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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.

GEY, adj., adv. Also gy(e), gei, guy, gae, †gay(e), †gie, †gai(e), ¶gui (Edb. 1895 J. Tweeddale Moff 71). [Sc. gəi, but ne., m. and s.Sc. + ge, Rxb. gɛi]

I. adj. Gen.Sc. but rare in I.Sc.

1. Of quantity or amount: considerable, good, great, good-sized. Common in n.Eng. dial.Sc. 1815 Scott Guy M. i.:
Kippletringan was distant at first, “a gay bit”. Then the “gay bit” was more accurately described, as “aiblins three mile”.
wm.Sc. 1837 Laird of Logan 158:
[Hornie] micht hae made his cloots clatter a gay while in the bottom o' your pouches, before he wad hae skinned his kutes on bawbee or bodle that was there.
Edb. 1851 A. Maclagan Sk. from Nature 317:
Your first calf-love has her tenth wean — A gie bit change sin first ye kent her.
Abd. 1867 A. Allardyce Goodwife iii.:
I mask't a gay curn maat the day; I'm sere ye'll fin the yowm.
Bnff. 1887 W. M. Philip Covedale ii.:
Peer thing, said Mrs S. . . . Isna that a gey change?
m.Sc. 1917 J. Buchan Poems 60:
And I gied a gey wheen Huns their paiks To the tüne o' auld “Dundee”.
Rxb. 1924 Hawick Express (22 Aug.) 3:
Aw dinna say that a' drivers are guilty o' gaun owre quick, but a gei few o' them seem tae hae little regaird for th' safety o' th' public.
Abd. 1936 D. Bruce Cried on Sunday 9:
Ay, 'Liza, ye'll ken a gye odds fan ye'r mairret.

2. Of quality: fine, excellent, “great”; “peculiar” (Per. 1915 Wilson L. Strathearn 249). Often used ironically, and also with derogatory force: roguish, rather disreputable, wild, loose-living. Also gey-like.Ayr. 1836 Galt Rich Man (1925) 3:
How can ye think that ganging a gey gait is the way to turn the penny?
Abd. 1871 W. Alexander Johnny Gibb iii.:
Aye, aye! Ye're a gey boy comin' to yer bed at three o'clock i' the mornin'.
Ags. 1872 J. Kennedy Jock Craufurt 50:
This is a geylike time o' nicht, Or mornin' raither, to come hame.
Mry. 1898 J. Slater Seaside Idylls 83:
Ye're a gae laad, an' as sleekit as ither twa or three.
Dmf. 1915 J. L. Waugh Betty Grier 157:
Last year he had a gey time o't; spent a lot, an' grudged it terribly when it was a' gane.
Arg. 1917 A. W. Blue Quay Head Tryst 167:
Mind, ye were a gey-like lad yersel.
Ork. 1929 E. Linklater White Maa's Saga 122:
His grandfather was a gey man for the women.
Fif. 1929 St Andrews Cit. (9 Feb.) 9:
Some gey-like cronies.
Kcd. 1932 “L. G. Gibbon” Sunset Song 20:
And Ellison had begun to think himself a gey man in Kinraddie.
Bch. 1944 C. Gavin Mountain of Light iii. ii.:
It had been a gey nicht, the nicht ye was misehieved.
Abd. 1990 Stanley Robertson Fish-Hooses (1992) 48:
Salty, the gey lad that he wis, told Peggy that he wis gan tae mairry her before Michaelmas and she cleeked ontae every word that came out of his big skate mooth.

3. In phr. to tak(e) or do (something) in [and] a gey (gay) time, to take or do (something) and “be hanged”, an expression of annoyance or displeasure, “as when one grants, in consequence of teasing importunity, what one has no inclination to give” (Jam.2).n.Sc. 1825 Jam.:
“Tak it in a gey time to you” . . . is nearly equivalent to the vulgar phrase, “Tak it and be hang'd to you.”
Ayr. 1833 Galt Aunt in Virginia ii.:
What for have ye no taken my bits o' boxes up to the bed-chamber? I tell you to take them up in a gay time.

4. In comb. with an(d) (sometimes reduced to -(e)n, -in, also corrupt -ing, and hence written as one word): (1) adv. = “pretty,” very; Gen.Sc. Also in n.Eng. dial.; †(2) as an emphatic form of the adj. (see 1. above). Rare.(1) Sc. 1727 R. Wodrow Analecta (M.C.) III. 376:
All his helpers failed him, and he had none but a young lad, and he gayand short-breathed!
Edb. 1788 J. Macaulay Poems 116:
To ken what is to be refus'd, . . . Shou'd gay an' aften on be mus'd, For our ain good.
Ayr. 1822 Galt Sir A. Wylie I. xiii.:
“Ay”, replied Andrew, “they're gay and heigh.”
Slk. 1835 Hogg Wars Montrose III. 94:
I hae a gayin muckle wallet fu' o' gowd that has never seen the light yet. [II. 342, gaye and.]
Mry. 1873 J. Brown Round Table Club 122:
Isna that man . . . geyan like John Gordon, the Elgin plumber?
Kcb. 1893 Crockett Stickit Minister iii.:
I'm ower slow for the wife; she kind o' likes a' things to gang forrit gye-an' sherp.
Ags. 1894 J. B. Salmond My Man Sandy (1899) 30:
He's some like my man. . . . He's gey an' of'en oot aboot when he shud be at hame.
Uls. 1897 A. M'Ilroy Lint in the Bell viii.:
We'r gien thrang oorsel's, Dan, an' a wee thocht short-handed.
Arg. 1907 N. Munro Daft Days vii.:
Reading and writing, and all the rest of it, are of less importance, but I'll not deny they're gey and handy.
Abd. 1927 E. S. Rae Hansel fae Hame 47:
Naw, naw — tho' toondy gyan aft Ye'll see us there on Sabbath nicht Baith doucely harknin' i' the laft.
Sc. 1991 T. S. Law in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 34:
This was a sairlik jobe tae tak,
an gif the chiel was no sae swack
o mynd as caw gy caunnilie,
but gabbit gyan coorselik, say,
he'd finnd the waefou news as ill
(2) Dmf. 1875 P. Ponder Kirkcumdoon 22:
After a geyn spell o' weet weather, the road was a wee thing oot o' sorts, an' I was bizzy scraping aff the glaur.
Ayr. 1901 “G. Douglas” Green Shutters xii.:
My God, aye, it's a geyan pity o' me!

II. adv.

1. Very; rather, pretty. Gen.Sc. Common in n.Eng. dial. Also geyways, id. (Ags. 1894 J. B. Salmond B. Bowden (1922) xii.).Mearns 1796 J. Burness Thrummy Cap (1819) 431:
I thought her ance a gay smart lass.
Sc. 1809 J. Carr Caled. Sketches 212:
A Lowlander had an occasion to visit Loch Buy, at Moy. “Well, what think you of this spot?” said a gentleman, “Ah! Sir, it is a gaie bonnie place to be out of the world.”
Sc. 1814 Scott Waverley lx.:
The plaids were gay canny, and did not do so much mischief.
Slk. 1818 Hogg B. of Bodsbeck iii.:
I took . . . a bit gay steeve aik stick in my hand.
wm.Sc. 1835 Laird of Logan 132:
We've come, doctor, to ask a gaye queer question.
m.Lth. 1842 Children in Mines Report 181:
I seldom gang out, as the work is gai fair slavery.
Uls. 1879 W. G. Lyttle Readings 66:
I had taen a gie erly brekfast that mornin' an' I dae think I niver felt as hungry in a' my life.
Ags. 1889 Barrie W. in Thrums xix.:
Ay, me or my father would hae a gey ill cauld afore she would let's bide at hame frae the kirk.
Ork. 1922 J. Firth Reminisc. 69:
By midnight most of the men, at least, would be “gey weel tae live”, as they mildly expressed the earlier stages of intoxication.
Abd. 1928 N. Shepherd Quarry Wood xv.:
Ay, ay, you're gey far ben, my lady.
Ayr. 1940 Kilmarnock Stand. (21 Sept.) 6:
The farmer, a gae jolly spark.
ne.Sc. 1952 John R. Allan North-East Lowlands of Scotland (1974) 187:
As he slipped along to her bedroom window past the peat stacks, the peats came flying down on him, all forty load of them. Had he not been gie on edge already, he'd have been smoored among them, but he got clear with a long leap and scudded for home with a hail of peats about his lugs.
wm.Sc. 1954 Robin Jenkins The Thistle and the Grail (1994) 14:
"Defeat's a gey thin gruel to feed on for weeks; something like your own jail bread and water."
Gsw. 1985 Michael Elder Stookie 16:
"You do," said Stookie, "and they're gey stupit orders and I'm sick o' hearin' them."
wm.Sc. 1991 Liz Lochhead Bagpipe Muzak 18:
A lot of big black buildings and a gey smoky environment
For the loud and proud and bowly legged people of the Clyde.
Cai. 1992 James Miller A Fine White Stoor 138:
'It must be hot work.' She laughed in an embarrassed way.
'Gae warm.'
Sth. 1996 Gordon Stewart in Timothy Neat The Summer Walkers: Travelling People and Pearl-Fishers in the Highlands of Scotland 93:
If the site was wet, we'd lay down bracken or heather, then a blanket, or maybe a ground sheet. Sleeping was no bother for us like; it was gaye comfy, especially if there was a big blow.
Dmf. 1997 Nell Thomson Spit the First Sook 20:
I remember him so well because there was always a sweetie in his waistcoat pocket. It was as black as the back o' the fire. When he gave it to me he always said, 'it's gie black, lassie, but jist spit the first sook'.
s.Sc. 1999 Jules Horne in Moira Burgess and Donny O'Rourke New Writing Scotland 17: Friends and Kangaroos 59:
So this man gets nearer. Jane goes, maybe he's got lost? I go, must be gy donnert as all the shops and that are down the hill.
w.Lth. 2000 Davie Kerr A Puckle Poems 29:
The faimly's gey guid.
they speir for thir paw.

2. In conjunction with: (1) -keind-o (kinna), rather badly (Cai.7, m.Lth.1, Arg.3, Kcb.9 (-kinna), Rxb.4 1954); ¶(2) -keind-o-gey-keind-o, adj., only in fair health, “so-so”.(1) Rxb. 1927 E. C. Smith Braid Haaick 13:
Ehh! Hei's gey-keind-o failed, puir auld body!
(2) Ib.:
How's Airchie the day? Hei's gey-keind-o-gey-keind-o — nae woare bit no muckle better.

[O.Sc. has gay(e), excellent, splendid, fine, from c.1470, gey, 1596, adv. = considerably, very, 1686. The same word as Eng. gay (from Fr. gai). Most of the Sc. extensions in meaning are also found in Eng. dial. (see the various sections above).]

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"Gey adj., adv.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 18 Apr 2024 <>



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