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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1965 (SND Vol. VI). Includes material from the 1976 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

ON-, pref.2 Also ohn-. See also Un-, Wan-. A formal variant of Un-, now obsol., with neg. force, sometimes also corresponding to Eng. reversive or privative prefixes dis- or in-, and chiefly used before adjs. or advs.

1. Examples where the second element is the same as or a Sc. variant of Eng.: onagreeables, used as a = disagreeable characteristics (Ayr. 1836 Galt in Tait's Mag. (June) 393), onaisy (Ags. 1889 Barrie W. in Thrums xix., Ags. 1975), onbekent, unbeknown (Per. 1897 C. R. Dunning Folk-Lore 10), onbeliever (Rnf. 1899 D. Gilmour Paisley Weavers 38), on-bethankit, unthanked, unacknowledged (w.Sc. 1887 Jam.), oncarefu, careless (Lth. 1851 M. Oliphant Merkland II. ii.), on-dependent (Abd. 1871 W. Alexander Johnny Gibb xiv.), ondoubtedly (Ags. 1899 Barrie W. in Thrums v.), onfeeling (Fif. 1894 J. Menzies Our Town x.), on forsien (Fif. 1766 Session Papers, Ramsay v. Martin (25 Nov.) 119), onhandy (Inv. 1931 I. Macpherson Shepherd's Cal. 69), onjustly (Dmf. 1898 J. Paton Castlebraes 278), onkyndlie (Arg. 1711 Arg. Justiciary Rec. (Stair Soc.) II. 272); onlike (Ayr. 1895 H. Ochiltree Redburn v.), onluckie (Sc. 1703 Hist. MSS. Comm. Report (Hamilton MSS. Suppl.) 163), onnatral (Mry. 1897 J. Mackinnon Braefoot Sk. 144), onneebourly (Ayr. 1896 H. Johnston Dr. Congalton vii.), onpleesantness (Kcb. 1894 Crockett Lilac Sunbonnet xxvii.), onpossible (Ayr. 1901 G. Douglas Green Shutters v.), onsantifit, unsanctified (Kcb. 1897 A. J. Armstrong Robbie Rankine 5), onseen, onwritten (Slg. 1910 W. Blair Kildermoch 92-3), onsufferable (Fif. 1894 J. Menzies Our Town vii.), onusual (Ayr. 1901 G. Douglas Green Shutters viii.), onwiley (Abd. 1880 W. Robbie Glendornie ix.). In words where the second element is Sc. see separate entries.

2. With or without tmesis, as a neg. particle before pres. and pa. ppls., and having the sense of “without”. Where two terms are joined by a coordinating conj., on- may be omitted before the second, as commonly in O.Sc. (cf. Abd. 1875 quot.). The usage is now confined to ne.Sc., esp. in the constructions I (he, she, etc.) canna be on-, I, etc. cannot prevent myself from . . ., I cannot help . . ., it is impossible for me not to . . .; to haud or keep (a bodie) on-, to prevent or save one from . . . See Haud.Sc. 1787 J. Elphinston Propriety II. 203:
'Tis strange you cannot be unspoken, for unspeaking, or without speaking.
ne.Sc. 1791 Caled. Mercury (29 Sept.):
[Whisky] gars fouk trow themsells fu' bra', On no'te ti borrow.
Sh. 1815 Shet. Advert. (6 Jan. 1862):
I cann ashure dee it'll no be teallin' dee t' giang awa onbiddn dem ferweel.
Sc. 1828 Young Beichan in Child Ballads No. 53 M. xiii.:
Twa gay gos-hawks she gae likeways To keep him onthought lang.
Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 37:
It dang on sax ooks delaverly on iver uppalt or dewalt.
Abd. 1868 G. Macdonald R. Falconer I. xvii.:
To haud her ohn kent 'at she had tint the grup o' 't.
Abd. 1871 W. Alexander Johnny Gibb xxxvi., xlvi.:
Fat'll my mither say to ye, gin ye gae hame onseen the laird? . . . [He] strade past's fader an' me like a bubblyjock wi's tail up, on-winkit's e'e.
Abd. 1875 W. Alexander My Ain Folk 139:
I did not think it richt that he sud be latt'n sit doon amon's as a neebour onbeen enterteen't or ta'en some notice o'.
Abd. 1914 A. McS. Bishop i.:
I'se warran' ye widna like to be hauden on gyaun to the toon.
Bnff. 1924 Swatches o' Hamespun 10, 36:
Spier your help on-me-kennt onything aboot it. . . . 'Twida been a bonnie-like thing, him deein on-haen the peats a' hame, an' the crap on-cut.
Abd. 1936 D. Bruce Cried on Sunday 13:
Fa could be on lauch'n, Hairry Wobster, to think 'at I wad vex masel' to chise atween you and Greenmeedes?
Bnff. 1956 Banffshire Jnl. (8 May) 8:
Bess's dog . . . nippit 'e beef on Weelum noticet it.

[On- as a variant of un- is also found in O.Sc. and Mid.Eng., prob. due to the influence of on-, un-, a reduced form of the O.E. pref. ond-, implying the contrary or reverse action as in undo, unfold. The usage under 2. appears on O.Sc. with pres. and pa.p. from c.1440, the pa.p. being in effect orig. in an absolute construction (cf 1871 and 1956 quots.). Later active and passive uses became confused (as in 1787 and 1866 quots.), phs. partly owing to the similarity between the pres.ppl. and strong pa.p., both ending in [-ɪn]. G. Macdonald's spelling ohn- is due to a mistaken association with Ger. ohne, without. In s.Sc. the usage survives only in Untellin, q.v.]

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"On- prefix2". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 19 Jul 2024 <>



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