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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1974 (SND Vol. IX). Includes material from the 1976 and 2005 supplements.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

TELL, v., n. Sc. forms and usages:

I. v. A. Forms.

Pr.t. tell (Gen.Sc.); ¶teall; tall (Edb. 1884 R. F. Hardy Jock Halliday xvii.); ‡tol(l) (Lnl. 1771 J. Finlayson Marches Day (1814) 10; Fif. 1845 Stat. Acc.2 IX. 877; Sc. 1899 R. Ford Vagabond Songs 249; Ork. 1930).

Pa.t. tald (Sc. 1721 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. 190; Abd. 1759 F. Douglas Rural Love 261; Ags. 1796 J. Burness Thrummy Cap (1819) 105; Edb. 1811 H. MacNeill Bygane Times 42; Sh. 1898 J. Burgess Tang xiv.); taald (Sh. 1926 Shetland Times (4 Dec.)), tawld (Rnf. 1876 D. Gilmour Paisley Weavers 38), tauld (Abd. 1768 A. Ross Helenore (S.T.S.) 41; Ayr. 1790 Burns Tam o' Shanter 19; Per. c.1900 Lady Nairne Songs (1905) 183; Sc. 1816 Scott Black Dwarf iii.; Abd. 1851 W. Anderson Rhymes 147; Edb. 1895 J. Tweeddale Moff 118; Per. 1915 Wilson L. Strathearn 271; Dmf. 1933 Trans. Dmf. and Gall. Antiq. Soc. 250) [tɑld, tǫld]; towld (Sh. 1918 T. Manson Peat Comm. 47, 1952 Robertson and Graham Sh. Grammar 35) [tʌuld]; ‡taul (Abd. 1828 P. Buchan Ballads II. 282; Mry. 1897 J. Mackinnon Braefoot Sk. 44; Bnff. 1924 Swatches o' Hamespun 16; Abd. 1941 Bon-Accord (27 Nov.) 6) [tɑ:l]; teld (Edb. 1816 W. Glass Songs of Edina 27; Kcd. 1900 W. Gairdner Glengoyne II. iii.), telled (Abd. 1768 A. Ross Helenore (S.T.S.) 106; Sc. 1818 Scott H. Midlothian xii.; Rxb. 1873 Trans. Hawick Arch. Soc. 202; Ags. 1894 J. B. Salmond B. Bowden (1922) 20; Ayr. 1901 G. Douglas Green Shutters v.; Lnk. 1919 G. Rae Clyde and Tweed 79; m.Sc. 1927 J. Buchan Witch Wood i.; Bwk. 1942 Wettstein; Rxb. 1942 Zai; Sh. 1952 Robertson and Graham Sh. Grammar 35; Uls. 1953 Traynor Gl.) [tɛld]; telt (w.Lth. 1805 Scots Mag. (Sept.) 667; Sc. 1824 Wilson Noctes Amb. (1855) I. 144; Lnk. 1838 J. Morrison M'Ilwham Papers 8; Dmf. 1915 J. L. Waugh Betty Grier 144; Sh. 1952 Robertson and Graham Sh. Grammar 35), tellt (Kcb. 1885 A. J. Armstrong Friend and Foe xxii.; Per., Fif., Lth., Ayr. 1915–26 Wilson; Gen.Sc.) [tɛlt]; ¶teelt (Bnff. 1922 Banffshire Jnl. (21 Feb.) 6). wm.Sc. 1980 Anna Blair The Rowan on the Ridge 84:
"That's whit she tell't Mistress Kerr when she was fee'd off. I couldnae believe it, and you considerin' Jenny Hope."
Gsw. 1985 Michael Elder Stookie 32:
"I tellt ye I'd do ye, Stookie Doyle," said Big Harper. "I tellt ye this was my patch. ... "
wm.Sc. 1985 Liz Lochhead Tartuffe 5:
If you must know
It was Orante who tellt me so!
m.Sc. 1986 Colin Mackay The Song of the Forest 89:
"Nowhere Wood, which, as I telt you before, is the darkest and furthest and dreichest and drubliest part of Anywhere Forest."
Gsw. 1990 John and Willy Maley From the Calton to Catalonia 3:
Ah telt ye ah saw ma boay oan that thing.
Gsw. 1991 John Burrowes Mother Glasgow 308:
' ... Remember it was wi' me that Kavanagh stayed the night he left his auntie's. He tell't me everything. ... '

Pa.p. tald (Sc. 1736 Ramsay Proverbs (1776) 25; ne.Sc. 1828 P. Buchan Ballads I. 208; Ayr. 1892 H. Ainslie Pilgririmage 176; Sc. 1928 Scots Mag. (July) 271); taald (Sh. 1952 Robertson and Graham Sh. Grammar 35), tauld (Ayr. 1786 Burns A Dream x.; Sc. 1814 Scott Waverley xlvii.; Slk. 1819 Hogg Tales (1874) 147; Fif. 1841 C. Gray Lays 13; Ags. 1896 A. Blair Rantin Robin 11; Arg. 1901 N. Munro Doom Castle xxxvii.; e.Lth. 1908 J. Lumsden Th' Loudons 80; Per. 1915 Wilson L. Strathearn 271; s.Sc. 1925 H. McDiarmid Sangschaw 6; Gall. 1928 Gallov. Annual 66), tawld (Rnf. 1876 D. Gilmour Paisley Weavers 38) [tǫld]; towld (Sh. 1918 T. Manson Peat Comm. I. 68, 1952 Robertson and Graham Sh. Grammar 35) [tʌuld]; taul (Mry. 1806 J. Cock Simple Strains 133; Bnff. 1856 J. Collie Poems 118; Abd. 1932 J. Leatham Fisher-Folk 57) [tɑl:]; telled (Sc. 1728 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) II. 43; Sc. 1816 Scott Black Dwarf i.; Lth. 1856 M. Oliphant Lilliesleaf viii.; Kcb. 1893 Crockett Raiders x.; Fif. 1896 G. Setoun R. Urquhart vii.; Bwk. 1942 Wettstein; Rxb. 1942 Zai), teld (Ags. 1882 Brechin Advert. (12 Dec.) 3) [tɛld]; telt (Ayr. 1823 Galt R. Gilhaize II. xxi.; Lth. 1884 A. S. Swan Carlowrie ii.; Dmf. 1912 J. L. Waugh Robbie Doo 26; Sh. 1952 Robertson and Graham Sh. Grammar 35); tellt (Abd. 1865 G. MacDonald Alec Forbes vii.; Ayr. 1890 J. Service Notandums 100; Cai. 1896 J. Horne Canny Countryside 127; Per., Fif., Lth., Ayr. 1915–26 Wilson; Gsw. 1927 N. F. Grant Three Sinners 11; Gen.Sc.) [tɛlt].m.Sc. 1994 Martin Bowman and Bill Findlay Forever Yours, Marie-Lou 9:
Ah've tellt ye God knows how many times, ye should flit fae here! But you're no waantin tae flit, ur ye? You don't waant tae forget, do ye?
Sc. 2000 Herald 6 Apr 19:
This story was telt to me by a distinguished minister of the Kirk, who claimed to have witnessed the whole scenario.
Sc. 2000 Herald 28 Sep 22:
"What do you say to a woman with two black eyes? Nothing, you've already telt her twice."

B. Usages: 1. To repeat, say by heart, recite. Now only dial. in Eng.Sc. 1934 D. K. Broster Sir Isumbras xv.:
A was tellin' a piece to the bairn in his bed.

2. To be the matter with, to ail (I.Sc. 1972). This usage appears to arise from wrong division of what ails > what tells.Ork. 1880 Dennison Sketch Bk. 132:
What under de sun on ert' could tell thee, Tae come t'rou' the lum wi' sic' a vellye.

3. Of verse: to scan correctly, to fit the metre, to rhyme; to keep time in music.Kcd. 1820 E. Tevendale Misc. Poems 29:
Were ye to try the rhyme yoursel' You'd find it hard to mak it tell.
Per. 1875 D. Macara Crieff (1881) 276:
A choir sits in pews near the pulpit, but do not tell well together.

4. (1) in combs. with preps.: (i) tell aff . . . for, to count, match, pair off (one) against (another) (Sh. 1972); (ii) tell awa(y), to remove by spells or incantations, exorcise (Sh. 1972); (iii) tell doun, to count out (money) in payment (Sh. 1972). Arch. Also in Eng. dial.; (iv) tell on, to inform against, tell tales about, ‘split on' a person. Gen.Sc. Only dial. in Eng. See also (vii); (v) tell out, = (ii) (Sh. 1972); (vi) tell o(w)er, to recount, narrate (ne.Sc., Ags. 1972); (vii) tell upon, = (iv) (Sc. 1782 J. Sinclair Ob. Sc. Dial. 23).(i) Sh. 1888 Edmonston & Saxby Home of a Naturalist 367:
To persuade me to tell-aff a bonnie young sailor for our rich auld neighbour.
(ii) Sh. 1869 J. T. Reid Rambles 25:
The beadle of the kirk had the power of ‘telling' the sparrows away so as never to return.
Sh. 1947 Sh. Folk Bk. (Tait) I. 6:
Women in the district who were said to be gifted with the power of tellin' awa' de trows.
(iii) Abd. 1733 W. Forbes Dominie Depos'd (1765) 33:
They must tell down good five pounds Scots.
Sc. 1818 Scott H. Midlothian x.:
If telling down my haill substance could hae saved her frae this black snare.
Lth. 1819 J. Thomson Poems 201:
A whakin fee gets tauld them down.
Abd. 1826 D. Anderson Poems 50:
His hun'er guineas he taul' down.
(iv) Sc. 1818 Scott Rob Roy xi.:
I ask no questions — no man bound to tell on himsell.
Kcb. 1895 Crockett Sweetheart Trav. 14:
I will tell my father on you.
Edb. 1897 C. M. Campbell Deilie Jock 16:
Bobe used to get mair than his fair share o' the tawse as it was, without my tellin' on him.
Ags. 1927:
If ye dae that, I'll tell your father on you.
(v) Ork. 1708 G. Low Tour (1878) 203:
He wanted the power of one of his Knees, and enquired her if she could not tell out the paine of the said knee.
Sh. 1822 S. Hibbert Description 581:
The religious charmer of Shetland would mutter some words over water . . . and limbs were washed with it, for the purpose of telling out pains.
Sh. 1899 J. Spence Folk-Lore 158:
Burning and toothache were ‘told out' by uttering over the patient certain formulas of words in Norse.
(vi) Sc. 1725 Ramsay Gentle Shep ii. i.:
Tell o'er your News again! and swear till't A'.
Sc. 1818 Scott Rob Roy xxiii.:
Tell ower your sins, and prepare ye.
(vii) Kcd. 1767 Session Papers, Petition J. Lumsden (20 June) 13:
She would tell Mr Lumsden upon John Burnet for paring his sheeps feet.
Sc. 1812 W. Angus Eng. Grammar 344:
Why did you tell upon me?

(2) in gen. combs., phrs. and derivs.: (i) d'ye tell me (so)?, expressing surprise: indeed, you don't say (Ork., Bnff., Ags., wm.Sc. 1972); (ii) ell and tell, see Ell, n., 2.(1); (iii) ill-tellt, -told, of measures of yarn: having the cuts miscounted, short of the requisite length (Mry. 1880); (iv) tellable, fit to be counted, of the proper sort, marketable; (v) tellie-speirie, a tale-bearer, tatler, a tell-tale (Ags. 1921 T.S.D.C.; Ags., Per. 1972); (vi) tellin, vbl.n., (a) talk, gossip; (b) a warning, admonition, lesson, reproof, gen. in phrs. lat it be a tellin, to tak (a) tellin. Gen.Sc.; ppl.adj., (c) in impers. phr. it's (will, wad be, etc.) tellin (someone), it is etc., to the interest or advantage of, better for, orig. from tell in its sense of ‘to count' (Sc. 1825 Jam.). Gen.Sc.; (vii) tell-pie, -piet, -pid, a tell-tale (Cai. 1921 T.S.D.C., -pid; Ork., Cai. 1972). Also in n.Eng. dial. Cf. tale-pyet s.v. Tale, n., 1. (2) and Pyot; (viii) that's him etc. tellt, he etc. has been given the message in no uncertain terms;  (i) Arg. 1901 N. Munro Doom Castle iii.:
The Baron betrayed a moment's confusion. “Do you tell me, now?” he said.
Lnk. 1925 G. Blake Wild Men i.:
D'ye tell me? used his teeth?
Gsw. 1937 F. Niven Staff at Simson's i.:
“Do you tell me so?” enquired Mr. Gilmore, staring at him, eyes popping.
(iii) Sc. 1799 Trans. Highl. Soc. I. 68:
Short-reeled, and ill-told yarn, are frauds often practised by spinners.
(iv) Fif. 1865 St Andrews Gaz. (23 Sept.):
All is fish that comes in the net, but all are not — to use one of the phrases of the trade — tellable fish.
(vi) (a) Ayr. 1952:
There's a tellin in Failford Smiddy, i.e. people are saying, it's the talk.
(b) Per. c.1820 Lady Nairne Songs (Rogers 1905) 166:
Neebour wives, now tent my tellin'.
Sc. 1825 Jam.:
“He wadna tak tellin”, he would not be advised.
Abd. 1851 W. Anderson Rhymes 183:
We just took our tellin's, and whiles owned our failin's.
Fif. 1868 St Andrews Gaz. (18 April):
People would not take a telling.
Edb. 1881 J. Smith Habbie and Madge 9:
Dae ye think he'll tak a tellin?
Ags. 1912 J. Ogilvie Topical Rhymes 36:
John tak's his tellin's patiently.
Arg.2 1931:
Wull ye tak a tellin an stop thae capers this meenit?
Abd. 1970:
Ye've brunt your han, hae ye? Ah weel, lat that be a tellin tae you nae tae touch the fire again.
(c) Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 213:
It were telling your Kin, your Craig was broken.
Sh. 1815 Shet. Advert. (6 Jan. 1862):
It'll no be teallin' dee t' giang awa onbiddn dem ferweel.
Sc. 1822 A. Sutherland Cospatrick II. i.:
It wa hae been telling some that are now safe frae skaith gin it had never been blither.
Fif. 1864 W. D. Latto T. Bodkin ix.:
It wad be tellin' mony hunder head, if they had the sa coorse o' discipline to gang through.
Uls. 1880 Patterson Gl.:
It would be no tellin'. It would be hurtful. It would be tellin' me a quare dale if I'd knowed that afore.
Sc. 1893 Stevenson Catriona xi.:
I have a good deal it will be telling you to hear.
Kcb. 1896 Crockett Grey Man xiii.:
If ye so much as set your nose oot o' your window, it will no be telling you.
Sh. 1898 Shetland News (12 Nov.):
Hit wid be tolin da fish curers if dey wid pit dat law in forse noo.
Ags. 1905 A. N. Simpson Bobbie Guthrie 63:
It wid be tellin' Newton if he kept awa' fra the gatherings they ca' Agricultural Meetings.
Mry. 1927 E. B. Levack Lossiemouth 18:
“Oh no, I wasn't there.” “Weel, it's tellin' ye.”
Abd. 1969 Huntly Expess (21 March) 2:
It's tellin' 'im he's young an' swack.
(vii) Kcb. 1903 Crockett Banner of Blue iv.:
Ye wee tell-piet, wait till I get ye oot.
Ork. 1931 J. Leask Peculiar People 39:
Being a “tellpie” ran to his father with the information.
(viii) wm.Sc. 1998 Alan Warner The Sopranos (1999) 151:
That's him telt! the behind voice goes.
em.Sc. 2000 James Robertson The Fanatic 80:
Carlin turned his back and made a mock pout. That was him tellt.
Sc. 2000 Herald 4 Jul 14:
That's me telt, in best Buddy fashion.
Sc. 2000 Herald 9 Dec 6:
Let's face it! Ye were telt! It came as no surprise to teachers across Scotland. Anyone in schools with only the most tangential of contacts with the SQA during session 1999-2000 was aware of the difficulties the organisation was grappling with.

II. n. 1. Word, report, account. Abd. 1871 W. Alexander Johnny Gibb xviii.:
Nae a tell coud they tell gin it was a' deen or no.
Sh. 1969 New Shetlander No. 87. 6:
Du wis, accordin ta dy tell, in Cunninsbro hearin a man discoorsin on kyes' insides.

Phr. to hear tell o', to get some news or report of. Gen.Sc., now rare or dial. in Eng. See Hear, v., B. 2. (4). Poss. in some cases a dialect representation of tale. m.Lth. 1857 Misty Morning 144:
If ye hear ony tell o' the puir thing.

2. Of yarn; the correct quantity or number of threads on a reel. Cf. Eng. tale.Ork. 1775 J. Fea Present State (1884) 88:
Not being so exact, either in the reel or tell of it.
Sc. 1777 Dundee Weekly Mag. (21 Feb.) 71:
A large quantity of linen yarn, seized from hawkers and country people for insufficiency, bad tell.

[O.Sc. tell, = I. 4. (2) (vi) (c), 1645.]

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"Tell v., n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 16 Jul 2024 <>



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