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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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

WAG, v., n.1 Also wagg, wog (metri causa) (ne.Sc. 1884 D. Grant Lays 31), woug (Cai. 1921 T.S.D.C., Cai. 1973), wug. Sc. forms and usages. [wɑg, wǫg]

I. v. 1. In various usages now obs. in Eng.: (1) intr., of a leaf, plant, etc.: to move to and fro, to waver, shake (in the wind). Gen.Sc.; (2) tr. to cause to shake, to move to and fro; to brandish (a weapon). Gen.Sc.(1) Abd. 1768 A. Ross Helenore (S.T.S.) 69:
Weak as a windlestrae, That wi' the wind e'er wagged on a brae.
Ayr. 1785 Burns 3rd Ep. J. Lapraik ii.:
May the tapmost grain that wags Come to the sack.
Kcb. 1789 D. Davidson Seasons 22:
Heather-bells upo' the mountain's top Wag wi' the morning dew.
Bwk. 1897 R. M. Calder Poems 141:
We'll teach oor children to revere The land where wags the thistle.
Per. 1910 W. Blair Kildermoch 118:
No' a breath o' wind, no' a branch nor a leaf o' a tree or a buss waggin'.
Wgt. 1912 A.O.W.B. Fables 101:
Ilka stalk that waggt gied him a fricht.
(2) Sc. 1806 Scott Health Lord Melville vii.:
While there's one Scottish hand that can wag a claymore, sir.
Per. 1816 J. Duff Poems 70:
Ye'll wagg the gully oure the dyke, An' dare them to come near ye.
Sc. 1820 Blackwood Mag. (Nov.) 147:
The roof wags its remotest raft.
s.Sc. 1857 H. S. Riddell St Matthew xi. 7:
What gaed ye out intill the wulderniss till see? ane reed wagget wi' the win'?
Ags. 1880 J. E. Watt Poet. Sk. 33:
He scarcely had maucht left to wag his bit loom.
ne.Sc. 1993 Ronald W. McDonald in A. L. Kennedy and Hamish Whyte New Writing Scotland 11: The Ghost of Liberace 69:
The thocht o rottans made him loup doon an snuffel aroon the steading wi's tail wuggin awa like the shaft o Tucker's engin.

2. intr., gen. with advs. about, awa, on: to carry on, proceed, jog on (Sh., Ags., Per., Dmf. 1973).Ayr. 1822 H. Ainslie Pilgrimage 232:
How hae ye been wagging through the warl' sinsyne?
Fif. 1864 W. D. Latto T. Bodkin xx.:
Mair wark than he could well wag wi'.
Rnf. 1873 J. Nicholson Tibbie's Garland 48:
Her wee legs sae weary! she scarce can wag alang.
Kcb. 1898 T. Murray Frae the Heather 89:
I'll jist hae to wag on my lane.
Abd. 1955 W. P. Milne Eppie Elrick xxii.:
We maan jist wag awa wi't an' gar't be deein, Glen.

3. tr. To beckon, signal to (a person), wave the hand, etc., to; in 1924 quot. to send (a message). Also intr. with at, (up)on (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 205; Cai. 1905 E.D.D.; Sh., n., em., wm.Sc., Rxb. 1973). Also in n.Eng. dial.Slg. 1717 Trans. Slg. Nat. Hist. Soc. (1927) 44:
Many of them waggs the people within the strand.
s.Sc. 1838 Wilson's Tales of the Borders IV. 90:
“Jock,” cried I, wagging the boy in, “come here a minnit.”
Per. 1857 J. Stewart Sketches 50:
Whistle, cry or wag.
Mry. 1873 J. Brown Round Table Club 16:
There's the Captain ayont that hillock o' stanes waggin' upon 's.
Rnf. 1878 Good Words 184:
He was a proud man when Lizzy Sharp wagget him first.
Uls. 1880 Patterson Gl.:
I wagged on him to come across the field to me.
Kcd. 1900 W. MacGillivray Glengoyne I. 109:
Mary came to the door and ‘wagged' us in for tea.
Slg. 1901 R. Buchanan Poems 172:
His maister cam' into the shop and wagged Tam ower to his bench.
Lth. 1914 C. Slater Marget Pow 110:
He wagged on Hamlet to come away with him.
Abd. 1924 Swatches o' Hamespun 48:
Wag me ae wird an' say ye lo'e.
Abd. 1955 W. P. Milne Eppie Elrick vi., xx.:
Waggin wi the torch …. They're waggin on's …. 'e Keeng waggit 'em in aboot tull 'im.

4. Combs.: (1) wag-at-the-wa, (i) an elf or goblin who was supposed to sit on the Cruik or fire-crane and swing it to and fro as an annoyance to the domestics and a premonition of bad luck to the household; (ii) also wag-at-e-wa(a), wag at a-, -i-, -y-, waggitawa, waggity-, wag o the wa (Dmf. 1930), an unencased pendulum clock, orig. with some wooden mechanism, of a kind made in Germany, and hung on a wall (Cld. 1825 Jam.; Uls. 1880 Patterson Gl.; Cai. 1905 E.D.D.; Per., Fif., Lth., Ayr. 1915–23 Watson W.-B.; Bwk. 1942 Wettstein). Also attrib. Gen.Sc. and n.Eng. dial. Also in reduced form waggie; (iii) see quot.; ¶(2) wag-pow, a head-shaker, one who disapproves by shaking his head, see Pow, n.1; (3) wag-tawse, a nick-name for a schoolmaster.(1) (i) Rxb. 1825 Jam.:
The moon, she was at the latter-fa'; “Gang to your bed,” cry'd Wag-at-the-wa ', O! why do we wag the witch-nickit crook.
s.Sc. c.1830 Hist. Bwk. Nat. Club (1916) 62:
The spectre Wag-at-the-wa', a species of the Scottish Brownie, generally presided over the affairs of the kitchen, and was also the family monitor, and the servants', particularly the kitchen-maids', constant tormentor.
s.Sc. a.1838 Jam. MSS. X. 345:
The crook has always left the mark of the cross, that this potent spell may counteract the dreaded influence of Wag-at-the-Wa'.
(ii) Lnk. 1858 G. Roy Generalship 55:
To take a fancy to a waggitawa clock.
Abd. 1868 W. Shelley Wayside Flowers 273:
'Tis aften sae, on shiny days, Wi' waggies o' mair costly kind.
Edb. 1876 J. Smith Archie and Bess 60:
The tick-tack o' the waggity-wa'.
Kcb. 1885 A. J. Armstrong Friend and Foe xxi.:
The “wagaty-wa” gave warning for the midnight hour.
Sh. 1898 J. Nicolson Aithstin' Hedder 39:
The old “wag at da wa'” had just tolled the eleventh hour.
wm.Sc. 1903 S. Macplowter Mrs. McCraw 117:
She's gotten a tongue like a wag-at-i-wa'.
Abd. 1920 C. Murray Country Places 22:
Chains hingin' doon like a wag-at-the wa'.
Ags. 1922 V. Jacob Tales 6:
A ‘wag-at-the wa' clock with a gaudily-painted face.
m.Sc. 1939 James Barke The Land of the Leal (1987) 9:
... the wag at the wa' clock with its swinging exposed pendulum and its weights and chains; the bucket stools constituting his toys when the most of the brothers and sisters were absent; ...
Kcb. 1941 Gallovidian 11:
When waggie nicht's late hour has chappit.
Sc. 1972 Scotsman (2 Sept.) 6:
Most Scots would be more familiar with the description of Black Forest clocks as “wag-at-the-wa' clocks.”
Dundee 1985 W. N. Herbert in Joy Hendry Chapman 41 22:
Ha! zat yoo, auld Wag-at-thi-waa,
sweean ma hert amang ma ribs?
or thi spool o th'orloge i thi daurk
whaur thi hoose faulds lyk a caurd
wm.Sc. 1989 Anna Blair The Goose Girl of Eriska 87:
His blue eyes, fixed on it, moved back and forth like his mother's wag-at-the-wa'.
Sc. 1993 Herald 26 Oct 17:
I had composed the dog for sleep in her basket; I had emptied the ashtrays and adjusted the wag-at-the-wa! I entered into my chamber.
Abd. 1996 Sheena Blackhall Wittgenstein's Web 8:
The hauns o the classroom wag-at-the-wa creepit roon frae hauf een tae hauf twa, syne tae the back o fower, an Neil Rannoch traucled hame wi the dreich prospect o a hale evenin feedin an muckin oot chuckens an futterats afore him.
(iii) Abd.4 1933:
“That's nae wag-at-the wa'.” — (Said after a good substantial dinner.)
(2) Sc. 1926 Scots Mag. (Nov.) 148:
But the lad she would hae, for she caredna a strae For a wheen auld wag-pows' din.
(3) Rxb. 1859 Bards of Border (Watson) 107:
Wagtawse rose sune that mornynge.

II. n. 1. (1) A signal or gesture with the hand made to attract attention or summon a person (ne., em. and wm.Sc. 1973).Rnf. 1838 Whistle-Binkie 15:
He was unco obliging, and cam at my wag.
Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 205:
Gee a hoy an' a wag t' the loon t' fess haim the nout.
Lnk. 1897 J. Wright Sc. Life 33:
I gied Wull a wag an' slippet a bawbee into his hand.
Abd. 1993:
I geed im a wag fin I drave past.

(2) Phr. a wag o the pen, the least scrap of writing, a brief letter. Cf. Scrape, n., 1888 D. Grant Keckleton 97:
It's sax months sin' I had a wag o' a pen frae either Glaisgo' or Liverpool.

2. Dim. waggie : (1) see I. 4. (1) (ii); (2) also in form waggitie (Lth. 1926 Wilson Cent. Scot. 274; Ags., Per. 1973), the pied wagtail, Motacilla alba (e.Lth. 1885 C. Swainson Brit. Birds 43; Fif., Lth., Lnk., s.Sc. 1973). Also in n.Eng. dial. See also Water; ¶(3) a cow's tail, in children's riddle.(3) Abd. 1912 Rymour Club Misc. II. 21:
Twa leatherin cloots, and a waggie.

3. (1) As in Eng. a droll or tricky person. Comb. ¶wag-wit, a witty jesting fellow; ¶(2) in pl.: tricks, mischievous behaviour; (3) phr. to tak the wa o, to mock, make fun of.(1) Ayr. 1786 Burns Brigs of Ayr 183–4:
In Ayr, wag-wits nae mair can hae a handle To mouth ‘a Citizen', a term o' scandal.
(2) Rnf. 1835 D. Webster Rhymes 115:
When wailing the wags o' the washerwife's son. He drinks and he swears, he revels and rants.
(3) Bnff. 1967 Bnff. Advertiser (13 Apr.) 3:
I think ee're jist takkin' the wag o' me an' ma photies.

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"Wag v., n.1". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 24 May 2024 <>



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