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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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

KYLE, n.2, v. Also kile, kail, kayle, keal, keel. Now only dial. or hist. in Eng. [kəil]

I. n. ‡1. A ninepin, skittle (Fif. 1960); a bobbin in a cotton-spinning machine, from its similarity (Ayr. 1960).Ayr. 1790 Burns Battle of Sherramuir ii.:
The great Argyle led on his files. . . . They hough'd the clans like nine-pin kyles.
Ayr. 1845 Stat. Acc.2 V. 223:
The game of kyles is a very popular amusement in this parish.

Phr. and Combs.: (1) king kyle, the chief ninepin, the main objective in the game; (2) kyle-alley, a skittle alley; (3) the lucky kyle, a modification of the game of ninepins, played with bobbins (see quot.).(1) Sc. 1834 H. Miller Scenes and Leg. vii.:
As players at nine-pins do by the king kyle, set them up to have the pleasure of knocking them down again.
(2) Sc. c.1702 in C. Rogers Soc. Life Scot. (1884) II. xii.:
Censors were sent to “bowling-greens”, “kyle-alleys”, and places of public gaming, to discover abuses, and to report on them.
(3) Ayr. c.1880:
In my boyhood there used to be a game called The Lucky Kyle. The Kyle in that case was a round article about six inches high used in the cotton factory. The game was to knock it down with a “bool” from a distance, and the cry was “Wha'll try the lucky kyle? A preen or a bool or a button a chance.”

2. In pl., with def. art.: (1) the game of ninepins, skittles (w.Sc. 1741 A. M'Donald Galick Vocab. 105, keals). Now mainly dial. in Eng.Rxb. 1726 Melrose Par. Reg. (S.R.S.) 136:
She had seen him playing at the kails in her father's garden.
Ayr. 1790 A. Tait Poems 162:
Or play wi' Scotsmen at the kyles.
Ayr. 1913 J. Service Memorables i.:
There were three or four monks playing at the kyles.
Sc. 1934 Scotsman (2 Jan.) 7:
About 40 years ago [he] was acclaimed champion of the kyles for Scotland. The kyles was a game played with ninepins, and is not played now.

(2) “A kind of play still retained in Scotland, in which nine holes ranged in threes are made in the ground, and an iron bullet rolled in among them” (Sc. 1755 Johnson Dict., kayles).

(3) A local Fifeshire variant of the game, in which an iron ball is rolled through a hoop or ring; “played also at Wemyss with a metal ball and a leather thong” (Fif. 1909 Trans. Folk-Lore Soc. XX. 481). See II.Fif. 1867 St. Andrews Gaz. (12 Jan.):
Its ruins [Ravenscraig Castle] were thronged from morning till night by a motley crew, the majority of whom visited the “bluidy wall,” or indulged in the exciting game of “Ye Kyles,” which is carried on there with great enthusiasm for the interchange of a few dirty coppers.

3. Fig. A chance, opportunity, lot (Fif. 1926 Wilson Cent. Scot. 25). Phr. kyle about, an equal chance, one good deed for another, tit-for-tat.Abd. 1768 A. Ross Helenore (S.T.S.) 89, 94:
Come, Colen, now, an' gimme kyle about; I helped you whan nane else wad, I doubt. . . . Sae, finding she for Flaviana sought, “This is a happy kyle for me,” I thought.
Abd. 1824 G. Smith Douglas 109:
Yon gaping grave can ance beguile; It waits some dark unlucky kile — And never fear it.

II. v. Of the metal ball used in the Fifeshire game (see I. 2. (3)): to reach the aiming point, to hit the mark, in phr. bawbee or penny she kyles!, a (half)penny it will hit the mark! (Fif. 1934 Scotsman (2 Jan.) 12).Fif. 1852 G. P. Boyd Misc. Poems 23:
Promiscuous sounds noo ring the air . . . “She kiles,” “pitch up,” an' “reekin' hot.”
Fif. 1860 H. Farnie Fife Coast 79:
It was long a wont of the inhabitants of Pathhead to have the entry of Ravenscraig Castle on Auld Hansel Monday. . . . An iron ring was stuck into the ground so as to stand upright; a player then took a heavy iron ball, and, retiring to a distance, rolled it towards the hoop. The spectators, ranged in lines up the ground, immediately formed bets, generally of a penny, as to whether the ball would pass through the ring or not. When it did go through, the ball was said to “kyle.” The players were in the custom of throwing their stakes on the ground — crying out, “A penny it kyles!” — “A penny it doesna'!” and so on.
Fif. 1951 Edb. Ev. Dispatch (28 Dec.):
If the weather is favourable the old men will play “Bawbee she kyles” in Ravenscraig Park, Dysart, on New Year's day. The game is played with a cannon ball which is rolled into a hole in the ground. If the ball drops, the “bowler” wins a penny.

[O.Sc. kilis, = I. 2. (1), from c.1400. The Gen.Sc. form is kyle, prob. ad. Fr. quille, a ninepin. The forms kayle, keal, kail represent the Eng. kayle, appar. from Mid.Du. keyl-, keghel, a skittle, from which the Fr. form is orig. a borrowing.]

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"Kyle n.2, v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 18 Jul 2024 <>



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