Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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FORSPEAK, v. Also fore-, †forespyke (ne.Sc. 1874 W. Gregor Olden Time 91). [fər′spik]

1. To bewitch, cast an evil spell over, esp. by praising unduly (Sh., Ork., Cai., Abd. 1953). Hence for(e)speaker, one who does this; ppl.adj. forspoke(n), bewitched, under an evil spell. Phrs. for(e)spoken grass, — water, a herb employed or water specially prepared to undo this spell (see quots.). Ork. 1701  J. Brand Descr. Orkney 62:
Also when the Beasts as Oxen, Sheep, Horses, etc. are Sick, they sprinkle them with a Water made up by them, which they call Fore-spoken Water; wherewith likeways they sprinkle their Boats, when they succeed and prosper not in their Fishing.
Ork. 1774  G. Low Tour (1879) 7:
Nobody must praise a child or anything they set a value on, for if anything evil afterwards befals it, these poor ignorant creatures will be sure to attribute to the tongue that spoke of it, and very probably quarrel on that account. This they call forspeaking, and pretend to cure persons so forspoken by washing them with a water compounded with great ceremony.
Bnff. 1795  Stat. Acc.1 XIV. 541 Note:
Thus, to prevent what is called forespeaking, they say of a person, God save them; of a beast, Luck sair it.
Sc. 1811  Scott Letters (Cent. ed.) III. 33:
Forspeak . . . is a common Scotch word and superstition and applies to any extravagant commendation of a good property in a child or animal as of its temper health etc. which is supposed to be peculiarly unlucky. . . . To obviate the risque of forspeaking the gossips usually add some little ejaculation expressive of deference to heaven or fortune, as “It's a well natured bairn God bless it” — or “a braw cow Luck sair her!”
Ork. 1854  in G. F. Black County Folk-Lore (1903) III. 141:
During the repetition of this charm there is a certain weed put into the water. I have not been able to ascertain what plant this is, but it is called by the country people “forespoken grass.”
ne.Sc. 1874  W. Gregor Olden Time 91:
To guard the child from being forespoken, it was passed three times through the petticoat or chemise the mother wore at the time of the accouchement.
Ork. 1895  Longman's Mag. (Nov.) 39:
She told him he had been “forespoken,” i.e. bewitched by a woman then dead, and made him drink water mixed with earth from the “forespeaker's” grave.
Ork. 1904  Dennison Sketches 24:
Dan he boiled seevan blue steens, an' meed for-spoken water o' their breu.
Cai. 1921  Old-Lore Misc. IX. i. 18:
The cure for “forespoken,” or affected by the evil eye, was a drink of water off silver or out of a vessel in which silver had been placed. A mixture of oatmeal and salt, called the “lib-for-spoken,” was then poured down the throat of the animal. Previously some skilly person had stirred the mixture with a steel needle and muttered over it some incantation.
Sc. 1935  D. Rorie Lum Hat 37:
When the miller's mear had her fore-leg broke, A'body kent the beast forespoke.

2. To cause a supernatural being to appear by speaking of it. Slk. 1818  Hogg B. of Bodsbeck xii.:
We hae forespoke the Brownie. . . . They say, if ye speak o' the deil, he'll appear.

[For-, 2. + speak. O.Sc. forspeak, 1607, E.M.E. forspeke, c.1440, to bewitch.]

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"Forspeak v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 21 Jul 2019 <>



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