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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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

ELF-SHOT, n. Also elve shot (s.Sc. 1835–40 J. M. Wilson (ed.) Tales of the Borders III. 227).

1. The name given to a flint arrow-head on the supposition that it was used by fairies to injure cattle. “Still used in the Highlands as an amulet” (Sc. 1825 Jam.2). Also elf-shot stane, id. (Cld. 1818 Edb. Mag. (Aug.) 156).Sc. 1771 T. Pennant Tour 1769 94:
Elf-shots, i.e. the stone arrow heads of the old inhabitants of this island, are supposed to be weapons shot by Fairies at cattle, to which are attributed any disorders they have: in order to effect a cure, the cow is to be touched by an elf-shot, or made to drink the water in which one has been dipped.
Sc. 1826 Wilson Noctes Amb. (1855) I. 244:
Nae mair o' your satire-shafts, for like elf-shots they're no canny.
ne.Sc. 1881 W. Gregor Folk-Lore 59:
One sovereign guard against their power, in every form, was a stone arrow — “a fairy dairt” or “elf-shot” — which must be kept under lock and key.
Ayr. 1890 J. Service Notandums 101:
Pappin' elf-shots at their heids wi' ill words and curses forbye.

2. A disease, most commonly of cattle, thought to have been inflicted by elves or fairies. “The disease consists in an over-distention of the first stomach, from the swelling up of clover and grass, when eaten with the morning dew on it” (Sc. 1825 Jam.2; Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 198).Sc. 1768 Weekly Mag. (15 Dec.) 326:
The nature of that disease, commonly called Elf-Shot.
ne.Sc. 1844 in Sc. N. and Q. (1892) V. 178:
I've gotten an ill job this mornin' in the deth o' a fine stirk by elf-shot.
Cai. 1921 J. Mowat in Old-Lore Misc. IX. i. 18–19:
Animals were subject to three particular forms of disease, “forespoken”, “elfshot”, or “ta'en by the fairies”, and were treated accordingly. . . . The symptoms of “elf-shot” were a languid appearance, hard breathing, and disinclination to take food.

3. The Lady's mantle, Alchemilla vulgaris, “given to cattle for certain complaints said to be caused by the elves shooting at the animals” (Gall. 1905 E.D.D. Suppl.).

[O.Sc. has elf schot, = 2, from c.1500.]

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"Elf-shot n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 25 May 2024 <>



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