Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

Hide Quotations Hide Etymology Cite this entry

SKEAN, n. Also skene, skeen, skein, skian, -en; sgian. A short-bladed black-hilted sheath-knife or dagger, specif. one used by a Highlander, for stabbing or carving (Sc. 1825 Jam.). Gen.Sc., obs. exc. in comb. skean-dhu below. In E.M.E. usage referring chiefly to Ireland. Deriv. adj. skeenach, used fig., thin, lean, like a knife, shrivelled (Arg. 1936 L. McInnes S. Kintyre 12). Cf. Skunie. [′ski(ə)n] Sc. 1708 Observator (24 April):
In one side of their Girdle sticks a Durk or Skean, about a Foot or half a Yard long.
Lnk. a.1779 D. Graham Writings (1893) I. 135:
With durks and skians they fell a sticking.
Sc. 1822 Scott F. Nigel xxvii.:
Put up your swords, dirks, and skenes.
Bwk. 1876 W. Brockie Leaderside Leg. 29:
But on their skenes, like hurchen jags, They nobly keppit them.
Abd. 1909 J. Tennant Jeannie Jaffray iii.:
The sport they got learnt them to use the pike, the dairt, an' skeen.

Combs.: 1. skean-dhu, id., now commonly worn in the stocking with the haft protruding as part of the Highland dress. Gen.Sc. [′ski(ə)n′du]; †2. skene-ochil, -oc(c)le(s), id., specif. one concealed in the upper part of the sleeve under the armpit. 1. Sc. 1811 Scott Letters (Cent. Ed.) III. 37:
A very formidable knife which when opened becomes a sort of Skene-dhu or dagger.
Sc. 1828 Wilson Noctes Amb. (1855) II. 146:
You're a desperate sateerical auld chiel, and plant your skein-dhu —.
Sc. 1831 J. Logan Sc. Gael (1876) I. 339:
The Highlanders carried the skean dhu, or black knife, which was stuck between the hose and the skin of their right leg.
Abd. 1872 J. G. Michie Deeside Tales 138:
His Claymore, Skeandhu, an' a' his graith.
Arg. 1896 N. Munro Lost Pibroch 44:
A man who has gralloched deer with a keen sgian-dubh.
Sc. 1950 Highland Dress (Stewart, Christie & Co.) 7:
Sgiandubh is worn either inside or outside garter on outer part of right leg.
2. n.Sc. c.1730 E. Burt Letters (1815) II. 201:
Some of them carry a sort of knife which they call a skeen-ocles, from its being concealed in the sleeve near the arm pit.
Sc. 1814 Scott Waverley xxix.:
“Skene-occle! what's that?” Callum unbuttoned his coat, raised his left arm, and, with an emphatic nod, pointed to the hilt of a small dirk, snugly deposited under it, in the lining of his jacket.
Slk. 1828 Hogg Shep. Cal. (1874) xiii.:
The beldam plunged a skeinochil into my breast.

[O.Sc., skane, 1611, Gael., Ir. sgian, a knife, sgian dubh, a black knife, sgian-achlais, an armpit- or oxter-knife; sgianach, like a knife.]

You may wish to vary the format shown below depending on the citation style used.

"Skean n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 22 Jan 2022 <>



Try an Advanced Search

Browse SND: