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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1956 (SND Vol. IV). Includes material from the 1976 and 2005 supplements.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

FIFE, n.

1. The name of the eastern county of Scotland, lying between the Firths of Forth and Tay. See Kingdom. Hence (1) Fifan, adj., belonging to Fife: only in poetical use; (2) Fifer, a native of Fife, sometimes used opprobriously to denote a greedy, rather unscrupulous person. Gen.Sc. Also applied to a kind of soft, dull brown marble (Abd. 1900 E.D.D.; Bnff.2, Abd.27 1942); (3) Fifish. Fifeish, eccentric, daft, slightly deranged (Ags.17, Fif.10 1945). Hence Fifishness, n. (Lth. 1825 Jam.); (4) with aa the fauts o' Fife, having many faults, full of defects, Fife prob. being used for alliteration (Fif. 1975).(1) Edb. 1772 R. Fergusson Poems (1925) 5:
Wharefor begin a sad an' dowie strain, Or banish lilting frae the Fifan plain?
Peb. 1805 J. Nicol Poems I. 85:
How proud was I to hear my sang Sae roos'd the Fifan bards amang!
Edb. 1856 J. Ballantine Poems 191:
These distant Fifan hills behold.
(2) e.Lth. 1887 P. McNeill Blawearie 73:
He'll be awfu' cunning, for a' the Fifers are burstin' fu' o' that commodity.
Sc. 1897 Edb. Ev. Dispatch (18 Sept.):
The Fifer is quite aware that unfortunate folk who do not happen to have been born in the ancient kingdom, relieve their feelings by tacking on a long string of opprobrious epithets to his name; they call him “canny Fifer,” “pawky Fifer,” “Fifer with an eye to the main chance.”
em.Sc. 1992 Ian Rankin Strip Jack (1993) 86:
Still ... Byars was another fly Fifer, another famous son.
em.Sc. 1997 Ian Rankin Black & Blue (1999) 28:
The boss was a Fifer like Rebus, born and raised in Methil, back when the shipyard had been making boats rather than rigs for the oil industry.

Phr.: ye need a lang spoon tae sup wi a Fifer, be wary of a person from Fife.Edb. 1989:
When Ah wis a bairn, awbody tellt me, ye need a lang spoon tae sup wi a Fifer.
Sc. 1996 Scotsman 15 Jun 17:
That revolving sound you hear is my ancestors, who insisted that porridge must be made thick, with water only, lots of salt and that the way to eat it was by sloshing in alternate spoonfuls of lumpy oatmeal and thin milk from separate bowls. It wasn't so much a long spoon needed to sup with Fifers as a long spoon needed to sup by yourself.
Sc. 2001 1 Aug :
At least three are from Fife. We say you need a long spoon to sup with a Fifer. Certainly true of 2 of Burke's 4 diverting creations. The actors take his script, wring out a full measure of sharp-edged exchanges and acerbic humour.
(3) Per. c.1800 Lady Nairne Fife Laird i.:
Ye shouldna ca' the Laird daft, his bannet has a bee, He's just a wee bit Fifish, like some Fife Lairds that be.
Sc. 1822 Scott Pirate ix.:
He will be as wowf as ever his father was . . . very, very Fifish, as the east-country fisher-folk say.
Per. 1821 Farmer's Mag. (Feb.) 47:
If your correspondent F had not dated his remarks on my gate at Elgin, I should have thought him Fifeish.
(4) Sc. 1954 Bulletin (30 April) 4:
The very same play is returned from the Citizens' Theatre with aa the fauts o' Fife.

2. A move in draughts (see quot.).Sc. 1905 A. Anderson Draughts xvi.:
The “Fife” is formed by the first five moves: — 11–15, 23 19, 9–14, 22 17, 5–9. It has been so called since 1847, when Wyllie, hailing from Fifeshire, played it against Anderson.

3. In Combs.: (1) Fife bannock, a scone made of flour and oatmeal (Fif. 1951); (2) Fife-mou't, deceitful (Abd.4 1930); (3) Fife visit, a prolonged stay.(1) Fif. 1938 St Andrews Cit. (21 May):
Baking. Fife Bannock. 1[st prize]. Mrs D . . .
(3) Edb. 1828 M. & M. Corbett Tales & Leg. III. 153:
That's the best news you've told me yet, I hope that her visit will be a Fife one.

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"Fife n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 29 May 2024 <>



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