Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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SELCH, n., v. Also sealch, sealgh, saylch, silch, sulch; and in I.Sc. common in dim. forms, esp. selkie, -y, seilkie, sejlki, silkie, -ey, saelkie, sylkie, shelky (Sc. 1825 Jam.); sulky. [sɛlx; Bnff., Abd. sʌlx; I.Sc. ′sɛlki, ′seɪlki]

I. n. 1. The common or grey seal, Phoca vitulina (wm.Sc. 1741 A. McDonald Galick Vocab. 80; Ork. 1800 G. Barry Hist. Orkney 317, selchy; Sh. a.1838 Jam. MSS. XII. 195, seilkie; ne.Sc. 1903 G. Sim FaunaDee” 54; Sh. 1914 Angus Gl., sejlki; Ork. 1929 Marw.; I.Sc. (selki), Cai. (silkie), ne.Sc. (selch) 1969). Also in comb. selch fish, id. (Kcb. 1705 Session Rec. Minnigaff MS. (10 Oct.)) and attrib. See also Seal, n.2 Ork. 1701 J. Brand Descr. Ork. 25:
Many of the Countrey People wear a piece of a Skin, as of a Seale, commonly called a Selch, Calf or the like, for shoes.
Abd. 1707 Rec. Old Abd. (S.C.) II. 119:
Giving ther assistance some weeks ago on the Lords day to the takeing out of a selch out of the flood mark.
Inv. 1770 Session Papers, Macdonald v. Macleod State of Process 39:
He remembers the selch-fishing at Lochvicphail, and he knows of the North-Uist people killing fourteen selchs in Lochvicphail.
Kcb. 1789 D. Davidson Seasons 17:
The Western seas Whare selchs an' pellucks whamble.
Sc. 1816 Scott Antiquary xliv.:
A phoca, that is a sealgh, as you call it.
Sh. 1852 Great Silkie of Sule Skerry in Child Ballads No. 113 iii.:
I am a man, upon the lan An I am a silkie in the sea.
Sc. 1862 A. Hislop Proverbs 122:
He kens nae a selgh frae a salmon.
Ork. 1880 Dennison Sketch-Bk. 49:
Sheu callowed twa bonnie selkie calves.
Kcd. 1893 Stonehaven Journal (19 Jan.) 2:
I'll mak a pair oot o' the skin o' a silch that was shot at the Auld Ha'.
Sh. 1899 J. Spence Folk-Lore 24:
In Shetland folk-lore the Finns, both men and women, were supposed to possess a skin or garment like the covering of a selkie. . . . In old times there was an aversion to and superstitious dread of killing a selkie lest it should be a metamorphic Finn.
Abd. 1912 Abd. Jnl. N. & Q. V. 23:
Under the tower [Wine Tower of Fraserburgh] is a cave called the Selch's hole.
Sh. 1930 Manson's Sh. Almanac 183:
Her hide wis glis'nin' laek a sylkie.
Mry. 1932 E. Gilbert Spindrift 36:
I saw nocht but a bit fite sulky Wi' a sea troot in her moo.

Special combs.: (1) selkie folk, the seal people, an imaginary race inhabiting the sea, to outward appearance seals, but capable of being transformed into human beings, a common theme in Sh. and Ork. folklore; (2) silkie man, one of the above, a kind of merman; (3) sealchie's bubble, the jellyfish, Medusa, popularly thought to be the slaver of seals. See Loch-liver; (4) selkie-wife, a mermaid (Sh. 1969). (1) Ork. 1893 Sc. Antiquary VII. 171:
To the other class belonged all seals larger in size than the Phoca vitulina; such as the great seal, rough seal, Greenland seal, crested seal, and gray seal, — all of which have been seen in Orkney waters. And it was this class of larger seals that were called “selkie folk”, because they had the power of assuming the human form. . . . Unlike the mermaid, the selkie folk were never represented as dwelling in “Finfolk-a-heem”. . . . The only home of the selkie folk was some far outlying skerry, or sea-surrounded rock. Indeed, my old informants regarded the selkie folk as a wholly different race of beings from the Finfolk.
(2) Cai. 1909 D. Houston 'E Silkie Man 3:
It was “aal' Seeman,” as I remember who told us boys the story of the silkie man.
(3) Crm. 1835 H. Miller Scenes 297:
Nae mair natural feeling than a sealchie's bubble.

2. A local nickname for a native of North Ronaldsay in Orkney (Ork. 1969). Ork. 1908 Old-Lore Misc. I. viii. 320:
Gin 'e winna voo tae hae wir dialec ta't i' the skeuls, there's naither a stirlin', selkie, mare or bluidy puddin 'll vote for 'im.

3. A fat clumsy person (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 152; Abd. 1913; Bnff. 1969). Bnff.2 1940:
He's a great, muckle, ill-faar't sulch o' a cheel.

4. “A horse whose testicles are up in the belly, or not come down to the cod or bag” (Rnf. c.1850 Crawfurd MSS. (N.L.S.) S. 29). Phs. a different word.

II. v. In vbl.n. sealghing, seal-hunting. ne.Sc. 1862 Fraser's Mag. (Feb.) 156:
When I gaed wi' Captain Brown to the sealghing last spring.

[O.Sc. selich, = 1., 12th. c., O.E. seolh, id. The oblique stem seol- gives Eng. seal.]

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"Selch n., v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 20 Jan 2022 <>



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