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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1965 (SND Vol. VI).
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

LEA, LEY, n.1, adj. Also lay, †leay; lee, esp. in sense I. 1. (2), †lie; †ly(e). The spelling ley is now fairly gen. in sense I. 1., as also in Eng. [I., n., em.Sc.(a), sm. and s.Sc. ləi, ‡le:, em.Sc.(b) and wm.Sc., Dmf. li:]

I. n. 1. (1) Untilled ground, ground which has been left fallow for some time and is covered mainly by natural grass, ground which has been tilled and is now in pasture (Sc. 1755 Johnson Dict. s.v. Lay, 1782 J. Sinclair Ob. Sc. Dial. 188), orig. part of the Outfield; now specif., under the rotational system, second- and third-year (or older) pasture following hay. Gen.Sc.Sc. 1701 Foulis Acct. Bk. (S.H.S.) 296:
A kow to be grassed with my own kowes on lie.
Kcd. 1701 Urie Court Bk. (S.H.S.) 111:
Noe tennentis whatsomever shall cast any ley or sward meadow ground within ther respective possessions.
Abd. 1775 Aberdeen Jnl. (2 Jan.):
The Four Inclosures on Little Tullyeve, consisting of about Fifty-four Scots Acres, are in good Heart, having been only once cropt, after Six Years ley.
Ayr. 1793 W. Fullarton Agric. Ayr. 25:
Of all the rotations hitherto discovered, the best for Ayrshire appears to be from lay, oats or beans.
Abd. 1795 Stat. Acc.1 II. 533:
The fauchs, after being 5 years in natural grass, got a single plowing, (hence they were called one fur ley).
Sc. 1814 J. Sinclair Agric. Scot. I. 413:
Lea. In the older terminology apparently the grass of the outfield, in which it lay for seven or more years.
Dmf. 1823 J. Kennedy Poems 141:
To moss and moor, to lea and rigg.
Lth. 1845 Stat. Acc.2 I. 307:
The general process of agriculture in this parish consists in spreading lime and other sorts of manure on lea, and then taking two or three crops of oats.
ne.Sc. 1881 W. Gregor Folk-Lore 139:
Live on love, as liverocks diz on ley.
Cai. 1928 John o' Groat Jnl. (10 Feb.):
Hid's near 'e middle o' February an' verra little ley is yet ploo'd.
Fif. 1937 St Andrews Cit. (14 Aug.) 11:
In old ley such as occurs in parks, there is plenty of stored-up energy.
Sh. 1939 A. C. O'Dell Hist. Geog. Sh. 69:
It seemed ridiculous to sow rye grass when Nature provided a grass, even if it were sapless, on the ley ground.

Phr.: in lea, unploughed, fallow, in grass (ne.Sc. 1960). Cf. II. below.Sc. 1756 Morison Decisions 5162:
The ground … has confessedly been in use to lie sometimes in lee.
Kcd. 1780 Aberdeen Jnl. (20 Nov.):
Some Inclosures … that have been Three or Four Years in Ley.
e.Lth. 1794 G. Buchan-Hepburn Agric. e.Lth. 49:
Three of these [brakes] were cropped with oats, and the remainder were left in what we call ley, that is, in pasture, consisting of the spontaneous growth of grass, without any artificial grasses being sown upon them.
Sc. 1822 J. Wilson Lights and Shadows 214:
Prime oats they were, for the glebe had been seven years in lea.
Bwk. 1856 G. Henderson Pop. Rhymes 152:
The Whitehill being left fallow (in lea) for a short time, the native shrub … began to reappear.
Mry. 1873 J. Brown Round Table Club 352:
The lan' wis alloo'd tae lie in ley for years, an syne ploo'd.
Ags. 1886 Brechin Advert. (30 Nov.) 3:
For the present tenant, after crappin't a' ance or twice, his laid it a' doon in ley.
e.Lth. 1894 P. H. Hunter J. Inwick xix.:
Yon field … it's in lea the noo.

(2) A piece of fallow ground, a grass field, a meadow (Ork., ne. and em.Sc. 1960). Often in a more gen. sense, esp. poet., as in Eng., of any piece of open uncultivated ground. Common in place-names as Woodhouselee, Torwoodlee, Fernilee, Singlie, Netherley, Broadleys, Elderslie, Arthurlie.Sc. 1726 Ramsay T.-T. Misc. (1876) I. 234:
There on a lie whair stands a cross.
Sc. p.1746 Jacobite Minstr. (1829) 267:
Their winding sheet's the bluidy lay, Their graves are growing green to see.
Kcd. 1760 J. A. Henderson Banchory-Devenick (1890) 262:
The box had been got on Tuesday last, upon the leys opposite to Kirktown's Park.
Ork. 1771 P. Fea MS. Diary (3 April):
Three Pleughs begun to the Nth leys of Inglea.
s.Sc. 1775 Hobie Noble in Child Ballads No. 189. iv.:
At Kershope-foot the tryst was set, Kershope of the lily lee.
Inv. 1780 I. F. Grant Old Highl. Farm (1924) 220:
On the ley below to the east of the Dutch.
Kcb. 1789 D. Davidson Seasons 68:
By this his neebor on the lay, Tam Cleg, his wife, an' twa three mae.
e.Lth. 1794 G. Buchan-Hepburn Agric. e.Lth. 58:
He plowed up the ley, and gave it what we call a bastard fallow with three furs, to prepare it for oats and clover again.
Rnf. 1807 R. Tannahill Poems (1900) 24:
The ghaist-rid three, Hae socht the boortree bank, an hemlock lee.
Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 325:
Ploughmen talk about the lifting of a tuich lye.
e.Lth. 1845 Stat. Acc.2 II. 371:
Oats the fourth year follow after the clover lea.
Knr. 1891 H. Haliburton Ochil Idylls 102:
The ley lies bonnie to the sun, Half-broken, strippit black an' green.
Mry. 1897 J. Mackinnon Braefoot Sk. 32:
It was a bright warm day in the end of August, what time the leas are mainly “gosks” and tanzies.
Sh. 1908 Old-Lore Misc. I. vii. 268:
Maybe he'll no' finnd mair upo da leys as he might hae got aff o' da scattald.
Bch. 1944 Scots Mag. (Feb.) 370:
O' causey-steens the tinkers tire fan Mey dyow weets the leys.

2. In rotational farming: the first crop of corn after grass, a shortened form of ley corn, see 3. (5) below (Ork., ne., em., sm. and s.Sc., Uls. 1960). Cf. Yaval. Also attrib.Gall. 1692 A. Symson Large Descr. Gall. (1823) 74:
They divide their arable land into eight parts at least, which they call cropts, four whereof they till yearly. Their first cropt they call their lay, and this is that on which the bestial and sheep were folded the summer and harvest before.
Abd. 1924 J. Hunter MS. Diary (27 March):
We have 4 stacks standing one yavel and one neep corn and 2 lea stacks.
Kcd. 1932 L. G. Gibbon Sunset Song (1937) 95:
But in three days time the ley was cut, the yavil glowed yellow across the dykes and they moved to that without stop.
Kcd. 1933 Scots Mag. (Jan.) 249:
He'd mended all the ley fence that day.

3. Combs.: †(1) burrel ley, see quot. and Burrel, n.1; (2) ley arnut, a jocular name for a stone lying loose on the soil and of a size that can easily be thrown (Abd. 1960). See Arnit, n.1; (3) lay awal, see quot. and cf. 2. above; (4) lea-break, fallow ground or old pasture due to be ploughed up in rotation (Arg.1 1937; Cai., ne.Sc., Lth., Ayr., Gall. 1960). Also in Yks. dial.; (5) ley corn, oats grown on ploughed-up grass-land (Sh., n.Sc., Ayr., Gall., Uls. 1960). See 2.; (6) ley crap, id. (Ib.); (7) lea field, a field of old grass (n. and em.Sc., Ayr., sm.Sc. 1960); (8) lea furrow, ley fur, a ploughing of old grass-land (ne.Sc., Per., Fif., Lth., Ayr., sm.Sc. 1960); (9) l(e)y grass, -girse, old or established pasture-ground, grass-land not recently ploughed (Bwk. 1942 Wettstein; Ork., n.Sc., Wgt., Uls. 1960) = (15); (10) lea ground, ley-, id. (Uls. 1953 Traynor; Sh., ne.Sc., Wgt., Uls. 1960); (11) ley hay, hay grown on old pasture (Ayr., Kcb. 1960). Also in Eng. dial.; (12) lee-heather, see quot.; (13) ley land, lee-, land lying fallow or unploughed, land sown out in grass (Sh. 1960). Also in Eng. dial.; (14) lea oats, -aits, the first crop of oats sown on ploughed-up grassland, = (5) (Sh., ne.Sc., Ayr., Gall., Uls. 1960); (15) ley park, a field of established grass, i.e., in rotational farming, two years after its first sowing along with oats (n.Sc., Gall. 1960); (16) lea-rig, ley-, a ridge of unploughed grass between two ridges of arable land, a broad Bauk2, q.v. Now only poet.; (17) ley-shift, in rotational cropping, the season for ley-corn (see (5)), a field of ley-corn (ne.Sc. 1960). See Shift; (18) market leys, a piece of grass-land, usu. part of a village common, on which a market is or used to be held (ne.Sc. 1960).(1) Abd. 1811 G. S. Keith Agric. Abd. 235:
The inferior land, besides the outfields, was denominated faughs, if only ribbed at midsummer; was called one fur ley, if the whole surface was ploughed, or burrel ley, where there was only a narrow ridge ploughed, and a large strip or baulk of barren land between every ridge.
(2) Abd. 1835 J. Pratt Jamie Fleeman (1912) 54:
Cried Fleeman, … as he began to gather an armful of stones, “I'se try you wi' a lea arnot!”
Abd. 1928 Word-Lore III. vi. 149:
Gin Aw hid bit a lap-fu' o' ley-arnits an' a loon tae fling him.
Abd. 1950 Buchan Observer (9 May):
Johnnie on this move struck two dogs with one ley arnot.
(3) Dmb. 1794 D. Ure Agric. Dmb. 53:
The layawal crop, that is the second crop after the land has been broken up from lay.
(5) Abd. 1928 Weekly Jnl. (27 Sept.) 6:
Yer ley corn sid be a rale gweed crap, an' ye're neen waur wi' yer neep corn nor the rest o's.
(6) Ayr. a.1796 Burns There's News iii.:
And waly fa' the ley-crap For I maun till'd again.
ne.Sc. 1881 W. Gregor Folk-Lore 179:
The lea was ploughed and sown with oats. This crop was called the “ley crap.”
Abd. 1927 E. S. Rae Hansel fae Hame 27:
The corn will a' be connacht sair, the ley crap's maistly doon.
(7) Fif. 1937 St Andrews Cit. (16 Jan.) 4:
On a splendid five-year-old lea field.
(8) Sc. 1876 S. R. Whitehead Daft Davie 326:
His hand was as steady on the Gospel plough as it was when he leant a' his weight on a lea-furrow.
Abd. 1927 E. S. Rae Hansel fae Hame 31:
I [horse] ruggit tentie, quate wi' pride, My first ley fur.
(9) Edb. 1726 Edb. Ev. Courant (4 July):
A Park about 11 or 12 Acres Ground … in which there is a very good Meadow, and the rest ly Grass.
(10) Edb. 1856 J. Ballantine Poems 296:
The old lea ground, pierced to the core, Is turn'd in ridges gently o'er.
(11) m.Lth. 1753 Caled. Mercury (10 April):
Above 2000 Stone of extreme good Ley Hay well win.
Per. 1799 J. Robertson Agric. Per. 222:
I learned from a nobleman … that good ley hay is much sought after … for his Majesty's horses.
(12) Slk. 1807 Hogg Shepherd's Guide 47:
The kind that is most destructive in raising the Braxy, is that on which lee-heather grows; that is where heather grows upon a mould or gravelly soil.
(13) Inv. 1722 Steuart Letter-Bk. (S.H.S.) 173:
And if Providence doe not order that the next cropt be better than these two or three years past, there will be verry soon either ley lands or insuperable debts.
Ork. 1774 P. Fea MS. Diary (28 March):
Had 7 men att Inglea brakeing the Diffets and smoothing the ley land for soweing.
Dmf. 1794 B. Johnston Agric. Dmf. App. iv.:
Between fifty and sixty years ago an additional way of raising oats was introduced into Annandale. This was by watering the Outfield ley-lands.
Sc. 1814 Scott Waverley xi.:
There was a' the lee-land in the country to fight upon.
(14) Abd. 1955 Huntly Express (16 Sept.):
There is little to eat on the stubbles after lea oats.
(15) Ags. 1894 J. Inglis Oor Ain Folk 222:
In one or other of the “ley parks,” as the grazing paddocks were called in that part of Scotland.
Abd. 1903 W. Watson Auld Lang Syne 50:
Then doon throu' a ley park, an' then ye'll see the hoose doon i' the hallow.
Abd. 1923 R. L. Cassie Heid or Hert 12:
Atween a ley park an' feedle o' corn.
(16) Ags. 1746 Arbirlot Session Rec. MS. (3 June):
She answered that it was born on a lay rigg betwixt the Cottown and the Skryne.
Lnk. 1769 Sketch Plan for Roads 23:
At that time [c.1660], the whole country was open, and every lee-rigg was a road.
Edb. 1772 Fergusson Poems (S.T.S.) II. 91:
Without the cuissers prance and nicker, An' our the ley-rig scud.
Ayr. 1792 Burns Lea-Rig i.:
I'll meet thee on the lea-rig, My ain kind dearie, O.
Ags. 1822 A. Balfour Farmers' Three Daughters 121:
Lat her learn to dance upon the ley-rig, as I did.
Sc. 1824 Scott St Ronan's W. xiv.:
He lived then at the Cleikum, … as quiet as a lamb on a lea-rig.
ne.Sc. 1836 J. Grant Tales (1869) 63:
The ley-rig was ower narrow for them, and when they snappert in amo' the pleugh't grun', they verily gart the furs flee i' the air wi' their feet.
s.Sc. 1859 Bards of Border (Watson) 186:
The ploughboy lo'es the lea-rig, the sailor lad the sea.
Abd. 1871 Sc. N. & Q. (Ser. 4) VII. 105:
An individual who has donned any very smart or gay article of apparel is often addressed … thus: “You cast a dash at a distance, like sharn on a lea rig.”
Ags. 1873 D. M. Ogilvy Poems 86:
Atour thae lang lea-rigs I follow the pleuch.
Abd. 1920 G. P. Dunbar Peat-Reek 9:
Jist set me tae the ley-rig, Or on a stibble brae.
(17) Bnff.7 1930:
We'll yoke twa cairts and tak hame the brock o' the ley shift the day.
(18) Bnff. 1953 Banffshire Herald (18 July):
A site on the Old Horse Market Leys.

II. adj. Of land: fallow, unploughed, in grass; barren, wild, unproductive (Rs. 1700 W. MacGill Old Ross-shire (1909) I. 91). Gen.Sc. Used also adverbially in phrs. to lay lee, to lay waste or desolate, to make barren; to lie lea. Also fig. Comb. ley-cow, lea —, fig., a cow that is neither in calf nor producing milk, “as distinguished from a ferry cow, which, though not pregnant, continues to give milk” (n.Sc. 1825 Jam.).Sc. 1702 Fountainhall Decisions II. 164:
When it was lee and in grass, the multure was never denied, though it bore no corn nor multure-grain.
Rnf. 1712 Caldwell Papers (M.C.) I. 304:
The outfield land to be labourit three yeirs and lye lea three years.
Sc. 1721 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. 165:
Plenty shall cultivate ilk Scawp and Moor, Now Lee and bare, because the Landlord's poor.
Sh. 1733 T. Gifford Hist. Descr. (1879) 55:
Whether the land is ley or laboured.
Sc. 1746 Culloden Papers (Warrand 1930) V. 77:
As … the Rebells in Caithness hindered our getting seed from thence as usuall, I'm much afraid of Ley Land on my estate.
Edb. 1791 J. Learmont Poems 219:
Faith! that wad lay your sooty kingdom lee To scauld at men.
Ork. 1795 Stat. Acc.1 XV. 393:
The lands were dear, and like to ly ley for want of tenants.
Bwk. 1809 R. Kerr Agric. Bwk. 210:
It was then left to nature, slowly to recover verdure and fertility, by a number of years pasture, without even the aid of any artificial grasses. This was called allowing the land to lie lee.
Sc. 1827 Scott Journal (11 Dec.):
I saw … no other receipt than lying lea for a little, while taking a fallow-break to relieve my imagination, which may be esteemed nearly cropped out.
Slk. 1827 R. Chambers Picture Scot. I. 161:
A famous outlaw named Murray … who is said to have occasionally layed the country lee, that is, waste by an enormous club which he carried about with him.
Ayr. 1890 J. Service Notandums 85:
Wi' whins it was quite over-grown, She thocht 'twas spilin' lyin' lea.

[O.Sc. ley, in place-names from a.1165, piece of open land, 1513, a fallow, 1508, to ly ley, 1578, in lay, 1581. In most senses from O.E. *lǣȝe- in lǣȝhrycg, lea-rig, meaning fallow; in meaning I. 1. (2) partly from O.E. lēah, gen. lēaȝes, a piece of arable land, a clearing in a wood. Both forms coalesce in Mid.Eng. le(y)ȝe and it is not always possible clearly to distinguish the originals, esp. in sense I. 1. (2).]

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"Lea n.1, adj.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 16 Jun 2024 <>



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