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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 since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

GILLIE, n.1, v. Also ghillie, †gilly, †gilli, ¶gaelly (Sc. 1771 Smollett H. Clinker III. 27–28). [′gɪle]

I. n. †1. A male servant, esp. an attendant on a Highland chief, a Highlander. Obs. exc. hist.Sc. 1705 in Analecta Scot. (Maidment 1837) II. 22:
There is a foolish fancy . . . that, forsooth, our countrymen had stabbed the Prince [of Donawert] under the left pape. What design our gillies have by forging such ridiculous untruths I know not.
n.Sc. c.1730 E. Burt Letters (1754) II. 158:
It is very disagreeable to an Englishman over a Bottle, with the Highlanders, to see every one of them have his Gilly; that is, his Servant standing behind him all the while, let what will be the Subject of Conversation.
Ib. 116:
Many of those private Gentlemen have Gillys, or Servants to attend them in Quarters, and upon a March to carry their Provisions and Firelocks.
Sc. 1814 Scott Waverley xix.:
From the jargon, therefore, of the Highland gillies, I pass to the character of their chief.
n.Sc. 1840 D. Sage Mem. Domest. (1889) 51:
On foot he traversed the whole district, accompanied by his gillie or kirk-officer.
wm.Sc. 1854 Laird of Logan 403:
After him, carrying a shabby-looking portmanteau, came his highland gillie, or driver, in his little blue bonnet and pepper-and-salt great-coat.
Dmb. 1868 J. Salmon Gowodean 63:
“You'll no ha'e brought the gillies?” “Every kilt.”
Sc. 1893 Stevenson Catriona i.:
Her comrades or (I should say) followers were ragged gillies, such as I had seen the matches of by the dozen in my Highland journey.

2. A young lad (m.Lth.1 1954).Ayr. 1823 Galt R. Gilhaize I. vi.:
She hit the gilly a bilf on the back, saying it was a ne'er-do-weel trade he had ta'en up.
Abd. 1826 D. Anderson Poems 99:
The gillies grin'd an' glowr'd around, An' gar'd the lasses blush.
Edb. 1843 J. Ballantine Gaberlunzie v.:
But what did the gillie do here the last simmer? He ran aff wi' Maggy, the young glaikit limmer!

3. In mod. use: a sportsman's attendant, now gen. in angling, in the Highlands. Gen.Sc.Sc. 1832 Tait's Mag. (Nov.) 205:
Loading the backs of our gillies with full game-bags.
Ags. 1890 J. Lowson John Guidfellow iv.:
A gey guid-lookin' bit laddikie aboot saxteen years auld, dressed like a common ghillie.
Sc. 1898 Edb. Review (July) 77:
The gilly said when asked whether an angler swore when he lost a fish, she “was aiming at it.”
n.Sc. 1932 N. M. Gunn Lost Glen ii. i.:
The gillie, following with the fishing gear.
w.Sc. 1953 Scots Mag. (Dec.) 189:
A young fellow chust going to the college after a bit . . . acted ass a kind of gillie for his uncle, and got the chance of learning a bit about river fishing at the same time.
Sc. 1999 Herald 10 Sep 17:
So how do you clean a ghillie out, if this advert in the Dundee Courier is to be believed. Stomach pump?

4. Combs.: (1) (a) G(h)illie Callum, the Highland sword-dance, the name of the tune (from the first two words of the song) to which it is danced. The tune is given in 1768 R. Bremner Second Coll. Sc. Reels 108 as “Killum-Kallum”; (b) a species of white coral found on the seashore at Southend, Kintyre; †(2) gilli(e)-casflue, the servant who carried his Chief, when on foot, over the fords (Sc. c.1730 E. Burt Letters (1754) II. 158, gilli-) [Gael. cas fhliuch, wet-foot]; †(3) gillie-cois, a henchman, Chief's attendant [Gael. gille-coise, footman]; †(4) gillie-mor, the servant who carried the Chief's armour, see quot. for (3) above [Gael. gille, manservant, + mór, big]; †(5) gilli(e)-wet-foot, gilliwetfit, giliwitfitt, gilliewhit, -white-foot, = (2) (Sc. 1751 Colvil Whigs' Supplication 84, foot-note, gilliwetfoot), hence used contemptuously for “a worthless fellow, a swindler, one who gets into debt and runs off” (Lth. 1808 Jam.); also gille wet sole (Arg. 1897 N. Munro J. Splendid iii.), wet-footgillie (Arg. 1914 N. Munro New Road xvii.)(1) (a) Inv. 1804 E. Grant Mem. Highl. Lady (1898) 37:
Lady Jane was really clever in the Gillie Callum and the Shean Trews, I little behind her in the single and double fling.
Sc. 1831 J. Logan Sc. Gael. II. 302:
The Gilli-Callum, which generally terminates a ball, is supposed to have but a faint resemblance to the ancient sword dance . . . The chief art in the modern sword-dance consists in the dexterity with which the dancer escapes touching one or more swords or sticks crossed on the ground, the tune to which it was performed being called Gilli-Callum.
Gsw. 1838 A. Rodger Poems (1897) 28:
Her nainsel' is go to have one merry ball, Whar she'll dance Killum Callum, hoogh!
Sc. 1859 Queen Victoria Leaves (1868) 178:
Last of all came the dancing — reels and “Ghillie Callum.”
Sc. 1901 W. L. Manson Highl. Bagpipe 356:
“Gille Callum” or “The Sword Dance” is one of the best known of pipe tunes.
wm.Sc. a.1930 N. Munro Looker-on (1933) 231:
The fleet-foot clansmen . . . dance martial Gillie-callums over swords.
(b) Arg.3 1934:
He cam tae the school wi his poackets full o' keelie callums.
(2) Sc. 1814 Scott Waverley xvi.:
Then his gilly-casflue, who carries him on his back through the sikes and brooks.
Sc. 1815 C. I. Johnstone Clan-Albin I. v.:
Roban's father had been gillie-casflice [sic] to the old laird, and Roban was always about the castle.
(3) Arg. 1896 N. Munro Lost Pibroch (1935) 117–118:
There would be his gillie-cois or haunchman, his gillie-mor to carry his sword and targe.
(5) Sc. 1755 Johnson Dict. s.v. sorehon:
Whenever a chieftan had a mind to revel, he came down among the tenants with his followers, by way of contempt called in the lowlands giliwitfitts, and lived on free quarters.
Sc. 1814 Scott Waverley xiii.:
These gillie-white-foots, as they were called, were destined to beat the bushes, which they performed with so much success, that . . . a roe was started, coursed, and killed.

II. v. To act as a gillie (see sense 3. of the n. above). Gen.Sc.Edb. 1900 E. H. Strain Elmslie's Drag-net 62:
I used to gillie to Maister Laurie.
Sc. 1927 Sc. Observer (9 April) 10:
Nor is it intended to have classes in gamekeeping and ghillie-ing.
Sc. 1954 Scotsman (5 Feb.) 10:
Stalker/Keeper/Ghillie wanted for well-known forest and grouse moor in Sutherland; ghilling [sic] on well-known loch and river during May to September.
Hebr 1998 Peter MacNab Tobermory Teuchter xi:
Incidentally, once after ghillieing all day for us on Loch Frisa, that fine Highland gentleman, the afore-mentioned John Macdonald, apologetically asked if we could drop him off in Dervaig where we were staying.
Ork. 2000 Orcadian 1 Jun 15:
Another ghillie, Daniel Brazier commented: "There's a disabled guy who actually ghillies in one of these boats, so that just goes to prove the point of how suitable they are."

[O.Sc. has gillie, a lad, youth, 1603, gilliwetfoot, 1681. Adopted from Gael. gille, lad, servant.]

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"Gillie n.1, v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 19 Jun 2024 <>



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