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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1965 (SND Vol. VI). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

NAIL, n., v. Also †neal (Rxb. 1707 Trans. Hawick Arch. Soc. (1914) 24). Sc. form and usages:

I. n. 1. As in Eng., in phrs. and combs.: †(1) a bad (gude) nail, an evil (good) disposition or “streak ” in one's nature (Sh. 1866 Edm. Gl.); (2) aff at the nail, off one's head, muddled, confused, beyond the bounds of reason, “off at the deep end ” (Sc. 1787 J. Elphinston Propriety II. 119, 1808 Jam.; Ayr. 1887 J. Service Dr. Duguid 100; Bnff. 1903 E.D.D. s.v. off; Uls. 1953 Traynor); (3) aff the nail (i) from an unmarried state, “off the shelf”; (ii) tipsy, inebriated (Sc. 1825 Jam.); (4) at the nail, of a payment: made on the spot, cash down, “on the nail”, immediate; (5) frosty nail, a dram, drink, prob. orig. one taken on a cold day. Cf. (11); (6) full nail, at full speed, “hell for leather” (Rxb. 1963); (7) nail horn, a finger-nail; (8) nail-pinn, a (wooden) nail or pin used in boat-building (Sc. 1911 S.D.D. Add.); (9) nail string, a thin rod of iron from which nails are cut; (10) on the nail, in a fix, trapped; (11) roosty nail, a dram, drink of strong liquor, phs. from the habit of putting a rusty nail into the drinking water of cage-birds as a source of iron. But cf. also (5); (12) the auld nail, the original taint of evil, the “old Adam” (Uls. 1963); (13) to ca' a nail to the head, see Ca', v.1, III. 2.; (14) to wear down to the nail, to wear out or “to the bone,” to be almost at an end (Uls. 1963). Used fig. in quot.; (15) up to the nail(ie)s, fig., full up, filled to repletion with food, etc. (Ags. 1964), from the studs or rivets attaching the handle to the rim of a milk-can.(1) Sh. 1894 J. M. E. Saxby Camsterie Nacket 155:
The Houstens . . . had a gude nail in them.
(2) (i) Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 173:
He is gone off at the Nail. Taken from Scissors when the two sides go asunder, means that he is gone out of all bounds of Reason.
Ayr. 1818 Kilmarnock Mirror 111:
But I'se warran ye're thinkin' by this time that I'm gaun aff at the nail a' thegither wi' ye.
wm.Sc. 1854 Laird of Logan 418:
Servants hae gane aff at the nail a' thegither now.
Fif. 1897 W. Beatty Secretar xlix.:
That woman's aff at the nail.
Gsw. 1902 J. J. Bell Wee Macgreegor ii.:
Ye're fair aff at the nail the day!
(3) (i) Gsw. 1877 A. G. Murdoch Laird's Lykewake 175:
Nae bit man will come my gaet an' lowse me aff the nail.
(ii) Ayr. 1822 Galt Steamboat xii.:
I was what ye would call a thought off the nail, by the which my sleep wasna just what it should have been.
(4) Abd. 1871 W. Alexander Johnny Gibb xli.:
We'se pay't aff at the nail.
(5) Edb. 1783 W. Creech Fugitive Pieces (1815) 56:
All dram-drinkers, lovers of a frosty nail in the morning, of cauld cocks, Athole Brose.
(6) Rxb. 1927 E. C. Smith Braid Haaick 11:
The yoke-a-tuillie gaed full nail doon the brae.
(7) Edb. 1821 W. Liddle Poems 51:
Gien o' yer guts a jerk, Wi' their nail horn.
(9) ne.Sc. 1714 R. Smith Poems (1853) 24:
And do his Hammers strike with might, Or doth he with a nail string fight.
Sc. 1774 Weekly Mag. (25 Aug. 287:
The smith, in a rage, darted a hot nailstring into the shoemaker's eye.
Slk. 1818 Hogg B. of Bodsbeck xii.:
A bolt o' divine vengeance, het i' the furnace o' thy wrath as reed as a nailstring.
Rxb. a.1860 J. Younger Autobiog. (1881) 45:
Using the fore-hammer in striking out his nailstrings.
(10) Sc. 1810 J. Porter Sc. Chiefs xxx.:
We shall have the rogue on the nail yet.
(11) Abd. 1958 Bon-Accord (23 Jan.) 10:
A Setterday's nicht in the Merchan's back kitchie jist aifter ane or twa billies hae shiftit a “roosty nail” or twa.
(12) Cld. 1880 Jam.:
He's the kindest man alive, but when he's fou, the auld nail sticks out.
(14) Lnk. 1873 A. G. Murdoch Doric Lyre 26:
The day was worn doun to the nail. An' sae was I.

2. The trigger of a gun.Bnff. 1787 W. Taylor Poems 91:
[He] took his gun, tho' 'gainst the law. An' whan wun near, the nail did draw.

3. The measure of the middle finger from the knuckle to the tip, given as eight to a yard, i.e. 4½ inches (Ork. 1963). Cf. obs. Eng. nail, a measure = 2¼ inches.

4. A sharp pain in the forehead (Sc. 182 5 Jam.).

5. In pl.: the refuse of wool or flax after dressing.Abd. 1795 Stat. Acc.1 XIX. 207:
The woft was chiefly spun by old women. and that only from backings or nails, as they were not able to card the wool.

II. v. 1. Fig. To clinch or drive home an argument, to clinch a bargain (Sh., Bnff., Abd., Uls. 1963; Uls. 1990s; Bnff., Ags., Edb., Gsw., Ayr., Dmf. 2000s). Ayr. 1785 Burns Death & Dr. Hornbook i.:
A rousing whid at times to vend, and nail't wi' Scripture.
w.Sc. 1869 A. Macdonald Love, Law, and Theology iii.:
Ye sud see the laid as sune's ye can, and nail the pargain.

2. To reach a target, to succeed in hitting , to strike down, to “do for ”, to kill (Ayr. 1821 C. Lockhart Poems 38; Bnff. 1866 Gregor D.Bnff. 117; Uls. 1880 Patterson Gl.; Sh., ne.Sc., Ayr., Kcb., Uls. 1963). Also fig. Partly also in Eng. slang use.Ayr. 1785 Burns Death & Dr Hornbook xxx.:
I'll nail the self-conceited sot As dead's a herrin.
Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 356:
We say when we see a hare shot, that she's nail'd; also a villain caught at his tricks. is nail'd; and a girl when she gets pregnant of a spurious child, is said to be nail'd.
Abd. 1914 A. McS. The Bishop 12:
She's nail't ye as clean as I did the heedie. craw 'at I shot the day.

3. To strike smartly, to beat, fig. to scold severely (Cld. 1880 Jam.; Rxb. 1927 E. C. Smith Braid Haaick 15, Rxb. 1963). Vbl.n. nailin(g), naileen, a thrashing, beating, scolding (Ib.). Also in n.Eng. dial.

4. With aff: to say rapidly, to rattle off.Peb. 1836 J. Affleck Poet. Wks. 130:
Tam . . . Nails them aff a short petition Wi' a lang seceder face.

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"Nail n., v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 19 May 2024 <>



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