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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1974 (SND Vol. IX). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.

TAIL, n., v. Also taill, tale; tjail (Sh.). Sc. forms and usages. [′te(ə)l]

I. n. 1. As in Eng. Sc. combs.: (1) tail-chain, a chain by which a horse, or a miner, hauls hutches or wagons (Sc. 1886 J. Barrowman Mining Terms 66); (2) tail-crop, after-crop, the grass which springs up among the stubble after the crop is cut (Sc. 1887 Jam., s.v. Eft-crop). See Effcrop, 1.(2); (3) tail-dam, the tail-race of a mill (em.Sc.(b). 1972); (4) tail drain, the drain between the trap or disconnecting chamber and the main sewer or outfall (Sc. 1952 Builder (20 June) 943); (5) tail-ill, a supposed disease of cattle (see quots.). Also in Eng. dial.; (6) tail-lead, the tail-race of a mill-stream (Bnff. 1972). See (3) above and Lead, n.1, 4.; †(7) tail-lift, see quot.; (8) tail-net, the herring-net first shot in a fleet of nets and therefore the one farthest from the boat (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 189; Sh., Cai. 1972); (9) tail-pock, a bag to hold tails or inferior corn; ¶(10) tail-pressed, hard-pressed, closely pursued (Sc. 1911 S.D.D.); (11) tail-rig(g), = (24) and 2. below; (12) tail-shaking, a celebration held when an official of an Incorporated Trade demits office; (13) tail-slip, = (5); (14) tailsman, a worker in a saw-mill who takes and sorts the timber from the saw. Gen.(exc.I.)Sc.; (15) tail-stream, = (6); (16) tail-sweepers, the last couple in a wedding-procession who had to drag a heather broom behind them (Ork. 1920 J. Firth Reminisc. 60); ¶(17) tail-teukit, having an attachment like a tail; †(18) tail-toddle, sexual intercourse. Also tailtoddler, a promiscuous person (Edb. 2000s); ¶(19) tail-tree, the penis. See Tree; (20) tail-tynt, in phrs. to play tail-tynt, “to make a fair exchange” (Fif. 1825 Jam.), to ride tail-tynt, to stake a horse in a race so that if it loses, it passes to the winner of the bet (Ib.); (21) tail-win, the ridge of corn cut by the last or outmost squad in a company of reapers. See Bandwin and Win, n. Phr. to shear wi' a tail-wind, to reap or cut the grain not straight but at a slant or angle across the ridge (Lth. 1825 Jam.). The -d form is due to association with Eng. tailwind, phs. with an intentional pun; (22) tail-wynin, the last ridge of a field in ploughing or reaping (Bnff., Abd. 1972); (23) tail-worm, see quots. and cf. (5) (n.Sc. 1825 Jam.). Also in Eng. dial.; (24) tail yeard, = 2. (1) below.(3) Dmf. 1705 Trans. Dmf. and Gall. Antiq. Soc. (1887) 59:
Ane good and sufficient complete and well-going water-miln, with dams, wearis, sluices, watergangs, taledams, and hail other pertinents.
Sc. 1798 Session Papers, Meeks Petition (14 Dec.) 4:
Cutting a lead or tail-dam from Stepmiln.
(5) Lth. 1808 Jam.:
Tail-ill, a disease of cows, an inflammation of the tail, cured by letting blood in the part affected.
Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. (1876) 500:
When a cow takes the tail-ill, or is elf-shot, these females are sent for to cure them.
Sc. 1849 H. Stephen Bk. of Farm I. 520:
A very prevalent notion exists in Scotland amongst cattle-men, that when the tail of an ox or of a cow feels soft and supple immediately above the tuft of hair, there is disease in it; and it is called the tail-ill, or tail-slip.
(6) Ags. 1794 Session Papers, Arbuthnott v. Scott (12 Feb.) 28:
The tail-lead, or run of the water after having passed the wheel, to its confluence with the river.
Abd. 1795 Session Papers, Leslie v. Fraser (29 March 1805) 67:
The tide-water might have been as high as to have entered the mouth of the tail-lead of the oil-mill.
(7) Ork. 1931 J. Leask Peculiar People 73:
The consequence was that long before spring the majority of the cattle were too weak to rise without assistance, by what was known as a “tail lift.” In some districts there were regular “lifters,” as they were called, who went from house to house each morning to assist in setting the cattle on their feet.
(9) Gsw. 1807 J. Chirrey Misc. Poetry 61:
For o' our feet you see he's bauchles made, An' doom'd our legs still worse an' worse, To tail-pocks for his twa cart horse.
(11) Sc. 1764 Caled. Mercury (16 Jan.) 25:
The kitchen and flower garden of about half an acre; and Tail-riggs and Teind-barn, of about another half acre.
(12) Gsw. 1756 Incorp. Wrights Gsw. (1900) 35:
To severall poor at the tail-shaking, £6 14s 6d.
Gsw. 1818 Incorp. Bakers Gsw. (1948) 79:
Sundry Poor at the Tail-shaking . . . £5 10s.
(13) Lnk. 1793 D. Ure Rutherglen 191:
The tail-slip, a disease which cold sometimes brings upon cows, — first appears in the end of the tail, by affecting it in such a manner that it seems soft to the touch.
Sc. 1846 J. Baxter Libr. Pract. Agric. II. 134:
All maladies of this kind, involving the partial or total loss of motion of the hind limbs of the animal, are classed under the name of tail-ill, or tail-slip.
(14) Inv. 1960 Dundee Courier (21 May) 1:
Tailsman wanted, bothy accommodation. Blair, Blaraidh Sawmill, Invermoriston.
Dmf. 1967 Dmf. and Gall. Std. (22 July) 11:
Sawyer and Tailsman Required for Castlemilk Sawmill.
(15) Abd. 1795 Session Papers, Leslie v. Fraser (29 March 1805) 71:
Neither at the tail-stream shot, nor at the high-heeled craig shot, does there a cable commonly lie, but when they are giving these places a shot.
(17) Sh. 1899 J. Spence Folk-Lore 183:
‘Four-neukit, tail-teukit, an' teeth oot o' number.' [A riddle]. Answer — Wool cards.
(18) Ayr. 1790 A. Tait Poems 93:
Servant-men that moment's hooked For tail-toddle.
Gall. 1796 J. Lauderdale Poems 67:
Each noddle That scrimps his spouse o' her tail-toddle.
em.Sc. 1999 James Robertson The Day O Judgement 21:
"An ye tail-toddlers and dyke-lowpers,
Aw that befylt the mairrage vow,
An turnt yer nebs frae ma haliness
Tae fornicate an mow; ... "
Edb. 2004:
Thae new marriet folk spend aw their time at the tail toddle.
(19) Sc. 18th c. Merry Muses (1959) 114:
Ye had as good a tail-tree As ony ither man.
(21) em.Sc. 1907 Rymour Club Misc. I. 55:
My back's sair, shearin' bear, and up I canna win, And my bonnie love has left me i' the lang tail-win.
(23) Abd. 1811 G. Keith Agric. Abd. 491:
The tail-worm is also cured by cutting off a few inches of the tail which bleeds pretty freely.
(24) Abd. 1748 Abd. Journal (15 March):
Three convenient, well accommodated dwelling Houses Garden and Tail Yeard.

Phrs. and derivs.: (1) neither tail nor horn, not a trace or vestige, prob. orig. of stolen cattle (Sh. 1972); (2) tailie, -y, the day after Hunt-the-Gowk (April Fools' Day) when children fix paper tails with various mottoes to the backs of unsuspecting victims (Fif. 1959 I. and P. Opie Lore and Lang. Schoolchildren 247; Ork., em.Sc., Lnk., Rxb. 1972), more fully tailie-day. Cf. preen-tail day s.v. Preen, III. 1. Combs.; (3) tied tailies, smoked haddocks, so-called by being smoked in pairs with the tails tied together (Bnff., Kcd. 1972); (4) to get one's tail in the well, to become involved in some unpleasant or unfortunate business, “affecting either character or interest” (Sc. 1825 Jam.); of a woman: to have an illegitimate child (Kcb.4 1900); (5) to give one the tail of a long tow, used expletively, to wish one hanged; (6) to knit all the hairs of the tail, to formulate a statement in a precise, consistent and methodical manner, “to tie up all the loose ends.”(1) Arg. 1901 N. Munro Shoes of Fortune xxxiv.:
For weeks on end we saw them neither tail or horn, as the saying goes.
(2) Knr. 1954 Bulletin (2 April) 4:
“Tailie Day” was always held after “Hunt the Gowk” Day. The tails carried boldly printed invitations to “Kick Me Hard” or “Pull My Pigtails.”
(5) Sc. 1726 H. Arnot Crim. Trials (1785) 294:
Then she would give them all the tail of a long tow.
(6) Sc. 1755 Session Papers, Primrose v. Primrose (24 Nov.) 21:
Burnbrae seemed very well pleased with the Deed [his will] after he heard it read, and said to the Deponent's Brother, who is the writer of the Deed, “Lad, you have done very well, for you have knit all the Hairs of the Tail of it.”

2. (1) A long narrow strip of ground, generally adjoining and stretching backwards from the site or garden of a house or croft; a small division of land attached to a larger portion like a tail (Ork. 1929 Marw.); the lower end of a field (Cai. 1905 E.D.D.).Edb. 1706 Burgh Rec. Edb. (1967) 121:
There being a taill or waist on the north end of the petitioners yaird.
Abd. 1711 Powis Papers (S.C.) 211:
That tenement of Inland within the Chanonrie of old Aberdeen with the taill or rigg belonging thereto.
m.Lth. 1741 Caled. Mercury (March 17):
A convenient Dwelling-house, with a large Garden, Dovecote, and some Buts or Tails of Land.
Lth. 1781 Caled. Mercury (24 Jan.):
A House of eight rooms and a kitchen, with a Garden, and a Tail of Ground in Newbigging.
Sc. 1801 Farmer's Mag. II. 131:
Where one end of the field is wider than the other, the straight ridges must necessarily be more numerous at the wider end, and their tails must be drawn out into a wedge form.
Peb. 1899:

(2) as in Eng., the end of a sand-bank, specif. in phr. the Tail o' the Bank, the name of the stretch of the River Clyde just below Greenock (see 1818 quot.).Mry. 1733 Session Papers, Earl of Moray v. Duke of Gordon (6 July 1775) 16:
On the tail of the Enzie Side, fish could pass with ease.
Sc. 1806 R. Forsyth Beauties III. 35:
The bottom or tail (as it is usually called) of this bank. . . . Opposite to the tail of the bank, where the channel is narrowest.
wm.Sc. 1818 D. Gemmill Topogr. Clyde 23:
The end or, as it is called, the “tail” of a large sand bank, extending from above Port Glasgow, to one mile west from Greenock.
Ayr. 1822 Galt Provost xii.:
The Frith o' Clyde, all the way to the tail of the bank o' Greenock.
Rnf. 1962 Stat. Acc.3 152:
In the days of sail the Tail o' the Bank was a deep-water haven protected from the worst gales by the hills of west Renfrewshire.
Sc. 1994 Scotsman (2 Sep):
Even at that early hour hundreds of people were already lining the riverbank as the ship, which is soon to undergo a £30 million refit, reached the Tail o' the Bank flanked by an armada of small craft.
Gsw. 1994 Herald (26 Oct) 18:
Diary readers with long memories may recall our reports on the Greenockian tradition of committing assaults with foodstuffs. Sadly, it seems that the burgh at the Tail o' the Bank is losing it's place as a world leader in this respect.
Sc. 2003 Scotsman (15 May) 16:
Jim McGregor was born a son of the manse in Greenock, where his father, the Rev Peter McGregor, was an outstanding pastor and scholar. He loved his childhood and always enjoyed the sight of shipping at the Tail o' the Bank when the Clyde was chock-a-block with vessels of all sorts ...
Sc. 2004 Daily Star (13 Sep) 7:
And the former Millwall assistant manager who began his lengthy playing career at the Tail o' the Bank will be given time to make the position his own.
wm.Sc. 2004:
Ocean liners used to anchor at the Tail o the Bank to pick up passengers.
Sc. 2005 Evening Times (2 Feb) 50:
I was based at Tail o' the Bank in Greenock and served on the battleships that escorted the merchant ships delivering supplies to Russia. The convoy gathered in Loch Long.

3. The end or edge of water in a mine (Sc. 1886 J. Barrowman Mining Terms 66; Fif., Ayr. 1972). Phr. the tail of level, the lower or discharging end of a water level (Id.).

4. In damask weaving: the horizontal section of the cords in the harness of a draw-loom connecting the yarn with the vertical simple (Sc. 1807 J. Duncan Art of Weaving 163).Rnf. 1805 G. McIndoe Poems 12:
Lang may the tail and harness-box Support the nation.
Rnf. 1835 D. Webster Rhymes 152:
Making our mounting, tail and tapwark To operate weel.
wm.Sc. 1842 Children in Trades Report (2) I 32:
The harness is divided into two parts, the “neck” and the “tail.” The tail, passing through holes in a board, is fixed horizontally under the ceiling of the shop, and is attached to the neck of the harness, not string to string, but so that each string of the tail is tied to several of the harness, according to the number of times the pattern is to be repeated in the breadth of the piece.

5. In Sh., Cai. fishing usage, prob. orig. taboo: a fish.Sh. 1901 T. P. Ollason Mareel 63:
Fir every tail at wis captered a score escaped.

6. A horse-leech (Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 229), phs. erron. assimilated to tail from Towal, q.v.

7. (1) In pl.: inferior sheep drafted from a flock.Sc. 1844 H. Stephens Bk. Farm II. 39:
The lambs, dinmonts, or wethers, that are drafted out of the fat stock are called the sheddings, or tails, or drafts.

(2) in dim. tailag: the poorest or weakest of a brood, litter, flock, etc., esp. of sheep or pigs (Cai. 1972).

8. In pl.: onion leaves (Sc. 1896 Garden Wk. cvi. 136; Lth., s.Sc. 1972).

9. The pendulum of a clock (Sc. 1911 S.D.D.; Ayr. 1972).

10. The end of a specific period of time or of some form of activity, e.g. a month, season, of the year, etc. (Sc. 1825 Jam., the tail o' hairst; ne. and m.Sc. 1972). Now rare or dial. in Eng.Edb. 1773 Fergusson Poems (S.T.S.) II. 89:
It's wearin' on now to the tail o' May.
Ayr. 1822 H. Ainslie Pilgrimage 238:
About the tail o' the tawtie-lifting.
Crm. 1834 H. Miller Scenes 291:
We'll hae the tail of the gloamin' for half an hour yet.
Mry. 1894 J. Slater Seaside Idylls 9:
I'll nae see ye agaën till the tail o' the herrin'.
Abd. 1930 Buchan Observer (18 Dec.):
We speak of the “tail o' hairst.”

11. As in Eng., ‡an entourage or retinue, specif. in Scot. of a highland chief and his henchmen. Now chiefly hist.Sc. 1814 Scott Waverley xvi.:
The Chief himself with his tail on . . . that is his usual following.
Sc. 1827 R. Chambers Picture Scot. II. 324:
The proprietor [Macdonnel of Glengarry] being the last of the northern lairds that keeps up the ancient system of “a tail,” (that is, a body of personal attendants).
Sc. 1831 J. Logan Sc. Gael (1876) I. 181:
These large followings, or Tails, occasioned an act of council to be passed, prohibiting the Northern Lairds from appearing at Edinburgh with so formidable and inconvenient a retinue.
Arg. 1901 N. Munro Doom Castle iii.:
He was no Gael, or a very far-out one, for all that he was in the Marischal's tail.
Sc. 1931 J. Lorimer Red Sergeant xx.:
I would not change places with Alasdair at the head of his tail of kerns.

12. A prostitute; a promiscuous woman (Gsw. 1937 E. Partridge Slang; m.Sc. 1972). Obs. in Eng. Per. 1990 Betsy Whyte Red Rowans and Wild Honey (1991) 92:
'How could Willie go with that dirty tail when he had the chance of a fine lassie like you? I was so happy at the thought of having you in the family.' Tears clouded her eyes as she spoke.
Edb. 1994 Douglas McKenzie in James Robertson A Tongue in Yer Heid 5:
When he wis drunk there wis naebody he didnae hate - God, the Pope, onybody in a dog-collar, the Frayns doonstairs (papish bastards), Mrs Flanagan (an auld tail).
Edb. 2004:
He's a changed man since he's taen up wi that wee tail.

II. v. 1. As in Eng., to cut off the root of a plant. Sc. deriv. tailer, tailert, tylart, -ert (Abd.), a hand turnip-cutter (Ork., n.Sc. 1972), partly punning with forms of Tailor, q.v.Bnff. 1920 Banffshire Jnl. (14 Dec.):
A moleskin't loon is heedin' neeps He haves the tailer doon.
Kcd. 1933 L. G. Gibbon Sc. Hairst (1967) 18:
We've two loads of turnips to pull afore dinner. Rachel, the queen, would chirp out Ay, father, and go blithe to the shed for her tailer and his.

2. Of a strip of land: to adjoin or form an extension to another piece of land, in ppl.adj. tail(l)ing, in comb. tail(l)ing rig(g), a long narrow strip of land pertaining to or adjoining a house or garden. See I. 2. above.Ayr. 1703–35 Private MSS. per wm.Sc.1;:
The tailing rigg of land . . . his tailing rigg following that piece of yeard.

3. Of a reaper: to outdistance one's partner on the same rig.Rxb. 1808 A. Scott Poems 99:
Then to she fell, an' Rabin tail'd, Quo' she, I hate ay to be trail'd.

4. To trail, draw some long, straggling thing after one, like a tail.Sh. 1949 New Shetlander No. 16. 38:
A sheep tjailen its oo.

[O.Sc. tail, of land, 1454, taill-dam, 1682, tailing-rig, 1501.]

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"Tail n., v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 17 Aug 2022 <>



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