Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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SKELF, n.1 Also skyelf (Abd. 1914 G. Greig Folk Song cxxxvi. 1); skelv.-; skilf; ¶scalf. Pl. skelfs. Dim. skelfie. [skɛlf]

1. A shelf in gen. (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Ork., ne.Sc., Ags. 1970); a framework or set of shelves; a ledge of stone, rock, etc. (Cai. 1904 E.D.D., Cai. 1970). Also in n.Eng. dial. Adj. skelvy, shelving, forming a shelf or ledge, of a rocky river-bank or the like (Sc. 1825 Jam.; Sh. 1970). Sc. 1725 Ramsay Gentle Shep. iii. ii.:
The Green-Horn Spoons, beech-Luggies mingle On Skelfs foregainst the Door.
Sh. 1773 Hjaltland Misc. (1937) III. 141:
For a Double Deal to the scalf.
Edb. 1773 Fergusson Poems (S.T.S.) II. 210:
On auld worm-eaten skelf, in cellar dunk.
Ayr. 1787 Burns Petit. Bruar Water iv.:
Foaming down the skelvy rocks.
Slg. 1788 R. Galloway Poems 160:
For want o' sap, baith hard and dry; Shall thou on stoury skelfs ly by.
Peb. 1802 C. Findlater Agric. Peb. 41:
The skelf, or frame, containing shelves, with cross bars in front, to prevent the utensils set upon its shelves from tumbling off.
Sc. 1803 in Scott Minstrelsy III. 358:
Ilk rib sae bare, a skelvy skair.
Ayr. 1823 Galt R. Gilhaize III. xxii.:
It's the head and the hand beside it that has but twa fingers left, on the Kirkgate end o' the skelf.
Abd. 1882 W. Alexander My Ain Folk 94:
Ye'll get yer shavin' leems o' the skelfie ahin' the saut backit.
Cai. 1909 D. Houston 'E Silkie Man 7:
'Ey sees a skelf far 'ey can lan?
Bnff. 1924 Swatches o' Hamespun 15:
A'm haaf-jaloosin ye did the best pairt o' the coortin yersel or ye-da been on the skelf yet.
Sh. 1949 J. Gray Lowrie 37:
Dis een it da end o' da skelf is foo o' fleein' mochs.

2. A shelf above a box-bed, freq. used as a sleeping bunk by young children (Ork., em.Sc. 1970); a ship's bunk. Rs. 1727 W. MacGill Old Ross-shire (1909) 133:
2 small beddes for children and skelfs round about.
Abd. 1790 A. Shirrefs Poems 249:
To lay it o' the sleeping skelf.
Fif. 1864 W. D. Latto T. Bodkin xv.:
I canna say I saw ony blue-devils glowerin' at me frae the bed skelf.
Ags. 1872 J. Kennedy Jock Craufurt 115:
To gang below amang the rest, An' lie doon in his little skelf.
Ork. 1949 “Lex” But-end Ballans 8:
I . . . teuk a cloot fae de skelf o' de bed.

[O.Sc. skelf, shelf, c.1480, North. Mid.Eng. skelfe, id., with sk- due to Scandinavian influence. Cf. O.N. -skjalf, bench, seat. There may have been influence also from the cogn. Du. schelf, a hay-loft or -rack.]

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"Skelf n.1". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 6 Dec 2021 <>



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