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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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

FLAFF, v., n. Also flaf, flauf(f): floff (Uls.), ¶flowff. [n.Sc. flɑf, m.Sc. flǫf]

I. v. 1. intr. To flap, flutter: to wave; to palpitate. Gen.Sc. Also in n.Eng. dial.Edb. 1773 R. Fergusson Poems (1925) 64:
Their duds in targets flaff upo' their back.
Ayr. 1787 Burns Addr. Beelzebub 45–47:
An' if the wives an' dirty brats . . . Flaffin wi' duds an' grey wi' beas.
Ags. 1815 G. Beattie Poems (1882) 204:
The watchfu' mate [lapwing] flaff'd i' the gale Wi' eerie screech and plaintive wail.
Bwk. 1862 J. G. Smith Old Churchyard 51:
She was a sair forfochten beastie, Wi' lang lean snout and flaffin' breastie.
Abd. 1900 C. Murray Hamewith 27:
There noo, the ill bird's flaffin' on the very riggin' stane.
Rxb. 1925 E. C. Smith Mang Howes 15:
Eis baird, wheite as the drieen snaw, flaffin i the wund.
Ags. 1988 Raymond Vettese The Richt Noise 37:
I mean the richt
dauntin tattie-bogle
wi the fairmer's filshens
flafft i the wun ...

Hence (1) flaffer, that which flaps or flutters: (a) a bird's wing. Rare; †(b) a young duck before its quill-feathers have grown. Cf. Eng. dial. flapper, id; (c) a pound note (Slk.1 1929; ne.Sc., Ags., Fif. 1951); (2) ppl.adj. flaffing, flighty, frivolous; (3) vbl.n. flaffin(g), (a) fluttering, palpitation (Sh.10, Bnff.2, Fif.10 1945); (b) “a flake of whatever kind, any very light body” (Fif. 1825 Jam.), fluff; a snowflake (Fif.17 1951); a thin fall of snow (Per. 1950).(1) (a) Abd. 1871 J. Milne Songs 110:
The birds had their flaffers, the ships had their sails.
(b) Sc. 1844 H. Stephens Bk. Farm II. 718:
In this state wild ducklings, under the name of flaffers, make good sport.
(c) Slg. 1862 D. Taylor Poems 42:
Just seven flaffers i' the year.
Lnk. 1883 A. R. Fisher Poems 94:
'Twas said Tam had flaffers to spare.
Gsw. 1904 “H. Foulis” Erchie xxii.:
He . . . put his hand in his pooch to feel his money. “Mind I have only the three flaffers and a half, Erchie,” says he.
(2) Dmf. 1834 Carlyle Letters (ed. Norton) II. 245:
I hope she will be a small acquisition to Jane, who has little sympathy with the flaffing ways of the Cockney women.
(3) (a) Edb. 1828 D. M. Moir Mansie Wauch (1839) xii.:
A severe shaking of the knees and a flaffing at the heart.
Fif. 1864 W. D. Latto T. Bodkin ix.:
When the flaffins come ower my heart, I'm sometimes like to despair o' seein' through this winter.
(b) Fif. 1825 Jam. MS. Poem:
O! War but you, and a' your brood Set skimmin' in a broken boat, An' twenty miles to row, Whar flaffins sma' wad dreichly float.
Fif. 1916 G. Blaik Rustic Rhymes 39:
Some flaffins o' snaw jist noos an' nans fa'in.

2. Of light: to flicker, gleam intermittently.Fif. 1841 C. Gray Lays 194:
Her merry dancers, shifting, streaming From pole to zenith — flaffing, gleaming.
Kcb. 1912 A. Anderson Later Poems 38:
Just as that licht gaed flauffin' by.

3. Of the wind: to blow in gusts (n.Sc. 1825 Jam.; Sh., Ags., Fif. 1950). Vbl.n. flaffin, a gust. Also fig.Abd. 1804 W. Tarras Poems 6:
Lat hail or drift on lums, or winnocks flaff.
Bch. 1861 J. Davidson Poems 40:
An' syne fan he [the wind] wad oxter you, An' flaf, an' howl, an' rair.
Edb. 1915 T. W. Paterson Auld Saws 123:
He'll fling ye a flaffin o' speeches galore.

4. Of gunpowder: to go off with a puff, to explode. Sometimes with aff. Also tr. to fire powder (Sc. 1825 Jam.).Fif. 1823 W. Tennant Card. Beaton 28:
The Bishops and their gang, that stood glowrin', and gapin', and gawfin', as the powther flaffed aff.

5. tr. To cause to flap or flutter (Gen.Sc.); to fan (a flame or fire) (Uls. c.1920 J. Logan Uls. in X-Rays 74; Fif. 1951). Also fig. With out, to beat out, extinguish (a flame).Dmf. 1808 J. Mayne Siller Gun 55:
And Love in youthfu' breasts was flaffing A mutual flame.
Fif. 1827 W. Tennant Papistry 5:
Thou . . . flaff't thy wings, and in a crack Flew frae th' unsicker stance!
Ayr. 1882 J. Hyslop Dream of a Masque 127:
Till auld Time's wing flaff'd out the flame.
Lnk. 1887 A. Wardrop Mid-Cauther Fair 124:
[The lintie] still flaffs his wings, an' loups an' sings.
Abd. 1920 G. P. Dunbar Peat Reek 16:
Syne flaff't the aul' smiddy richt up in a lowe.

II. n. 1. A flapping or fluttering movement (Gen.Sc.); a light blow with something flat, a flick (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 47; Bnff.2, Abd.9 1942); a slap, a slam.Sc. 1827 Wilson Noctes Amb. (1855) I. 277:
The snaw was getting dour at them, and giein them sair flaffs and dads on their faces.
Sc. 1844 in Sc. Songs (ed. Whitelaw) 403:
The craw put up his sooty head, And gied a flaf wi' his rousty wings.
Sc. 1846 J. Grant Romance of War I. xiv.:
The howlet gied me a flaff wi' its wing.
Edb. c.1875 J. Smith Hum. Sc. Stories 10:
She made the bowster spin owre my head wi' a flaff that made me stagger.
Ayr. 1887 J. Service Dr Duguid 43:
He took me a flowff i' the haffet with his loof.
Kcb. 1895 Crockett Bog-Myrtle 202:
Taking the door after her as far as it would go with a flaff.

2. A gust or puff (of wind). Gen.Sc. Also fig. a brief moment, an instant.Slg. 1805 W. Towers Poems 54:
Then I felt a flaf o' wind, It smote me on the face.
Bwk. 1827 R. Chambers Picture of Scotland I. 60:
A flaff of darkness, as he described it, came across him, and for a moment obscured his vision.
Sc. 1834 Wilson Noctes Amb. (1855) IV. 63:
Thinkna ye, gin if I ever, for a flaff, . . . forgot my ain cosy bield.
Abd. 1836 J. Grant Tales of the Glens 64:
It was only the skirl o' the wind, man — a flaff o' the blast amang the auld trees i' the crook o' the water.
Kcb. 1894 Crockett Raiders xxxvi.:
Lochnaw may scart his fit, his act is but a flaf o' wind.
Per. 1898 C. Spence Poems 165:
Five years hae gane, aye, every flaff o't.
Arg. 1912 N. Munro Ayrshire Idylls (1935) 273:
A little flaff of purging wind came out of the west and a few small drops of rain.

3. Fig.: Something light, fluffy, unsubstantial. Also applied to persons, a fop, a vain empty-headed person (Cld. 1825 Jam.).Lnk. 1853 W. Watson Poems 20:
Nor see the self-important flaff Wi' “yes, auld Watty's fa'in aff.”
Gsw. 1904 “H. Foulis” Erchie iii.:
I ken their dinners . . . a game croquette that's jist a flaff o' windy paste.

4. A flash (of lightning) (Uls. 1880 Patterson Gl., lichenin flaff).Dmf. 1836 A. Cunningham Lord Roldan I. iv.:
He's like a flaff of fire with thunder at the back on't.
Per. 1881 R. Ford Sc. Readings 43:
Afore I had time to speak again she was round the corner like a flaff o' lichtnin'.

5. Used adv. = with a sudden fluttering movement (Bnff.2, Abd.2 1942).Ayr. a.1878 H. Ainslie Pilgrimage (1892) 325:
Whan, huff! aff she's flying, Flaff, like a flee.

[Orig. imit. O.Sc. flaf(f), to make unsteady, c.1470, to flutter, 1513, palpitate, 1591.]

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"Flaff v., n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 29 Mar 2023 <>



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