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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.

SPEEL, v.2, n.2 Also speil, spele, speal, spiel; spael. [spi:l; Mry. spel. See P.L.D. § 142. (3).]

I. v. 1. tr. To climb, clamber up, to shin, swarm up, mount, ascend (Sc. 1710 T. Ruddiman Gl. to Douglas Aeneis, spele; s.Sc. 1802 J. Sibbald Chron. Sc. Poetry Gl.; Sc. 1808 Jam., spele, speil; Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 433; Fif., Lth. 1926 Wilson Cent. Scot. 267; Bwk. 1942 Wettstein; Rxb. 1942 Zai). Gen.(exc.I.)Sc. Sometimes used of climbing without footholds or clambering with the hands only (Mry., Fif. 1930). Also transf. and fig.Sc. 1752 Session Papers, Forbes v. Grant (1 June) 67:
They speiled or climbed the Walls above him.
Edb. 1773 Fergusson Poems (S.T.S.) II. 142:
To mak thee sonsy seem wi' money a gift, And gar thy stately turrets speel the lift.
Ayr. 1786 Burns Ep. to J. Smith xiii.:
For, ance that five-an'-forty's speel'd, See, crazy, weary, joyless eild.
Ayr. 1786 Robert Burns Poems and Songs (1969) 247:
Expect me o' your partie,
If on a beastie I can speel
Or hurl in a cartie.
Peb. 1805 J. Nicol Poems I. 37:
Whan heav'n's arch The moon, last night, was speelin't.
Slk. 1813 Hogg Queen's Wake 72:
We culdna speil the brow o' the wavis.
Sc. 1816 Scott Antiquary vii.:
Francie o' Fowlsheugh was the best craigsman that ever speel'd heugh.
Gsw. 1863 J. Young Ingle Nook 69:
Ere yet the sun has spiel't the east.
Dmf. 1874 R. W. Reid Moorland Rhymes 30:
Wow, but the braes are dour tae spiel.
Sc. 1887 Stevenson Underwoods 78:
But think not you the brae to speel; You, tae, maun chow the bitter peel.
Edb. 1894 J. W. M'Laren Tibbie and Tam 19:
He used to spiel the auld castle rock.
Abd. 1917 C. Murray Sough o' War 30:
We fixed oor baignets, speel't the trench, and chairged them in a breist.
Lnk. 1919 G. Rae Clyde and Tweed 100:
Parnassus, a heicht that few can speel, The speelin' o't had left Rab unco croose.
m.Sc. 1950 O. Douglas Farewell to Priorsford 128:
Naebody had ever tried to spiel thae rocks.

2. intr. or absol. To mount, ascend to a height by climbing; to climb, clamber, also with up, doun, ower, to. Gen.Sc.; with implication of speed, see 1926 quot. Also transf. and fig.Sc. 1715 Robin Red-breast and the Wren 10:
Mounting with Ribbons with Coats rilling, It is a Wonder to see such Speeling.
Sc. 1718 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. 74:
The Daw'n Speel'd Westlines up the Lift.
Abd. 1768 A. Ross Helenore (S.T.S.) 69:
An' neist the sun to the hill-heads did speal.
Slk. 1805 Hogg Poems (1874) 100:
Let's speel to Queensb'ry's lofty heights.
Sc. 1818 Scott H. Midlothian xx.:
Widow Butler's bullseg, that I used to see spieling up on my bed.
Ayr. 1822 Galt Sir A. Wylie ciii.:
Sir Andrew would never be able to kiss our Mary, unless he could speel up and get his taes in her pouches.
Edb. 1839 W. McDowall Poems 30:
But then I'm mounted on a jade That winna speel.
Per. 1843 J. Stewart Sketches 120:
See Cultivation hillward speels.
Dmf. 1877 R. W. Thom Jock o' Knowe 19:
Tam Gripper, then nae laird atweel, Maun up the social ladder speel.
m.Lth. 1894 P. H. Hunter J. Inwick 73:
A fine hair in my neck it wad ha' been to him, gin I had speeled doun at the first biddin.
Fif. 1897 G. Setoun G. Malcolm 9:
Through the surf the boatie speiled.
Lnk. 1926 W. Queen We're A' Coortin 28:
I'm gaun quick doon the hull, ay, fair speelin' doon.
Sc. 1939 Sc. Educ. Jnl. (27 Oct.) 1105:
Sae a' you fowk wha tak the road That speels awa up there.

3. Phr., combs. and derivs.: (1) speelack, -ock, the tree creeper, Certhia familiaris (Mry. 1948); (2) speeler, (i) a climber (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; Uls. 1953 Traynor); (ii) a spiked iron or crampon attached to the foot to facilitate the climbing of trees, etc. (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.); (3) speiland-leif, a climbing plant, climbing snakeweed, Polygonum convolvulus (Rnf. c.1850 Crawfurd MSS. (N.L.S.) S. 128); (4) speil the wa(a), (i) used attrib. = ? nimble, active; (ii) a cheap, inferior whisky (Dmf. c.1930; Lnk., sm.Sc., Rxb. 1971) from its supposed effects on one who drinks it; a nip of the same; (5) tree-speeler, = (1). Cf. Tree, n., 1. (4).(2) (i) Abd. 1958 Abd. Press & Jnl. (10 Oct.):
Larch trees are not very accommodating to climbers; so we non-speelers had to bargain with the speelers for a share of the spoil.
(ii) m.Lth. 1736 Arniston Memoirs (Omond 1887) 88:
Speelers of iron for the boys to climb up and pull down their nests.
Sc. 1869 M. Gordon Life Brewster 31:
These [firs] the boys ascended, with ‘speilers' or iron cramps on their ankles.
(4) (i) Dmf. 1912 J. L. Waugh Robbie Doo 91:
The opposition was a spiel-the-waa' kind o' a budy caa'd Peter Gled.
(ii) Kcb. 1890 A. J. Armstrong Musings 215:
I wish I'd been there. I micht hae fa'en in wi' a wee spiel-the-wa'.
Edb. 1895 J. Tweeddale Moff 91:
What Mr. Strong was pleased to describe as aqua was provincially known from its tragic effect on the temperament as “speel-the-wa”.

II. n. The act of climbing, a climb (Per. 1915 Wilson L. Strathearn 268; ne., m. and s.Sc. 1971). Also fig. Punning use in 1892 quot. Cf. Spiel.Rnf. a.1810 R. Tannahill Poems (1900) 137:
He clamb the heichts o Jura's isle, Wi' weary speel.
Slk. 1811 Spy (2 Feb.) 183:
Whan they wou'd ha' catch'd my tail, Up to a branch I loot a speel.
Dmf. 1864 Carlyle Letters (Bliss 1953) 369:
We have had a sore speil together many a time; and never did my little woman fail me.
e.Lth. 1892 J. Lumsden Sheep Head 60:
“Steeple-Jack” daurna wage a spiel wi' me.
s.Sc. 1933 Border Mag. 171:
Frae there it's no sae verra far Oot owre the shooder o' the Peel, A cannie, gentle kind o' speil.
Abd. 1963 J. C. Milne Poems 149:
Gey stey! A gey speel?

[O.Sc. speill, to climb, 1513, of somewhat uncertain orig., poss. from Mid.Du. spelen, to play, specif. to walk on a tight rope, do gymnastic tricks, to juggle, to perform as an actor, clown or the like, though the semantic development is not clearly traceable. O.Sc. has spelare, an acrobat, tumbler, 1496, from which N.E.D. suggests speel is a back-formation. See Spiel. O.E. spilian, to play, corresponds phonologically but not in meaning.]

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"Speel v.2, n.2". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 18 Jul 2024 <>



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