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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1971 (SND Vol. VIII).
This entry has not been updated but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

SCULL, n.1 Also scul, skul(l); for vocalised forms scoo, scow, see Scoo. [skʌl; n.Sc. + sku; skʌu]

1. A shallow scoop-shaped oval basket of wicker, wooden laths or wire mesh, used for carrying peats, turnips, potatoes, grain or the like (n.Sc. 1710 T. Ruddiman Gl. to Douglas Aeneis; Sc. 1808 Jam.; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; ne., em.Sc., Lnk., Kcb. 1969).Sc. 1701 Foulis Acct. Bk. (S.H.S.) 296:
A closs barrow and 2 skulls.
Rxb. 1738 J. Mason Kelso Rec. (1839) 129:
A parcel of skulls, baskets, etc.
m.Lth. 1744 Bryan Pit Acct. Bk. MS. 34:
Ane New Bige Scull for Clainsing the Myne. . . . . . . . .8d.
Sc. 1775 Caled. Mercury (31 May):
Some of them had children a month old, which the fathers carried on their backs in a skull or wooden basket.
m.Lth. 1812 P. Forbes Poems 31:
Just like a skull or basket, For gatherin' stanes.
Abd. 1832 W. Scott Poems 152:
We wadna sit an' weave at sculs.
ne.Sc. 1874 W. Gregor Olden Time 93:
A new skull was taken and hung over the fire from a piece of a branch of a hazel tree, and into this basket the suspected changeling was laid.
Abd. 1917 C. Murray Sough o' War 31:
I hash the neeps an' full the skull.
Ags. 1957 Dundee Courier (11 Jan.) 10:
Steelyard and Weights; Sculls.

Combs.: (1) scullfu(ll), the full of a scull-basket; (2) scull-gab, a cloud formation fancifully resembling a scull and indicating from what direction the wind is likely to blow, called in Eng. a Noah's ark (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 229, Bnff. 1930). See also Horn, n., 8., purse-moo s.v. Purse and Gab.(1) Lnk. 1733 Session Papers, Neilson v. Weir (25 June) 8:
Several Sculfulls of the Buttons were thrown to the Dunghill.
Ags. 1948 Forfar Dispatch (23 Sept.):
Her neeper wiz juist comin oot ee coal-hole wi a skull-fu o' clogs.
ne.Sc. 1953 Mearns Leader (25 Dec.):
Bang intae the fore-sta' gaed the skullfu' o' neeps.
(2) Abd.1 1929:
That's a gey skullgab creepin ower-the lift, there'll be something oot o' that — win' or weet.

2. A similarly shaped basket “deep at one end for the line, and shallow at the other for the baited hooks”, used by fishermen to carry their lines and by fishwives for carrying fish (Sc. 1880 Jam.; Fif., Lth. 1926 Wilson Cent. Scot. 264; Ork. 1929 Marw.; ne.Sc. 1969). Phrs. counting the sculls (see 1844 quot.), the setting of the sculls, a practice at fisher-weddings where the bride's girl-friends set or arranged the new bridegroom's lines in the scull for his first fishing-trip as a married man, usu. on the Monday after the Saturday ceremony (Abd. 1904 E.D.D.).e.Lth. 1795 Stat. Acc.1 X. 87:
Whitings and flounders, at present, sell on the shore at 2s. 6d. per scull, (containing about 6 or 7 dozen).
Sc. 1816 Scott Antiquary xxvi.:
The wife, she maun get the skull on her back and awa wi' the fish to the next burrows town.
Fif. 1844 J. Jack St. Monance 74:
The operation is called “counting the sculls,” in allusion to the name of the wicker baskets in which they carry their fishing lines. When the money was to be divided, the crew were convened, and the skipper placed upon the table a large wooden caup or platter, containing the whole sum; it was then doled round in shares, in the same manner as were the fish; and when finished if by any mishap all had not the same number of pieces the whole was again thrown back into the caup for a fresh division.
Ags. 1857 A. Douglas Hist. Ferryden 85:
I wad just ging an' fling my line, skull an' a' into Mr. Bell's pond.
Kcd. 1901 Weekly Free Press (9 Feb.) 4:
Later on would come the setting of the sculls ere the young people could be accounted as fairly started on their matrimonial career.
Ork. 1911 Ork. Herald (2 Aug.):
Carrying a “skull” or basket, in which were his lines, the two marked trout, and some small flounders.
Edb. 1937 Times (1 April) 15:
A shallow basket or “skull” that fits on the top of the creel often contains half a hundredweight of big cod in addition.
Abd. 1943 W. S. Forsyth Guff o' Waur 2:
The half-made scull and bunch o' shiny canes.
Fif. 1950 Scots. Mag. (Feb.) 371:
Stowing the line straight from the sea into the basket (or “skull,” the fishermen called it).

3. A small wooden scoop or bowl, gen. used to ladle milk from a churn (Ork. 1929 Marw., skully).

[O.Sc. skull, = 1., 1513. Of doubtful etym. Poss. ad. O.Fr. escu(e)lle, a dish, cogn. with Eng. scuttle, which has somewhat sim. meanings, both from Lat. scutella. But the phonology is not altogether clear.]

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"Scull n.1". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 30 Mar 2023 <>



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