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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1968 (SND Vol. VII).

PLEA, n., v. Also pl(e)y; play. Sc. forms and usages: [pli:, †pləi]

I. n. 1. Sc. Law: an action at law. a lawsuit (Sc. 1825 Jam.). Now only hist. in Eng. Combs. law-plea, id. (see Law, n.1, 1. (8)), ¶plea-house, a court of law (Sc. 1818 Scott H. Midlothian v.), ¶plea-ship, litigancy, litigiousness, discord. Phr. to purchase a plea, to purchase property about which a lawsuit is in process, an action prohibited to judges.Sc. 1704 Foulis Acct. Bk. (S.H.S.) 360:
My pley with mr abercrumbie about my shops and fleshstands.
Sc. 1710 J. Dundas Feudal Law 138:
Plea, is an Action, and all that is done upon it till the Parties fully acquiesce, and insist no further.
Sc. 1748 Morison Decisions 8297:
Thus members of the College of Justice are prohibited to purchase pleas, under a penalty that the purchaser shall be degraded from his office.
Sc. 1757 Session Papers, State of Process. Commonty of Stow (25 Feb.) 9:
The Lady having refused to deliver them when demanded, occasioned a Plea which lasted some Years.
Ayr. 1822 Galt Provost xxvii.:
This gave rise to many pleas, and . . . bickerings, before the magistrates.
Sc. 1824 Scott Redgauntlet Letter xiii.:
The learned counsel needeth not to be told, . . . partnership oft makes pleaship.
Rnf. 1862 A. McGilvray Poems 75:
Though he was right, yet that was nought. You won the plea.

Phr. the (four) pleas of the Crown, legal proceedings on matters over which the Crown claimed an exclusive criminal jurisdiction, in Scot. applied only to murder, robbery, rape and fire-raising (Sc. 1946 A. D. Gibb Legal Terms 25).Sc. 1705 Atholl MSS. (18 April):
It being a premeditat murder its declared by our law to be one of the four pleyes of the croun.
Sc. 1773 Erskine Institute i. iii. § 27:
The jurisdiction of the Justiciary has been always confined to crimes, and it extends to all crimes. It was anciently deemed privative in the crimes of robbery, rape, murder, and wilful fire-raising, which were called the four pleas of the crown.
Sc. 1800 D. Hume Trial for Crimes I. 94:
The customary rule . . . which reserves to the Justice and his deputes, and now to the Lords of Justiciary, the peculiar cognizance of the crimes of murder, robbery, rape and fire-raising, the four pleas (as they are therefore called) of the Crown.
Rnf. 1962 Stat. Acc.3 82:
There is no High Court in the county and all “Pleas of the Crown” must be heard in the High Court of Justiciary in Glasgow or Edinburgh.

2. Special phrs.: (1) plea in bar of judgment, — of trial, a statement or objection by the defendant's counsel giving reasons why judgment should not be passed or why criminal proceedings should be dropped; (2) plea in law, a legal argument in a lawsuit as distinct from an allegation of fact “embodied in a short legal proposition at the end of a pleading shewing exactly the relief sought and why” (Sc. 1946 A. D. Gibb Legal Terms 65); (3) plea in mitigation, a plea by the defendant's counsel adducing mitigating circumstances in favour of his client (see quot.).(1) Sc. 1904 A. M. Anderson Crim. Law Scot. 284, 310:
A plea in bar of trial ought, when possible, to be stated at the first diet. . . . The following are the pleas usually stated in bar of trial: — 1. That the accused is under seven years of age. 2. That the accused is at present insane. . . . The only competent pleas in bar of judgment are these: — 1. That the verdict is insufficient . . . 2. That the sentence is beyond the powers of the Court. 3. That the accused is unfit to undergo the sentence.
Sc. 1946 A. D. Gibb Legal Terms 65:
Plea in bar of trial. A preliminary plea in a criminal case (as, e.g. of present insanity) which, if successful, puts an end to the proceedings.
(2) Sc. 1825 Acts 6 Geo. IV. c. 120 § 9:
Each of the Parties shall . . . lodge with the Clerk, previous to the final Adjustment of the Record, a short and concise Note, drawn and signed by Counsel, of the Pleas in Law on which the Action or Defence is to be maintained, and in such note the matter of law so to be stated, shall be set forth in distinct and separate propositions without argument, but accompanied by a reference to the authorities relied on.
Sc. 1838 W. Bell Dict. Law Scot. 741, 636:
It is the statutory duty of the Lord Ordinary, in adjusting the record prior to closing it, to suggest any new plea which may appear to him to be necessary for exhausting the disputable matter; and the pleas in law stated on the record are to be held as the sole grounds of action or defence, to which the future arguments of the parties are to be confined . . . Pleas in law, as a distinct portion of the record, were introduced by the Judicative Act, 6 Geo. IV. c. 120 § 9.
Sc. 1896 W. K. Morton Manual 458:
Appended to the Summons are the Condescendence, or statements of the facts, upon which the pursuer relies as establishing his claim, and the Pleas in Law, or legal propositions deduced from the facts stated, showing that in law his claim is good.
(3) Sc. 1904 A. Anderson Crim. Law Scot. 53:
In passing sentence the judge is bound to consider mitigating circumstances as well as those which amount to an aggravation. The usual pleas urged in mitigation of punishment are: — 1. The previous good character of the accused. 2. The youth of the offender . . . 3. Influence, not amounting to compulsion . . . 4. Weakness of intellect, not amounting to insanity.

3. By extension: a quarrel, disagreement, argument; strife, discord, enmity (Sc. 1710 T. Ruddiman Gl. to Douglas Aeneis, pley; Mry., Ags. 1966, pley). Hence adv. pl(a)yless, without argument or haggling, unopposed, easily (Ork. 1929 Marw.), to get a pley, to receive a scolding, get a telling-off (Mry. 1930), to mak a plea, to quarrel, fall out, to redd a plea, to reconcile the parties in a quarrel, intervene in a dispute, act as peace-maker.Sc. 1750 W. McFarlane Geneal. Coll. (S.H.S.) II. 31:
He was killed . . . as he was parting a Fray and redding a Pley.
Edb. 1773 Fergusson Poems ( S.T.S.) II. 93:
Pleys that bring him to the guard, An' eke the Council-chawmir, Wi' shame that day.
Abd. 1777 R. Forbes Ulysses 18:
An' fat needs Ajax in this pley Again to lift his lip?
Ayr. 1786 Burns Scotch Drink xiii.:
When neebors anger at a plea.
Peb. 1818 J. Affleck Waes o' Whisky 3:
Mony a lounder I hae gotten — Whan ye're drunk, ye're picken pleas.
Abd. 1824 G. Smith Douglas 18:
[He] is as fit as mony, I maun own, For reddin' pleys, or knappin o' a crown.
Sc. 1825 Edward in Child Ballads No. 13 A. vii.:
What about did the plea begin, Son Davie, Son Davie?
Ags. 1827 Justiciary Reports (1829) 97:
Her mistress and she sometimes agreed very well; sometimes made pleas.
Abd. 1845 Stat. Acc.2 XII. 569:
The field upon which, it is said, the battle was fought, is about a quarter of a mile to the south-east of the farm of Harlaw, and still goes by the name of the Pley Fauld.
Ags. 1896 A. Blair Rantin Robin 79:
Since Marget an' oor neebor wife made a pley, a while syne.
Ork. 1908 Old-Lore Misc. I. iv. 224:
I so'od a' gotten aleeven plyless.

II. v. 1. tr. To contest in a court of law, make the subject of litigation, go to law over.Sc. 1816 Scott O. Mortality xlii.:
The estate was sair plea'd between Lady Margaret Bellenden and the present Laird.
Sc. 1851 G. Outram Legal Lyrics 40:
The case fell asleep when her Grandfather died. And few folks remembered it e 'er had been plea'd.

2. intr. (1) To litigate, seek legal redress, go to law; fig. to plead or sue for (something).Sc. 1700 J. Russell Haigs (1881) 335:
He advised me in general to quit two or three thousand merks rather then plea.
Slk. 1824 Hogg Justified Sinner (1886) I. 382:
Another great acquisition of property, for which I had pleaed.
Dmf. 1868 J. Salmon Gowodean 41:
Scorn the love for whilk sae mony plea.

(2) by extension: to quarrel, disagree, “fall out” (Ags. 1966).Lnk. 1877 W. Watson Poems 137:
The brethren unfrien'ly to pleyin Return their unanimous thanks.
Ayr. 1887 J. Service Dr. Duguid 197:
She would 'a said when we were a' pleain' — “Noo, weans, if ye be a' quate, I'll tell ye a story”.
Ags. 1894 J. B. Salmond B. Bowden (1922) 33:
Gin we were ance in, we'll no pley aboot the road we cam.
Ags. 1954 Forfar Dispatch (18 March):
Wizn't it daft tae pley aboot somebody that had been deed 3,204 years?

[O.Sc. pley, to go to law (about), tr., a.1400 intr. 1455, to quarrel, 1420, lawsuit, 1454, quarrel, 1513, Mid.Eng. play(d), O.Fr. plai(d), Lat. placitum, lawsuit.]

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"Plea n., v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 8 Aug 2022 <>



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