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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1971 (SND Vol. VIII). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.

SKEEL, n.1, v. Also skeil (Edb. 1796 Edb. Mag. (May) 385; m.Lth. 1819 J. Thomson Poems 202). Sc. forms and usages of Eng. skill (Sc. 1816 Scott Antiquary xxxix., Rxb. 1913 Kelso Chron. (16 May) 3; Sc. 1933 Sc. N. and Q. (Sept.) 130; Sh., ne.Sc. 1970). Hence skeeled, skilled (ne.Sc. 1888 D. Grant Keckleton 110), skeelfu, skilful (Sc. 1816 Scott Antiquary xxiv.; Lth. 1920 A. Dodds Songs of Fields 25). [skil. Cf. Dreel, Sweel, Teel, etc.]

I. n. 1. As in current or arch. Eng., knowledge, expertness, discrimination, experience. Phrs. a man or woman of skill, an expert in some particular subject, gen. one called in by a Court to report on some technical matter in question (Sc. 1946 A. D. Gibb Legal Terms 54); to hae skeel o', to be versed or experienced in, have practice in, freq. implying a taste or liking for or favourable opinion of (n.Sc. 1808 Jam.).Gall. 1710 Session Rec. Penninghame (1933) I. 258:
To take some women of skill and go view her tomorrow and take notice of her condition.
Cai. 1776 Weekly Mag. (25 Jan.) 145:
I hinna skeel Of fowks that lig o'er muckle wi' the deil.
Edb. 1798 D. Crawford Poems 4:
Gif ye hae skeil o' rhyming gear.
Mry. 1806 J. Cock Simple Strains 143:
Our Wife likes skate, but well I wat, I needna ha'e grite skill o't.
Sc. 1816 Scott O. Mortality xvii.:
They hae little skeel o' arms.
Sc. 1833 Acts 3 & 4 William IV c.46. § 92:
The Amount shall be ascertained by such Magistrate by means of a Remit to Persons of Skill.
s.Sc. 1847 H. S. Riddell Poems 8:
To tell they had nae skill o' foulk That stood on ceremony.
Abd. 1879 11 Years at Farm Wk. 2:
I have nae skill o' sic music, annoyin' folk at this time in the morning.
Sc. 1887 Stevenson Underwoods 78:
For a' your lear, for a' your skeel.
Ayr. 1901 G. Douglas Green Shutters xxv.:
Have ye skill o' drink?

Hence adj. skeelie, -y, skeily, skilly, skilled, experienced, practised (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Lth. 1926 Wilson Cent. Scot. 266; ne. and m.Sc. 1970). Compar. skeelier, Superl. skeeliest. Also adv.Abd. 1768 A. Ross Helenore (S.T.S.) 102:
Upo' your milk your skilly hand ye'll try.
Sc. 1803 Sir Patrick Spens in Child Ballads (1956) II. 26:
O whare will I get a skeely skipper, To sail this new ship o' mine?
Sc. 1816 Scott O. Mortality xxxvii.:
Maist skeily folk think that bodes rain.
ne.Sc. 1862 Fraser's Mag. (Feb.) 156:
I've seen them [Eskimo boats] dancin' thro' the jabble as skeely as a loom or a deuk.
Sc. 1893 Stevenson Catriona xii.:
He maun be extraordinar skilly.
Lth. 1894 P. H. Hunter J. Inwick 32:
It was a raivelled hasp he had to redd, an' he did it unco skeely.
Wgt. 1912 A.O.W.B. Fables 52:
We'se need some skilly plannin' to win oot.
m.Sc. 1922 J. Buchan Huntingtower iii.:
There wasna ane in the countryside sae bauld a rider at the hunt, or sic a skeely fisher.
Abd. 1951 Huntly Express (16 Feb.):
In takin' oot a mids, a skeely horse ploughman can still beat anything done by tractor.
Sc. 1965 Scotland's Mag. (Nov.) 53:
Who better than Douglas Young, skilly in Greek studies?
m.Sc. 1979 Donald Campbell in Joy Hendry Chapman 23-4 (1985) 66:
Your mither was aye faster
nor the skeeliest o hures
m.Sc. 1979 William J. Rae in Joy Hendry Chapman 23-4 (1985) 78:
You micht ken that frae the fact that they hae Croakin Festivals siveral times a year, whaur solo croakers and croakin choirs get marks frae judges wha can tell bonny, skeely croakin frae the roch, gawkit kind.
wm.Sc. 1987 Anna Blair Scottish Tales (1990) 126:
' ... He's no' lazy. He's out a' weathers wi' the sheep and there's none skeelier at the lambin'.'
wm.Sc. 1989 Anna Blair The Goose Girl of Eriska 84:
Well, Jack grew up with the manual skills, right-enough, but they didn't take the form of dexterity at broadcasting seed, guiding a hand-plough, or of skeely ways with their other simple implements.
ne.Sc. 1991 Ken Morrice in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 61:
Some quines are aathegither thooms,
but I wis aye skeely and the teacher's pet.
Sc. 1991 Roderick Watson in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 107:
Whaur are aa the skeelie singers
That I drank wi in my time,
Drouthie talkers, bonnie fechters,
Sae free wi love an breid an wine?

2. Specif. Skill in the art of healing, medical or veterinary capability, freq. of a non-professional kind (Sc. 1825 Jam.; ne.Sc., Ags. 1970). Phr. to get skeel, to consult a doctor (Rxb. 1825 Jam.).Per. 1802 S. Kerr Poems 22:
They never cou'd attain the skeel, To cure fouks ails, an' mak them weel.
Sc. 1808 E. Hamilton Glenburnie x.:
I'm mista'en if auld John Smith havena as meikle skeel as ony doctor amang them.
Slk. 1829 Hogg Tales (1874) 202:
I canna afford to maintain them, and get skeel for them, and nurse them.
Abd. 1877 W. Alexander Rural Life 169:
A sort of high priestess and sorceress or witch. And her “skeel” found recognition outside caird circles too.
Per. 1881 D. Macara Crieff 136:
When this couple of Fowlis sinners had sat before the congregation and received a “rebuke”, the interesting young lady came to reside pro tem. with a relative in Crieff, as she said, “to be near skill.”
m.Sc. 1917 J. Buchan Poems 23:
Sic skeel o' sheep, sic sarious mind At kirk and prayer.
Lth. 1930 J. Cockburn Country Love 89:
Or if some bairn should be noweel . . . They rin to you for auld wife skeel.

Hence skeelie, -y, skilly, skeily, having such skill, real or supposed (Sc. 1825 Jam.; ne.Sc., Fif. 1970). Also in n.Eng. dial. A skeelie wife, a woman credited with great or supernatural ability in curing known or mysterious ailments, esp. one called to emergencies or confinements; an untrained midwife.Abd. 1790 A. Shirrefs Poems 266:
A skilly wife, our parish howdy.
Ayr. 1790 A. Tait Poems 199:
Skilly fouk to look the blains.
Sc. 1814 J. Sinclair Agric. Scot. II. 48:
The gardener was the skilly man of his district; deeply learned in the virtues of simples, and often applied to when the operation of blood-letting was to be performed.
Rxb. 1820 Scots Mag. (April) 344:
Prescribed by skilly auld wives, whereby the charms of the fairies might be averted.
Sc. 1824 Scott St Ronan's W. xxxviii.:
Mistress Dods was an uncommon skeely body about a sick-bed.
Arg. 1896 N. Munro Lost Pibroch (1935) 46:
A skilly woman or a stretching-board was no nearer than a day's tramp over the hill.
Bwk. 1897 R. M. Calder Poems 122:
A skeilie sort o' body amang horses, sheep, an' kye.
Cai. 1921 Old-Lore Misc. IX. i. 19:
The skilly man professed to find holes in the underskin, which they sought for very diligently.
Per. 1932 Our Meigle Book 129:
Births, too, were times of celebrations. The proceedings were stage-managed by the local handywoman or “skilly buddy”, who, on her arrival, was treated to a stiff glass of whisky.
ne.Sc. 1955 Mearns Leader (9 Dec.) 6:
She's fat the aul'-farrant fowk wid ca' a skeely wife; for there's nae an ache or pain but Granny Gowdie could gie something tae ease or cure.
Fif. 1998 Tom Hubbard Isolde's Luve-Daith 4:
And I, yince skeelie as mediciner,
Had naither baulm nor hairb fir this disays

II. v. To prove, test (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 230); to scan expertly, investigate, determine; specif. to look for weather signs (Bnff., Abd., 1970). Deriv. skeeler, the rolling of a marble before a game to decide by its nearness to the ring which player is to lead off (Ags. 1921 T.S.D.C.).Bch. 1900:
The men of old in Buchan's howes Looked up at morn to skeel your tap To see gin it was fair an' clear.
Bch. 1920:
He's gyaun tae skeel the wark.
Abd. 1955 W. P. Milne Eppie Elrick xxviii.:
I'se skeel fat 'e widder's sayin tull't noo.

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"Skeel n.1, v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 29 Jun 2022 <>



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