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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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

LETTERGAE, n. Also latter-, leter-. The precentor in a church who according to the old Scottish practice first read the line of the psalm and then led the congregation in singing it (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Bnff., Abd. 1925). The word is now almost obs. exc. in liter. use.Sc. 1715 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. 71:
The Latter-gae of haly Rhime, Sat up at the Boord-head.
Abd. 1746 W. Forbes Dominie Deposed (1765) 29:
Quite other thoughts our Lettergae Begins to foster.
Cai. 1795 Stat. Acc.1 XIX. 49:
In Mr Cumming's days, the last Episcopalian minister in this parish, there was no singer of Psalms in church but the lettergae.
Sc. 1829 Scott Guy M. xi.:
There was no sae mony hairs on the Warlock's face as there's on Letter-Gae's ain at this moment.
Kcb. 1836 J. Mayne Siller Gun 86:
Ev'n Maister Auld, our Letter-gae … Forgat the cares that made him wae, And lilted here.
Per. 1881 R. Ford Readings 84:
The lettergae sings, but nae heart's in his tune.
Dmb. 1894 D. MacLeod Past Worthies 201:
John Wallace, the “leter gae,” was rudely roused out of a sound nap.
Bwk. 1897 R. M. Calder Poems 129:
An' weel I remember the lettergae's voice As he gasped an' droned oot the singin'.
Abd. 1931 A. M. Williams Bundle of Yarns 17:
The 103rd psalm was sung again and again by the choir, the precentor acting, for the time being, as lettergae.

[Agent n. from let gae, to strike up a tune. See Lat, v., B. 2. (7) (c).]

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"Lettergae n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 8 Dec 2022 <>



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