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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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

SPANG, n.1, v.1 Also spawn. Dim. spangie (Fif., Lth. 1926 Wilson Cent. Scot. 267). Sc. variant forms and usages of Eng. span. [spɑŋ]

I. n. 1. As in Eng., the measure of the outspread fingers, the grasp (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 176, spawn; Sc. 1880 Jam.; Gsw. 1884 H. Johnston Martha Spreull 67; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; Fif., Lth. 1926 Wilson Cent. Scot. 267; Bwk. 1942 Wettstein; Abd., Fif., Slg., wm.Sc., Rxb. 1971); the full stretch of anything, e.g. of a bird's wings (Abd. 1963 J. C. Milne Poems 140). Comb. and phr.: (1) spang-neevefu, -neffu, as much of anything as can be grasped in the hand (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; Lth., Rxb. 1971). See Nieve, n., 1.; (2) to gie the nose a spang, to thumb one's nose, to cock a snook (Ayr. 1971). Cf. II. 2.(1) Rxb. a.1860 J. Younger Autobiog. (1881) 99:
[She put] a spang neevefu' oatmeal in ilka dish.
(2) Ayr. 1912 G. Cunningham Verse 154:
He winked his e'e, and then he gied His muckle nose a spang.

2. A term in a game of marbles (see 1902 quot.). In dim. form spangie, spawnie, a game played with marbles, half-pence or buttons, in which the player can claim his opponent's piece if he himself throws to within a span of it (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 176, spawnie, of buttons; Fif., Lnl., wm.Sc. 1971), also spangie-wangie (Abd. 1971). Cf. Eng. span-counter, span-farthing, and Back-spangie.Ags. 1887 J. McBain Arbroath 340:
Bools . . . the games of chasie, deggie, or spangie.
Per. 1902 E.D.D.:
In playing marbles, you may have to play from the foot of a wall. You call out “span”, which gives you some 8 inches of space from the wall. But suppose your enemy cries out “knuckle in” before you claim “span”, you must play from the foot of the wall where your marble lies.

II. v. 1. tr. As in Eng., to measure with the span of the hand (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; Fif., Lth. 1926 Wilson Cent. Scot. 267; Fif., wm.Sc. 1971); to grasp (Sc. 1825 Jam); to stretch across; fig. to live out the measure of (one's life); intr. to spread out.Hdg. 1886 J. P. Reid Facts & Fancies 195:
Tam, lad, that yin [marble] wisna oot, I spang it easy.
Sc. 1887 Stevenson Underwoods 92:
And at the yett, the chestnuts spang That brocht the laird.
Per. 1901 J. R. Aitken Enochdhu 268:
He's spanged a lang an' happy life.
Rxb. 1925 E. C. Smith Mang Howes 7:
The road splet, an, ti the richt, spanged the Yill owre a brig.

2. Phr. to span the nose, to thumb one's nose, to make a defiant or derisory gesture (Slg., Fif., wm. and sm.Sc. 1971).

[The form spang is also found in n.Eng. dial. and may be due to confusion with Spang, n.2, v.2, q.v.]

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"Spang n.1, v.1". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 18 Apr 2024 <>



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