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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1960 (SND Vol. V). Includes material from the 1976 and 2005 supplements.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

KEELIE, n.2, v. Also keellie, keely. [′kili]

I. n. 1. A male city-dweller of the rougher sort, specif. of Glasgow and district (see Glesca), occas. ‡of Edinburgh, an uncouth rowdy fellow, a “tough”. Orig. it implied thievish or criminal propensities. Gen.Sc. Also attrib.Edb. 1812 Scots Mag. (April) 254:
He knew of a number of lads who used to meet at the bottom of Niddry Street when they came from their work . . . He has heard them called Keellies.
Rnf. 1831 Trial N. Turner 7:
Turner said he would give her as much as he gave to her "keely" good-brother; and she replied he was as big a "keely" as he was.
m.Sc. c.1840 J. Strathesk Hawkie (1888) 33:
In Paisley a “keelie” (street arab) is ill to judge, as there are very few “drawboys” that do not know the ways of vagrancy.
Abd. 1851 W. Anderson Rhymes 80:
Or like a Cicero declaim Against a' wealth an' rank an' fame Till —, and sweeps, and keelies praise.
Mry. 1852 A. Christie Mountain Strains 43:
The keelie, an' the highway man If they had cash, here shelter fan'.
Edb. 1858 J. Brown Horae Subsec. 415:
He . . . was annoyed by the wicked boys, or keelies, as he called them.
Gsw. 1863 N.B. Daily Mail (18 Aug.):
The defender . . . said that I was a Saltmarket Keelie, a fighting man, a thief.
Ags. 1888 W. F. Murray Football Rhymes (1907) 6:
The Wand'rers of Dundee, Who play the game like savages, or keelies on the spree.
Ayr. 1896 H. Johnston Dr Congalton ix.:
A man that, for a' I kent, might be a common keelie (thief) or a cut-throat.
Abd. 1922 Swatches o' Hamespun 64:
She'd hae tae be braw-an cowshus wi' siccan a keely carl.
m.Lth. 1922 “Restalrig” Sheep's Heid 10:
Jist yin o' thae Leith Coalhill keelies oot for a nicht's batterin'.
Kcd. 1934 L. G. Gibbon Grey Granite 38:
The Boss no more than a Vulgar Keelie.
wm.Sc. 1954 Robin Jenkins The Thistle and the Grail (1994) 177:
In the third round they had to face a crack Glasgow team; but, encouraged by hundreds of their followers, who had fearlessly escorted them into that enormous lair of gangsters, shawlies, and keelies, they scraped through by a single goal scored by Elrigmuir ten minutes from the end.
Gsw. 1966 Archie Hind The Dear Green Place (1984) 226:
. . . a reductive, cowardly, timid, snivelling language cast out of jeers and violence and diffidence; a language of vulgar keelie scepticism.
e.Lth. 1983 Mollie Hunter The Dragonfly Years (1989) 58:
'Whadda ya use yer ears fur - ornaments?'
'But that's keelie talk, . . . '
e.Lth. 1983 Mollie Hunter The Dragonfly Years (1989) 39:
Hughie was the rough, tough kind of young man that Edinburgh contemptuously called a 'keelie'. He was small, his growth stunted by the slum life of the High Street.
Gsw. 1989 Scotsman (15 Jul) 8:
"Can youse oar?" So ran a famously authentic Glasgow tourist inquiry in the days when the keelies departed en masse doon the watter ...
Gsw. 2000 Herald (16 Mar) 21:
Being a rough city-centre sort of keelie, Pepys the Elder was much impressed by the sign at The Osprey roadhouse in Newton Meringues which read: "We apologise that there is no avocado in the salad." It's a tough life in those mean suburbs.

2. Specif.: a term of contempt applied by the boys of George Heriot's Hospital to non-Herioters.Edb. 1898 J. Baillie Walter Crighton ii.:
For a knap to be seen on a Saturday or other holiday in company with a keelie or a hawker meant defilement to the Heriotic body politic.

3. A twister, a prevaricator, one who is not straight-forward in his dealings (Sth., Rs. 1932; Lth. 1959).

4. A nickname for the Highland Light Infantry (m.Sc. 1959). See Hieland.Gsw. 1913 Old Gsw. Club II. v. 315:
A love scene, where a local youth who has enlisted into the gallant 71st regiment of foot (or “Glasgow Keelies”) is taking farewell of his sweetheart.

II. v. To pilfer (Ags. 1919 T.S.D.C.). See I. 1. Rare.

[Gael. gille, a lad, young man. The word prob. arose as a term for those Highland immigrants who flocked destitute to the Sc. cities after the Clearances and became outcasts.]

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"Keelie n.2, v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 23 Jun 2024 <>



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