hand and was drifting the meal between her own white fingers.

2. intr. To move rapidly.Kcb.10 1940:
That new powny o' Sam's can drift.

[O.Sc. has drift, a drove or herd, c.1470–80, driving snow, 1569. The v. is not found.]

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"Drift n., v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 8 Feb 2023 <>



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