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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1960 (SND Vol. V).
This entry has not been updated but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

KEMP, v., n. Also k(j)aemp, kjemp (Sh.); kamp, camp (Uls. 1930), campe (s.Sc. 1839 Wilson's Tales of the Borders V. 90). [Sc. kɛmp, Sh. + kjɛmp]

I. v. 1. To strive, struggle, contend in gen. Now mostly liter. Vbl.n. kemping, struggle, contention.Sc. 1816 Scott Antiquary xxviii.:
A soldier, my lord; and mony a sair day's kemping I've seen.
Sc. 1825 Aberdeen Censor 143:
The Crawfords, an' the Grahames, an' the Mars, an' the Lovats, were aye trying to comb them against the hair, an' mony a weary kemping had they wi' them.
Lth. 1851 M. Oliphant Merkland I. vii.:
I wad rather hae a day's kemping with that illwilly nowt that winna bide out o' the corn.
Sh. 1891 J. Burgess Rasmie's Büddie 114:
Sae boys! we'se kemp noo, ean an aa, Ta staand, in strent, a leevin waa.
Sh. 1922 J. Inkster Mansie's Röd 99:
Whin traetnin' waves an' roarin' tide, Wid kjaemp wha first sood conker dee.
Sh. 1933 J. Nicolson Hentilagets 17:
Nations ir kaempin ta slachter an kill.

2. Specif.: to compete in a piece of work, to race against another or others in working (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B., rare; Bwk. 1942 Wettstein; Uls. 1953 Traynor; I.Sc. 1959), esp. in the harvest field (‡Ib.), or in eating, hence to sup hurriedly (Edb. 1898 J. Baillie Walter Crighton Gl., 1919 T.S.D.C.). Occas. used tr. Vbl.n. kempin, a contest of this kind (Slk.1 1929; Ork. 1959).Sc. 1718 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. 72:
Wi' Gravie a their Beards did dreep, They kempit with their Teeth .
Sc. 1723 R. Wodrow Analecta (M.C.) III. 27:
When thou art kemping on the harvest-ridge.
Sc. 1772 Edb. Ev. Courant (28 Oct.):
As a farmer was grieving his shearers at a little distance from that place [Jedburgh], he observed them kemping with one another, and spoiling his corn.
Wgt. 1804 R. Couper Poetry I. 163:
Soon strip'd's the kemping field.
Sc. 1822 Scott F. Nigel xxvii.:
The dragon's teeth are sown, . . . there will be an awful day's kemping at the shearing of them.
Edb. 1845 F. W. Bedford Hist. G. Heriot's Hospital (1859) 346:
I wasna lang of kemping my pot.
Abd. 1869 Banffshire Jnl. (21 Dec.):
When fairmer's dothers wi' their maids Held kempins ilka nicht.
Sh. 1898 Shetland News (25 June):
Takkin' your aer — a saxern aer, i' your haand, an' kjaempin' fornenst a ranksman.
Gall. 1901 R. Trotter Gall. Gossip 153:
There was a kempin every year amang the “young leddies”, wha wud mak the best poem on a religious subjeck.
Ork. 1912 Old-Lore Misc. V. iii. 114:
Kemping, or competition in winding simmons, often enlivened the evening's work.
Bte. 1922 J. Sillars McBrides xxvii.:
Sitting in the circle round the fire, thrang at the knitting — both man and wife — kemping as they called it: that is, each would tie a knot in the worsted and make a race of it, who would be finished first.
Sh. 1956 New Shetlander No. 43. 21:
When the aesterlie gells girn i' da door, one puts on a tick wirsit ganzie, or swarrie joopie made by wan o da lasses who aye seem kempin wi' dir socks on the wares.

3. Hence (1) kemper, one who strives or contends, a fighter, a keen and vigorous worker, esp. one who strives to outdo his fellows (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; Sh. 1959). Used attrib. in comb. kemper-man; (2) kempie, -y, n., a bold or pugnacious person (Sc. 1911 S.D.D.), an energetic, lively child (Bnff. 1959); adj., †(a) brave; ‡(b) energetic. vigorous (Rxb. 1959).(1) Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 4:
All Corn is not shorn by Kempers.
Ags. 1774 C. Keith Farmer's Ha' vi.:
The lasses wi' their unshod heels, A' set themsells down to their wheels, And weel ilk beardless kemper dreels, And bows like wand.
Rxb. 1821 A. Scott Poems 25:
Thus thir twa eldren focks, whan het, Appear'd 'mang kempers keen.
Ork. 1880 Dennison Sketch-Bk. 31:
He ca'd me, i his droll wey, his kemper-man; an sae micht I, he wan minny a geud stiver wi wagerin on me fechtan'.
Kcb. 1896 Crockett Grey Man xlvii.:
Sawny Bean himself, the ruffian kemper, low-browed, buck-toothed, and inhuman.
Sc. 1931 Weekly Scotsman (5 Sept.):
Because the successful reaper was the hardest and quickest worker a kemper came to mean a man of outstanding ability.
(2) Sc. 1822 Scott Pirate xxviii.:
When kempies were wont, long since, to seek the habitations of the galdragons and spae-women.
Ags. 1856 Brechin Advertiser (29 Jan.) 4:
It's my Johny's wark, a kempie o' a loon at the schule.
Fif.10 1941:
She's jist an ill-deedy kempie.
(a) Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.:
A kempy little falla.
(b) Ib.:
A kempy shearer. A kempy loon.

4. To make a fuss, an ado (Ork. 1929 Marw.).

II. n. ‡1. A contest, usually for first place (Ork. 1922 J. Firth Reminisc. 152; Cai.3 1931; Uls. 1953 Traynor; I.Sc., Rxb. 1959), esp. a struggle on the harvest field to see who would finish first (Sc. 1931 Weekly Scotsman (5 Sept.); Bnff.2 1941), “a meeting of girls for sewing, spinning or other work, ending with a dance” (Uls. 1953 Traynor). Also in n.Eng. dial. Occas. fig. = struggle.Edb. 1786 G. Robertson Ha'rst Rig (1801) xxxvii.:
Some flairing wife now tells how she Did win a kemp most manfully.
Peb. 1805 J. Nicol Poems I. 154:
A kemp begude, sae fast they laepit Stout chiels around it darnin.
Abd. 1816 in T. Mair John o' Arnha's Latter-Day Exploits (1882) 112:
The kittle kemp began in haste . . . They flaughtit, flew, and did their best.
Uls. 1863 Fraser's Mag. (Feb.) 220:
And where at Camp or Kayley could be found One face more welcome, all the country round?
Ayr. 1870 J. K. Hunter Life Studies, Pref.:
Whatever lesson we began to, we gaed at it just like a kemp on the hairst rig.
Rxb. 1955 Abd. Univ. Review (Aut.) 142:
Frae a' Life's kemp and care lang hid.

Combs.: †(1) kemp-rooth, kjaemp-rowth, a contest at rowing (Sh. 1866 Edm. Gl.). See Rowth; †(2) kemp-stane, “a stone placed as the boundary which has been reached by the first who kemps or strives at the Putting-stone. He who throws farthest beyond it is the victor” (Fif. 1825 Jam.); the name of a large cromlech near Dundonald in Co. Down (Uls. 1880 Patterson Gt.).(1) Sh. 1899 Shetland News (4 Feb.):
He wis niver a man fir kjaemp-rowths, bit wance pit him til hit, an' he'd no been da first ta gie in.

2. A champion, warrior, hero. Surviving in ballads and place-names, e.g. Kemp's Castle (Ags., Dmf.), — Hold (Per.), of early fortified sites.Sc. 1802 Scott Minstrelsy II. 339:
Syne he's ca'd on him Ringan Red, A sturdy kemp was he.
Sc. 1828 P. Buchan Ballads II. 7:
Till Kemp Owyne come ower the sea, And borrow you with kisses three.

3. Gen. in pl.: (1) the ribwort plantain, Plantago lanceolata (Lth., Rxb. 1825 Jam.; Bwk. 1853 G. Johnston Botany E. Borders 170); ‡the greater plantain, Plantago major (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.). Also in Eng. dial.; in some parts the word is applied to the crested dog's-tail grass, Cynosurus cristatus (Cai. 1902 E.D.D.; Rs. 1919 T.S.D.C.; Cai. 1959). Deriv. kempo(o), marsh ragwort, Senecio aquaticus (Ork. 1929 Marw., Ork. 1959, kempoo). Cf. (2).Bwk. 1867 Science-Gossip 65:
It was once, and perhaps still is, a custom in Berwickshire to practise divination by means of “kemps” (Plantago lanceolata).

Combs.: (a) kemp-seed, the ribwort plantain (Slk. 1825 Jam.); the seed of the greater plantain (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.); †in pl., “the seeds of oats, when meal is made, or the reeings of the sieve” (Rxb. 1825 Jam.); (b) sea-kemps, sea-side plantain, Plantago maritima (Bwk. 1853 G. Johnston Botany E. Borders 171).

(2) A game played by two children, who collect equal numbers of plantain stalks, each taking his turn in trying to decapitate those of his opponent. The one left with a whole stalk wins the contest (Rxb. 1825 Jam.; Sc. 1886 B. & H. 285; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.). Gen. in pl.Bwk. 1853 G. Johnston Botany E. Borders 170:
It is customary with children to challenge each other to try the “kemps.”

[O.Sc. kemp, a professional fighter, a champion, from a.1500, one who strives for victory on the harvest field, from 1573, kemper, from 1641, kemp, to contend, to strive, from 1513, camp, to exert or busy oneself (in eating), from c.1600, O.E. cęmpa, soldier, warrior Mid.Eng. kempen, to fight, contend, Mid.Du. kempen, Ger. kämpfen, id. For n., 3. cf. Norw. dial. kjempe, kampe(gras), plantago, and kamgras = dog's tail grass.]

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"Kemp v., n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 29 Sep 2023 <>



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