Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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KELPIE, n. Also kelpy. A water demon haunting rivers and fords, gen. in the form of a black (or white) horse, which lured unwary human beings to death by drowning, but which might also be harnessed to drive a mill or perform other work, a nicker. Gen.Sc. Also attrib. Combs. kelpie's foot, see 1837 quot.; the red kelpies, St. Elmo's fire; water-kelpie. [′kɛlpi] Sc. 1747 W. Collins Odes (1789) 18:
While I lie welt'ring on the osier'd shore Drowned by the Kelpie's wrath.
Ayr. 1786 Burns To the Deil xii.:
Then, water-kelpies haunt the foord, By your direction, An' nighted trav'llers are allur'd To their destruction.
Ags. 1813 J. Headrick Agric. Ags. 218:
The water kelpie, a mischievous being, who was supposed to frequent the rivers, and who first seduced the unwary into the stream, and then carried them off to sea, has fallen into oblivion, since bridges were constructed in all convenient places.
Sc. 1815 Scott Guy M. xxvi.:
Now the light diminished to a distant star that seemed to twinkle on the waters, like those which, according to the legends of the country, the water-kelpy sends for the purpose of indicating the watery grave of his victims.
Ags. 1837 Chambers's Jnl. (8 April) 81:
In the parish of Carmylie . . . in the pavement strata; hollows resembling the foot-prints of animals sometimes occur, and are called the Kelpie's foot . . . the Kelpie being a supposed fiend in the shape of a horse, who takes a pleasure in misleading and drowning unwary travellers.
Fif. 1844 J. Jack St Monance 94:
I've seen when laying to under close-reefed topsails, the sea running higher than that there steeple of yours, the hale sky as black's a grave, and the red kelpies dancing aloft in gleams of fire.
ne.Sc. 1881 W. Gregor Folk-Lore 38:
This kelpie had been in the habit of appearing as a beautiful black horse, finely caparisoned.
Abd. 1883 Folk-Lore Jnl. I. 293:
Kelpie sometimes takes the form of a grey wrinkled old man . . . [A traveller] saw an old man mending his trousers, and, as he was mending, he kept saying “That clout'ill dee here; and this ane'll dee here” . . . At last he inflicted a blow on the old man's head, saying, “An this clout'ill dee here.” In a moment the kelpie was in his true form, and off with loud neighing to his deep pool.
Abd. 1894 Trans. Bch. Field Club III. 129:
Three handfuls of “groats”, i.e. shelled grain, thrown into the hopper of a mill at night, keep water-kelpie from interfering with the mill.
Ayr. 1913 J. Service Memorables xxiii.:
The only answer, gullering frae the dam, was the Water Kelpie's roar.
ne.Sc. 1929 J. M. McPherson Primitive Beliefs 61:
Sometimes [kelpie's] sleek coat was white as in the case of the white horse of Spey which invited a couple returning from market to mount.
Slg. 1932 W. D. Cocker Poems 101:
Adventure, like the luring licht That kelpies wave ower bogs at nicht.
Abd.31 1956 from a letter:
I mind fine on hearing Auld J — M — in Drumblade speaking about kelpies. He used to tell the boys going to school, if they went near his dam, the water kelpies would take them.

[In O.Sc., found in place-name, 1674, Kelpie hoall, in Kirkcudbrightshire. Prob. ad. Gael. cailpeach, colpach, a bullock, colt. Cf. Ir. each uisce, water horse, id.]

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"Kelpie n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 27 Jan 2022 <>



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