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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.

FLY, n., v., adj. Sc. usages:

I. n. 1. The wing of a fowl; “the front or rim part of a mutch” (Ork. 1929 Marw.).Abd. a.1929:
Gie her the fly an a bit o the breist.

2. Wile, astuteness. Cf. slang adj. fly, shrewd. Cf. IV. below.Edb. 1926 A. Muir Blue Bonnet 68:
They're stronger nor me . . . but I'm thinking I've mair fly.

3. A flying visit. Sc. 1833 J. W. Carlyle Letters (28 July):
No other visitors except my mother for a fly.

II. Combs.: ‡1. fly cairt, the cart of an itinerant salesman (Abd. 1952). Hence fly-cairter, a travelling merchant (Id.); 2. fly-cup, a quick cup of tea, taken as a refresher between meals (Sc. 1911 S.D.D.). Gen.Sc. Often abbreviated to fly. Also dim. fly cuppie. Also wee fly. (fly cuppie Bnff., Abd., Ags., Dmf.; wee fly Bnff., Abd., Ayr. 2000s). Prob. orig. from the notion of a surreptitious cup at a time when tea-drinking was less common. Also of coffee; 3. fly-dragging, see quot.; 4. flying bent, see Flee, v.1, n.1, B. 2.; 5. flying custom, a duty of poultry payable to the feudal superior, from flying, i.e. on the wing, + Custom(e; 6. flying flock, — stock, do.; ¶7. flyjack, any sharp or astute person, esp. an official quick to notice evasions of regulations. Only in slang use. Used attrib. in quot.; 8. fly-net, a kind of net used for catching salmon; 9. fly-pin, the pin used in moving the shuttle in a weaver's lay (Rnf. a.1850 Crawfurd MSS. (N.L.S.) F. 70).2. Abd. 1898 J. R. Imray Sandy Todd i.:
As sune as ye can gie's oor 'fly cup' o' tay.
Abd. 1926 E. Duthie Three Short Plays 9:
A' the men folk like a fly cup.
Sc. 1953 Scotsman (23 Sept.):
Though people drank tea at other meals and even paused a moment for a “fly cup” in between, tea as an institution was for long confined to the afternoon and evening.
ne.Sc. 1992 Press and Journal 19 Dec 4:
... and maybe do away with an Ayton sandwich or two with her afternoon fly cup.
ne.Sc. 1992 Herald 26 Nov 10:
When your neighbour turns down a cup of tea on the grounds that she doesn't want to hold you back, recognise this for the start of a complex social ritual in which you absolutely must not rest until she is ensconced in your kitchen with a "wee fly" in her hand.
Abd. 1996 Sheena Blackhall Wittgenstein's Web 24:
As luck wad hae't, the cailleach hid haen the foresicht tae pack a jar of coffee an dried milk. Henry gaed ower tae the Spanish cooker tae bile a pan o watter fur a fly.
ne.Sc. 1998 Sunday Times 26 Jul :
Many come to eat. There are decent pubs alongside the harbour and a butcher who allegedly does a roaring trade in macaroni-cheese pies. Locals might settle instead for a "fly cup and a funcie piece".
Abd. 2003:
Are ye ready for yer fly?
ne.Sc. 2004 Press and Journal 23 Apr 16:
When asked why, Graeme told a colleague: "Awa an bile yer heid. Dinna bither me, a'm in the middle of ma fly cup."
ne.Sc. 2004 Aberdeen Evening Express 1 Jul 12:
"She comes to my house and takes me out - to concerts, for lunch and fly-cups, and walks in Inverurie.
3. Mry. 1965 Stat. Acc.3 146:
The Danish method of fishing a seine-net is to winch in the gear to an anchored vessel. But for the pursuit of haddock and whiting, Scottish fishermen find it more advantageous to tow the net while hauling it. A chain-driven single speed winch was sited athwartship on Danish vessels for anchor seining, but for "fly-dragging," as the Scottish method of seining came to be called, a new type had to be evolved.
5. Sc. 1707 Cushnie MSS.:
Full & compleat payment of the fewdutie and flying customs payable by him to me for his lands of Auchindore.
7. Clc. 1852 G. P. Boyd Misc. Poems 32:
It's no the puir that we've to pay, But [a] wheen proud, halfpaced, gay Flyjack inspectors.
8. Kcd. 1845 Stat. Acc.2 XI. 207:
Stake-nets and fly-nets are used on the sea-beach, and bag-nets in the inlets on the sea-coast.
Sc. 1868 Acts Parl. 31 & 32 Vict. cxxiii. 24:
Every Fishery at which Stake, Weir, or Stake Nets, Fly Nets, or Bag Nets are used.
Ags. 1982:
A 'Scum' is an outsize angling net, mounted on fly nets, to scoop the salmon out of the pockets or 'Coorts' of the fly nets.

Phr.: on the fly, on the quiet, with an element of slyness.wm.Sc. 1985 Liz Lochhead Tartuffe 2:
...our very bored maids smoke on the fly, do up each others hair into the back of their caps, peek into the offstage party, dare each other to drink some dregs on the removed sherry trays, play cards, yawn out over the audience, etc.

III. Deriv.: flyer, an ornamental part of a bridle, a horse brass.Abd. 1880 G. Webster Crim. Officer 55:
A pocket-beuk, wi' £5 in bank notes an' siller, an' a pair o' bress flyers for the taps o' horses bridles, stown.

IV. adj. Crafty, cunning; now Eng. but earlier in Sc.Gsw. 1923 Neil Munro Erchie & Jimmy Swan (1993) 311:
He looked at her with admiration. 'By jings!' he exclaimed, 'Ye're gettin' awfu' fly. There's nae pullin' o' your leg at a' the noo.'
m.Sc. 1935 George Blake The Shipbuilders (1986) 45:
Pool Number 2 had returned 54 to 1 on two home and three away results, and that, begod, was not a long shot for the man who knew his stuff. But the bookies were getting fly, cunningly limiting to those of doubtful issue the number of games a chap could choose among.
Gsw. 1969 George Friel Grace and Miss Partridge (1999) 378:
You always were a devious little prig. A fly wee bugger as your father called you. Sitting in a corner with your nose in a book but aye listening to whatever was said.
Gsw. 1984 James Kelman The Busconductor Hines 91:
The streetcleaners ... maybe stopping off for a quiet chat and a smoke when sure the coast is clear that their gaffer isnt in the vicinity to surprise them at it, the smoking, the fly wee puff for christ sake.
m.Sc. 1992 James Meek Last Orders 62:
Darren watched the oncoming faces. He was attracting those fly looks, but this was usual when being pushed by the Mother, since the sight of him was pretty severe by the standards of those that could walk, talk and shout out loud.
m.Sc. 1999 Christopher Brookmyre One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night 109:
Poor bugger. Some farm worker probably, paying a high price for a fly fag in the vicinity of several drums of agricultural chemicals ...

Phr.: fly to the game, knowing, clever, artful, having an 'eye to the main chance'.Gsw. 1962 Bill McGhee Cut and Run 64:
A girl that could get money from a Jew-boy must be fly to the game.
Gsw. 1962 Bill McGhee Cut and Run 123:
As I told you, he wasn't much of a tossing-school hand. He wasn't fly to the game. But he didn't say anything.

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"Fly n., v., adj.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 30 May 2024 <>



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