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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1971 (SND Vol. VIII). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

SKELF, n.2, v. Also skelv(e), and reduced form skel. Dim. skelvock. [skɛlf]

I. n. 1. A thin flat fragment or slice, a flake, a lamina (n.Sc. 1808 Jam., skelve; Sh. 1866 Edm. Gl.; Cai. 1970), lit. and fig.; a splinter, small sliver or chip of wood, esp. one lodged in the skin (wm.Sc. 1880 Jam.; Uls. 1910 C. C. Russell People and Lang. 35; Slg. 1930; Uls. 1953 Traynor; I. and m.Sc. 1970). Dim. skelvock. Adj. skelfy, skelvy, laminated, tending to split in layers, splintery.Uls. 1884 Cruick-a-Leaghan and Slieve Gallion Lays and Leg. I. 88:
Nor a skelf av their hides, nor a tuft av their hair.
Sc. 1895 Dundee Advertiser (16 Nov.):
The lance-head in the whale has troubled it less than a “skelve” would bother a human being.
Arg. 1914 N. Munro New Road xxx.:
He cut a skelf from the boarding of one hole.
Mry. 1922 Swatches o' Hamespun 25:
It's but a wee bit, less or mair, A skelvock here, a murlie there.
Gsw. 1947 H. W. Pryde 1st Bk. McFlannels ii.:
He had a skelf in his finger.
Sc. 1959 Bulletin (8 May):
Don't neglect the pricks from rose thorns, rusty (or even clean) wires, a skelf of wood.
Cai. 1982 John Manson in Hamish Brown Poems of the Scottish Hills 140:
In the wind the skelf of a lintel tilts
like a balance
m.Sc. 1996 Christopher Brookmyre Quite Ugly One Morning (1997) 8:
This living room didn't have any kind of carpet to its name, and as its exposed floorboards were not of the trendy polished variety, he figured he would be picking skelfs out of his bare feet all afternoon.
Dundee 1996 Matthew Fitt Pure Radge 8:
straucht an smert
the ba is lowsed
sherp as a skelf
burlin aa weys
a buhlitt
wm.Sc. 1998 Alan Warner The Sopranos (1999) 297:
Michelle an Kylah squeezed round as they lifted the top off, smelled the sweet smell of the gunpowder, saw the spilled diamond-like black granules at the bottom, touched the rough, skelfy wood of the big rocket's stem.
em.Sc. 2000 James Robertson The Fanatic 112:
He'd been blown up in the war in North Africa and there were still bits of shrapnel in him, burrowing slowly through his body. When he walked any distance his legs would start to jag with the tiny skelfs that were in them.

2. A very thin flagstone slab (Cai. 1970).

3. The chip cut out of the trunk of a tree at the start of felling (Kcd. 1950, skel); a wedge of wood driven into the cut by tree-fellers to ease the motion of the saw (wm.Sc. 1970).

4. A large snowflake. Hence skelvie, of snow: in large flakes.Sh. 1881–95 Williamson MSS.:
Every skelv is fain lek a skovin. . . . Da last snaa wis mair hailie an skelvie.

5. Fig. A small, thin, insignificant person (wm.Sc., Rxb. 1970).Gsw. 1927 Scots Mag. (June) 172:
Pit doon that fryin-pan, ye wee skelf.
wm.Sc. 1951 N. B. Morrison Hidden Fairing 97:
A wee skelf of a man put in his head.
wm.Sc. 1985 Liz Lochhead Tartuffe 35:
Fact is, some men urrny hard tae please.
Ony wee straight-up-and-doon skelf in a skirt's
Enough fur them
m.Sc. 1992 Iain Banks The Crow Road (1993) 246:
'Like I say; I could have got the baby-sitter to help me with him, but she's just a skelf ... not our regular girl. She's built like a rugby player, could probably put Ferg over her shoulder, but not this girl. ...'
Gsw. 1995 Chris Dolan Poor Angels 105:
As if any respectable American employer would have taken on a wee skelf of a lassie with no qualifications to her name and three months pregnant!

II. v. 1. tr. To take off in or as in flakes, to slice (Sh., Per., Slg., wm.Sc. 1970).Sh. 1949 J. Gray Lowrie 106:
Ye can skelf aff da siller laek da leaves o' a beuk.
Gsw. 1953 Bulletin (13 March):
It prevents the fat from being absorbed by the body of the skelfed spuds.
Abd. 1998 Sheena Blackhall The Bonsai Grower 20:
The hairst wis weel-forrit noo an the fowk o the fairm cam hame ferfochen ilkie nicht, worn oot bi lang days in the parks as the blades gaed skelfin throwe the rig o barley like a knife ben butter, teemin oot the bales o strae ower the grun fur the hairsters tae bigg thegither like hooses, dryin aneth the birsslin hett o the plottin sun.

2. intr. To flake, break into flat slices or fragments, e.g. of stone by weathering (n.Sc. 1825 Jam.; Ork. 1970).Ags. 1961 Forfar Dispatch (4 May):
The little enamel saucerie, blue ootside and white inside (for it hedna skelved).

[O.Sc. skelf, splinter, c.1610, prob. ad. Du. †schelf, a scale, flake, or splinter of wood. Cf. Skelfer below. The exact relationship to the forms Skelb, Skelp, n.2, is somewhat uncertain. The word is prob. ultimately cogn. with Skelf, n.1, from a root *skelf-, to split.]

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"Skelf n.2, v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 22 Jun 2024 <>



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