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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.

SHANK, n., v. Also †schank. and derivs. shankum, -em. Sc. usages:

I. n. 1. As in Eng., gen. in pl. and now chiefly dial.: the shin, leg, and, by synecdoche, a human being. Dim. shankie. Ppl.adj. -shankit in combs., having legs of a certain sort specified by the first element. Deriv. s(c)hankum, a person or animal with long, slender legs (Ork. 1825 Jam.; Sh. 1866 Edm. Gl.).Abd. 1733 W. Forbes Dominie Depos'd (1765) 38:
You'll stand, I fear upon your shankies.
Lnk. a.1779 D. Graham Writings (1883) II. 22:
How cou'd ye confess sae muckle to maeslie shanket Marion.
Ayr. 1787 Burns Letters (Ferguson) No. 113:
The tither was a clean-shankit, straught, tight, weel-far'd winch.
Sc. 1817 Scott Rob Roy xxii.:
Sitting on the bed, to “rest his shanks.”
Slk. 1822 Hogg Siege Rxb. (1874) 624:
I hae mysel an' my three billies, deil a shank mae.
Edb. 1838 W. McDowall Poems 118:
Ye spindle shanked, feckless shrimp, Wi' waist drawn in sae tight and jimp.
Gsw. 1879 A. G. Murdoch Rhymes 45:
A short, braid-shoother't, sturdy-shankit chiel.
Sc. 1886 Stevenson Kidnapped xxix.:
I am nae rider to kick my shanks at your hall-door.
Slg. 1935 W. D. Cocker Further Poems 67:
Thank heeven I am still soople shankit.
Ags. 1931 Barrie Farewell Miss J. Logan iii.:
When there were no seats in my Kirk. and all stood on their shanks.

Phrs. and combs.: (1) Auld Shanks, -Shanky, Death. Cf. (2); (2) death-shanks, a scraggy bony leg like that of a corpse or of Death personified; (3) shankies bait, hurried flight, running away. Cf. leg-bail s.v. Leg, n., 1.(2); (4) shanks('s)-na(i)g(ie), shankum's-, one's own legs as a means of travel, = Eng. shanks('s) mare, which is also in common use in Scot. (Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 409; Per. 1915 Wilson L. Strathearn 270; Uls. 1953 Traynor; m. and s.Sc. 1970); (5) shanks's noddy, id. (Sc. 1899 Montgomerie-Fleming 137); (6) shanks's pair, id.; (7) shanks' pownie, id. (Ork., Cai. 1970); (8) shankem steadie [ < steed], id.; (9) to lay down the shanks, to run, to leg it; (10) to move the shankie, to take oneself off, depart, rise and go; (11) to ride the shank, to go on foot, to walk; (12) to streek (one's) shanks, to stretch one's legs, to walk or run; (13) to tak one's shanks, = (10).(1) Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 246, 268:
Auld Shanks was fit enough himsell, For forming plots to nip us snell . . . Auld Shanky values no ae fla' Slump fifty thousan' pun?
(2) Abd. 1882 G. MacDonald Castle Warlock xlix.:
Did I no haud the dog frae the deith-shanks o' 'im?
(3) Rnf. 1813 G. MacIndoe Wandering Muse 112:
The twa gaed bye like shankies bail.
(4) Sc. 1725 W. Thomson Orpheus Caled. (1733) I. 26:
Ay until the Day he died He rade on good Shanks Nagy.
Edb. 1773 Fergusson Poems (S.T.S.) II. 188:
Our Deacon wadna ca' a chair, . . . He took shanks-naig.
Per. c.1800 Lady Nairne Songs (1905) 229:
Wi' him she'll hae a chaise and pair, Wi' me she'll hae shanks-naggie.
Sc. 1823 Scott Letters (Cent. Ed.) VII. 325:
I found Shanksnagie the only way of moving by which I could get out to dinner.
Ags. 1878 J. S. Neish Reminiscences 116:
Davie took “shanks naggie” for Dundee.
Kcb. 1897 T. Murray Frae the Heather 155:
On shankies' naigie I got through it.
Rxb. 1925 E. C. Smith Mang Howes 13:
It was ti be Shankum's Naigie, thin, — ti Denum, onyway.
(5) Gsw. 1873 A. G. Murdoch Lilts 77:
Gie me a sax-mile stretch o' road On auld John Shanks's noddy.
(6) Bwk. 1897 R. M. Calder Poems 126:
The Laird, wha has driven his ain shanks pair.
(8) s.Sc. 1845 E. Aitchison Forest Day Tour 82:
Then wayward o'er the hilly lan', Raid on my shankem steadie.
(9) Rnf. 1865 J. Young Pictures 137:
My word she can lay doun her shanks: In terror o' a paiket skin.
(10) Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 113:
Whan naething mair fra it dis seep, Wi' than they move the shankie.
(11) Gsw. 1841 W. Aitken Poet. Works 68:
Waes me, for the lower station Maun ride the shank aye.
(12) Ayr. 1790 A. Tait Poems 105:
As swift a jade as e'er streekt shanks.
Rnf. 1804 R. Tannahill Poems (1900) 69:
Wha mony a mile wad streek his shanks, To hae a crack wi Josie Banks.
(13) Abd. p.1768 A. Ross Fortunate Shep. (S.T.S.) 180:
Nae mair ye maun be geen to sickan pranks Or I assure you Ken maun tak his shanks.

2. A leg (of meat, now specif. of mutton). Gen.Sc.Sc. 1806 A. Hunter Culina 180:
Good broth, made of shank of beef, or veal and mutton.
Sc. 1837 M. Dods Manual 75:
Choose it [mutton] short in the shank, thick in the thigh. Chop but a very small bit off the shank.
Sc. 1952 Meat Trades' Journal (12 June):
Revised Retail Meat Prices — Scotland . . . Mutton and Lamb Neck and Shank 1s 4d.

3. The leg of a stocking, a stocking, esp. one in the process of being knitted (n.Sc. 1710 T. Ruddiman Gl. to Douglas Aeneis, 1808 Jam.; Bnf. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 153; Bnff., Abd., Ags., Lth., wm.Sc. 1970); later of any garment being knitted (ne.Sc., Per. 1970). Hence shank-weaver, -weaving, a knitter or weaver, the knitting or weaving of woollen stockings.Sc. 1706 Sc. Antiquary XII. 102:
The ports of England and the other far off places we ha spoke of are open tae Receive Our Fingrins, Shanks, Sarges Plaids Pladings Stufts and Drogets &c.
Abd. 1754 R. Forbes Shop Bill 32:
I do intend some Shanks to sell.
Abd. 1824 G. Smith Douglas 130:
A' sorts o' shanks and stocking thread.
Kcd. 1843 J. Anderson Black Book 58:
[The] women were in the practice of weaving their shanks or stockings.
Abd. 1865 H. G. Reid Lowland Legends 49, 52:
Pursuing his craft of shank-weaving far into the night . . . James Bruce, the humble shank-weaver of Old Deer.
Ayr. 1890 J. Service Notandums 108:
A pair of grey breeks and white shanks gartenit abune the knee.
Abd. 1903 W. Watson Auld Lang Syne 90:
I've latt'n doon a loop o' ma shank, an' canna see tae tak' it up.
Abd. 1954 Buchan Observer (19 Oct.):
A'se tak ma shank an' weive in 'e glowmin.

4. The stem or shaft of any instrument, as a spoon, fork, garden tool, brush, tobacco pipe, drinking-glass, golf-club, etc. (Sc. 1825 Jam.). Gen.Sc. Now only dial. in Eng. Hence shankie, -y, shankit, -et, adj., having a long or prominent handle or stem, shankie, n., a small cooking pan with a long handle (Dmf. 1970), also shanky-pan (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.), and hence shanky full, a panful; shankless, without a handle, shank-maker, a maker of shafts or handles.Sc. 1758 A. Reid Macquer's Chym. I. 404:
Keep stirring the mixture with the shank of a tobacco-pipe.
Dmb. 1817 J. Walker Poems 93:
A shankless shool or teethless raik.
Slg. 1820 Trials for High Treason (1825) II. 178:
I know it by that burn upon the shank [of a hayfork].
Ayr. 1826 Galt Last of Lairds iii.:
He had the shank o' the very glass in his hand he had held to his old frien's lips.
Sc. 1832 A. Henderson Proverbs 6:
He needs a lang shanket spoon that sups kail wi' the deil.
Dmf. 1843 Letters T. Carlyle to his Brother (Marrs 1968) 574:
The difficulty of getting anything, even a shanky-full of potatoes cooked, was extreme.
Rxb. 1848 R. Davidson Leaves 179:
Frae those wandering gipsies, Wi' their besom shanks.
Bwk. 1876 W. Brockie Confessional 194:
The shank o' the shule brakk.
Clc. 1882 J. Walker Poems 37:
Then jist the shanky tangs nae fatter For a' they tak.
Peb. 1899 J. Grosart Chronicles 44:
The best leister shank maker in the world.
Dmf. 1925 Trans. Dmf. and Gall. Antiq. Soc. 23:
The shank o' that axe was fair daised.
Abd. 1929 J. Milne Dreams o' Buchan 47:
Yer bonnie shank sae lang an' hale, Yer bowl an' feich as soon's a bell.

Deriv. shanker, a liquor glass with a long stem.Sc. 1825 Wilson Noctes Amb. (1855) I. 64:
A pot o' Draught — twa lang shankers o' ale.
Sc. 1876 Bk. of Sc. Story 539:
Tak the shanker ower to Jenny Nailor's, an' bring a dooble-floorer to the gentleman.

5. A salmon or sea-trout after spawning and hence in a lean condition, a Kelt.Sc. 1837 J. M. Galloway Poems 22:
Shank and kelt have both the same meaning, with this exception that a shank is the smallest of the kelt tribe.

6. The stem or stalk of a tree, plant or fruit (Sc. 1710 T. Ruddiman Gl. to Douglas Aeneis; Uls. 1953 Traynor). Gen.Sc., now obsol. in Eng. Adj. shankie, having a long thin stalk, “leggy”, of a plant.Sc. 1754 J. Justice Sc. Gardiner 177:
You must now draw up the Earth to the Shanks of these [cauliflowers].
Bnff. 1787 Trans. Bnff. Field Club (1930) 48:
The barley that was uncut was broke over at the middle of the shank.
Rnf. 1788 E. Picken Poems 130:
His legs like gowan-shanks.
Ayr. 1822 H. Ainslie Pilgrimage 179:
Her lips are like to cherries twin, That grow upon ae shank.
Bwk. 1853 G. Johnston Botany E. Borders 85:
Bunium Flexuosum. Earth-nut: Arnuts. . . . Children dig up the roots and eat them. When the little “howker” breaks the white “shank,” he at once desists from his attempt to reach the root, for he believes that it will elude his search by sinking deep and deeper into the ground.
Per. 1898 C. Spence Poems 147:
Shrubs, shanks, shaws, flowers and bulbous roots.
Wgt. 1912 A.O.W.B. Fables frae French 11:
A Pleuchman saw a pumpkin, an' he thocht That for a fruit sae big the shank was nocht.
m.Lth. 1925 C. P. Slater Marget Pow 86, 200:
A long shankie-lookin' srub with sharp leaves — The cabbages was the most prominent featur of the display — the shanks of them are that long.

7. (1) The lower part or sides of a corn-stack or rick (n.Sc., Slg., Lth., Gall. 1970).Ork. 1874 Trans. Highl. Soc. 32:
In the case of large or stackyard skrews, the shank, or lower part, swells out very gradually from the foundation until a height of 6 or 8 feet is reached.
Abd. 1951 Huntly Express (12 Oct.):
The top of the rick is thus prevented from sinking down and packing the bole, shank or lower portion of the stack.

(2) a chimney-stack (wm.Sc. 1970).

8. The vertical shaft or pit of a coal- or iron mine (Sc. 1808 Jam., 1886 J. Barrowman Mining Terms 59). Phr. doun the shank, fig., irretrievably lost, gone for ever (Sc. 1950 B.B.C. Broadcast (12 May)).Gsw. 1704 Burgh Rec. Gsw. (1908) 376:
The saids tacksmen . . . to search after and sett doun shanks for coall.
Lnk. 1763 Session Papers, Spens v. Scot (10 Dec.) 5:
No coals were ever taken out of the said Kirn shank.
Rnf. 1790 A. Wilson Poems 215:
Nine score o' fathoms shanks down [they] lead.
Lnk. 1845 Stat. Acc.2 VI. 258:
This is the coal now wrought both by shanks and ingoing pits. The shanks at Quarter are about 30 fathoms.
Fif. 1909 R. Holman Char. Studies 48:
Sortin' the shank o' a pit.

9. A downward spur or projection of a hill, a descending ridge which joins a hill summit to the plain (Ags., s.Sc. 1970).Sc. 1765 Invercauld Rec. (S.C.) 36:
From that up the shank to the Brae breast.
Peb. 1775 M. P. Armstrong Tweedale 49:
Hills are variously named, according to their magnitude; as . . . Shank, Brae, Kneis.
Sc. 1791 Lord Maxwell's Last Goodnight in Child Ballads No. 195. B. viii.:
The Langholm shank, where birks they be!
Slk. 1827 R. Chambers Picture Scot. I. 134:
A narrow lane leading from this tower to a part of the town nearer Gala Hill, was called “the King's Shank.”
Ags. 1935 J. Angus Homecoming iii. ii.:
A recess of the hillside to the left of the shank of Craig Shewan.

II. v. 1. absol. or tr. To use the legs, to walk, go or cover on foot, march (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; Mry., Per., Lth., wm. and s.Sc. 1970), freq. in phr. to shank it, id. (Uls. 1953 Traynor). Deriv. shankle, to walk with very long strides (Ork. 1929 Marw.). Hence shanker, one who goes about a great deal, a gadabout; one who is active on his shanks, esp. a young person, a stripling (Mry., Abd. 1970). Phr. and Combs. shanker's naigie, going on foot, shanks' mare (Fif., Lth. 1926 Wilson Cent. Scot. 264; Ags., Slg., Fif., Ayr. 1970). See I. 1. Phrs. (4); shanker news, gossip carried around by gadabouts.Sc. c.1707 Jacobite Minstr. (1829) 40:
The auld wise man grew baugh, And turn'd to shank away.
Edb. 1773 Fergusson Poems (S.T.S.) II. 55:
If baudrins slip but to the door, . . . She'll no lang shank upon all-four.
Ayr. 1786 Burns Inventory 67:
My travel a' on foot I'll shank it.
Sc. 1825 Jam.:
I shankit every fit o' the road. To shank aff. To depart quickly.
Knr. 1832 L. Barclay Poems 21:
Wi' hunders shankin' on their fit, Below the Broomielaw.
Abd. 1847 Gill Binklets 28, 107:
Comahown had already got notice, through the small feet, or young shankers of the village. . . . The writer had no better authority than what is termed “Shanker news.”
Sc. 1862 A. Hislop Proverbs 186:
Them that canna ride maun shank it.
e.Lth. 1892 J. Lumsden Sheep-Head 153:
Auld time doun to this nicht has shankit.
Sc. 1930 Glasgow Herald (17 Feb.) 10:
As he cam shankin' ower the lee.
Sc. 1928 J. G. Horne Lan'wart Loon 10:
The laddies shankt it a' the wey.

2. tr. To send (someone) off on foot, dispatch, dismiss, pack off (Lnk. 1970); to fob off; refl. to take oneself off, take one's departure.Sc. 18th c. Jacobite Minstr. (1829) 22:
It's nae shame to shank ye, O.
Sc. 1787 J. Elphinston Propriety II. 124:
Ye think tae shank me aff sae!
Sc. 1816 Scott Antiquary xxvii.:
Then shank yoursell awa' to the double folk.
Dmf. 1822 Scots Mag. (Mar.) 365:
So I shanked aff him and our Sandy, alang wi' the miller, to seek for his lost sheep.
Sc. 1825 Jam.:
Shank them to bed.
Lnk. a.1832 W. Watt Poems (1860) 92:
I was shankit aff to shift for mysel'.
m.Lth. 1856 J. Ballantine Poems 55:
He shankit the snab hame to cobble his shoon.
Ags. 1879 A. L. Fenton Forfar Poets 124:
I maun see and gar your father Get ye shankit tae the schule.
Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.:
A'll shank ee off ti' service, ye lazy limmer.

3. To knit stockings (Abd. 1825 Jam.), to knit, in gen. (Abd., Kcd., Ags. 1970). See I. 3. Hence shanker, a knitter of stockings (n.Sc. 1710 T. Ruddiman Gl. to Douglas Aeneis; Sc. 1802 J. Sibbald Chron. Sc. Poetry Gl.), shankin, the knitting of stockings, etc.Abd. 1759 F. Douglas Rural Love 21:
Nae seiner are they help'd to bed, And a' the shankers larums laid.
Abd. 1801 W. Beattie Parings (1813) 31:
The shankers hamphise the fireside.
Abd. 1900 C. Murray Hamewith 79:
The thrifty lasses shank wi' virr.
Abd. 1954 Banffshire Jnl. (24 Aug.):
His mother did what was called “shankin,” or hand-knitting for the merchant at so much per cut of worsted, in the form of socks, hose, drawers and “sarkits.”

4. To fit (a tool or implement) with a shank or handle (Ags., Per., Bwk., wm. and sm.Sc. 1970).wm.Sc. 1880 Jam.:
To shank a fork.

5. tr. and intr. To sink (a shaft), to bore, e.g. to obtain minerals or water (Cld. 1825 Jam.; Sc. 1886 J. Barrowman Mining Terms 59; Ayr. 1928). Hence shanker, one who does this (wm.Sc. 1880 Jam., a well-shanker, pit-shanker), shanking, boring, shaft-sinking.Ayr. 1700 Ayr. Arch. and Nat. Hist. Soc. II. 177:
To sett down and shank a coal heugh on the town lands.
Gsw. 1761 Burgh Rec. Gsw. (1912) 59:
[They] would bore for and afterwards shank for the principall coall under the small coall seam of eighteen inches.
Slg. 1795 Stat. Acc.1 XVI. 113:
Several trials, by boring and shanking, have been made to find coal.
Ayr. 1821 Galt Annals vi.:
Three new coal-heughs were shanked in the Douray Moor.
Lnk. a.1832 W. Watt Poems (1860) 150:
Syne wad he fetch his shankin tools.
e.Lth. 1887 P. McNeill Blawearie 46:
Some shankers, who had been engaged sinking the sump at the bottom of the shaft.

6. Golf: to strike the ball with the shank of the club (Sc. 1950 J. C. Jessop Teach yourself Golf 130). See I. 4.

[O.Sc. schank, a tree-trunk, 1513, stocking, c.1515, hill spur, 1602, mine-shaft, 1648.]

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"Shank n., v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 27 Mar 2023 <>



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