Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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WEE, n.1, adj., adv. Also †wi (Sc. 1795 Scots Mag. (Nov.) 720), wie (Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 61, 178); we (Sc. 1782 J. Sinclair Ob. Sc. Dial. 110); wey (s.Sc.). [wi:; †s.Sc. wəi]

I. n. 1. A small measure, quantity or degree, of any thing or commodity, of time, space, etc., a little while, a short distance, freq. in adv. constructions, as a wee, somewhat, rather, for a little (Sc. 1808 Jam.), nae wee, in no small measure. See also Awee.

(1) Of amount or degree: Sc. 1720 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. 179:
It lulls a wee my Mullygrubs.
e.Lth. 1796 R. Gall Poems (1819) 36:
Ilk ane ferlied nae a wee.
Sc. 1816 Scott O. Mortality vii.:
There's whiles convenience in a body looking a wee stupid.
Ayr. 1822 Galt Sir A. Wylie i.:
He was great company, . . . though at times a wee fashious.
Slk. 1831 Hogg Good Queen Bess (1874) 194:
I'm a wee doubtfu' o' the story still.
Fif. 1862 St Andrews Gazette (25 July):
It leads insensibly on, by littles, an' wees, to a state o' unconscious intoxication.
Lth. 1894 M. Oliphant Who was Lost i.:
It micht be more cheery for me if he were a wee less preceese.
Wgt. 1912 A.O.W.B. Fables 99:
Grummlin' nae wee that he'd fail't in his plan.
Dmf. 1912 J. L. Waugh Robbie Doo 201:
To add a wee, noo and again, to my bank accoont.
Lnk. 1926 W. Queen We're A' Coortin 29:
I'm a wee feart it micht burn.

(2) Of time, also in dim. forms weeock (wm.Sc. 1825 Jam.), -uck. Wgt. 1706 Session Rec. Kirkinner MS. (1 Sept.):
Let me in, Margaret McLumpha, a litle wie.
Abd. 1768 A. Ross Helenore (S.T.S.) 15:
But howsomever, in a little wee, Himsel he gathers, and begins to see.
Ayr. 1789 Burns Willie Brew'd iii.:
She shines sae bright to wyle us hame, But, by my sooth, she'll wait a wee.
Gsw. 1807 J. Chirrey Misc. Poetry 171:
But stop a wee-ock, what thinks Jock O' thir ca'd criticising fo'k?
Dmf. 1820 Hogg Winter Ev. Tales I. 282:
We let him try his hand at the courtin' for a wey.
Fif. 1864 W. D. Latto T. Bodkin xxxiv.:
A wee afore five o' clock the company begoud to arrive.
m.Lth. 1894 W. G. Stevenson Puddin' 126:
I'll be back in a wee.
Sc. 1909 R. M. Fergusson Silver Shoebuckle 27:
I noticed after a wee that Rob Roy and a lot o' his kilties was prowling aboot.
Lnk. 1947 G. Rae Sketches 98:
In a wee the sunlicht o' a new day will bre'k roon us yince mair.

(3) Of distance: Sc. 1728 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) II. 43:
Sign'd Lyon, and a wee beneath, Baboon.
Rnf. 1827 W. Motherwell Ballads 310:
Stand off, stand off, you braw bridegroom — Stand off a little wee.
Kcb. 1897 T. Murray Frae the Heather 71:
A tartan petticoat she wore A wee below her knee.

2. A term of affection used to a child. Sc. 1933 J. Beith No Second Spring ix.:
“Hush, my wee”, whispered Allison, laying her hand softly over the child's mouth.

II. adj. 1. Small, tiny, little, restricted in size (Sc. 1710 T. Ruddiman Gl. to Douglas Aeneis, 1808 Jam.). Gen.Sc. Compar. weeer, superl. weeest, weeist, wiest. Freq. used redupl. as wee, wee, and with other dim. words, little wee, wee sma, teeny wee, and with (or in place of) dim. forms of the n. in -Ie, -Ock. Deriv. weeness, smallness, small size. Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 31:
A wie House well fill'd, a wie bit Land well Till'd, and a wie Wife well will'd will make a happy Man.
Sc. 1728 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) II. 190:
To wiest Insects even'd and painted.
Edb. 1772 Fergusson Poems (S.T.S.) II. 93:
A wee soup drink dis unco weel To had the heart aboon.
Ayr. 1790 Burns Tam o' Shanter 176:
The sark she coft for her wee Nannie.
s.Sc. 1793 T. Scott Poems 367:
A wee wheen books, while's twa three frien's like you.
Kcb. 1814 W. Nicholson Tales 42:
My fouks a' died whan I was wee.
Sc. 1817 Scott Rob Roy xxiii.:
If my duty were to be dune, ye couldna change your atmosphere, as the minister ca's it, this ae wee while.
ne.Sc. 1828 P. Buchan Ballads I. 13:
Out it speaks the little wee boy.
Fif. 1864 St Andrews Gazette (15 Oct.):
The wee-est, box-looking affairs in the way of dwellings which one can well imagine. . . . The weeness of these buildings, indeed, never fails to arrest the attention of the traveller.
Abd. 1873 P. Buchan Inglismill 48:
An' wee, wee lords in gorgeous garbs war' there.
s.Sc. 1915 Border Mag. (June) 129:
Its weeness, along with its beauty, constitutes its claim to afection.
m.Sc. 1917 J. Buchan Poems 32:
Yont to the glens whaur Tweed rins wee?
Rxb. 1925 E. C. Smith Mang Howes 12:
The little wee station at the back o beyond.
Abd. 1973 Fraserburgh Herald (25 May) 5:
Wee folk have the ability to make themselves felt.

2. Freq. qualifying nouns which in themselves signify a small amount, as Bit, n.1, 2., Lock, n.2, 2. (hence the forms weelock, weilock), Piece, Thing, n.1, 3., q.v., as an intensifier. The dropping of the prep. o after such nouns (see O, prep., 1. (5)) in Sc. usage has led to quasi -adj. and -adv. uses of a wee bit, etc., in the sense of “very small, tiny, somewhat, rather, to a small extent” (see quots.). Sc. 1724 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) V. 150:
Rousted with age, a wie pice gate seems lang.
Abd. 1768 A. Ross Helenore (S.T.S.) 28:
For her gueed luck, a wie bit aff the pead Grew there a tree wi' branches thick an' bred.
Slk. c.1800 Hogg Poems (1874) 91:
On a wee lock cosey hay.
Sc. 1818 Scott H. Midlothian v., xiii.:
A wee bit short in the temper. . . . There's but a wee bit word left out.
Ayr. 1822 H. Ainslie Pilgrimage 31:
Gif I dinna mak my claes a wee thing whiter than my han's.
Fif. 1864 St Andrews Gazette (20 Feb.):
There was a kinda bend a wee thing alang where ane could see ower to the scaur.
Sc. 1893 Stevenson Catriona xix.:
Ye come a wee thing ahint-hand, Mr. Balfour.
Uls. 1904 Vict. Coll. Mag. 34:
When an old person is asked how he is, he may reply: “I'm just putting in my wee bit time.”
Per. 1915 Wilson L. Strathearn 98:
I wis hindered a wee thing.
Ags. 1923 V. Jacob Songs 36:
I'll bide wi' him i' tinkler-van, Wi' a wee-bit pot an' a wee-bit pan.
Rxb. 1925 E. C. Smith Mang Howes 19:
A duist caa cannie a weilock.
Sc. 1955 J. Beith The Corbies 141:
Ay, she's a wee thing flighty, . . . but, oh man! is she no bonnie?

3. In combs.: (1) wee ane, a young child, a little one (Sc. 1755 Johnson Dict.). In m.Sc. now coalesced in the form Wean, q.v.; (2) wee bauk, -bawk, the small truss or collar-beam nearest the apex of a roof (see quot.); (3) wee-boukit, of small size, of a person, having a small physique (m.Lth. 1974). Cf. sma-boukit s.v. Sma, adj.; (4) wee coal, a shallow seam coal (see quots.); (5) wee coat, an under-petticoat. See Coat, 1.; (6) wee cork, a workman who set himself up in business in a small way, and subcontracted work to others, a small employer. See Cork, 1.; (7) Wee County, with def. art.: a soubriquet for Clackmannanshire, the smallest county in Scotland; (8) wee fowks, “people of the lowest ranks” (Cld. 1825 Jam.); (9) Wee Free, see Free, n., III. 1.; (10) wee furr, the small furrow made at the completion of a rig (Arg. 1937). See Furr, n.; (11) wee hauf, a nip of spirits, a small whisky, orig. something less than half an imperial gill and now by statute, a fixed fraction of a gill, usu. one-fifth (orig. wm.Sc. but now fairly Gen.Sc.); (12) wee house, an earth-closet, a latrine. Gen. (exc. I. and s.) Sc.; (13) wee Jock, see quot.; (14) wee man, (i) an odd-job man, an orraman (see Orra, adj., 2. (2) (Lnk., Dmf. 1973); (ii) a euphemism for the Devil, esp. in phr. in the name o the wee man, as an expostulation (Ags., Gsw. 1974); (15) wee pawn, an unlicensed pawnbroker, one often engaged in illicit dealings; (16) wee peck, a dry measure formerly in use in N. Ayrshire, the smaller of two peck measures used for wheat and oats respectively. The exact capacity is uncertain, phs. between 600 and 800 cubic ins. See Peck, n.2; (17) wee raa, the band of reinforced meshes on the lower-edges of a herring trawl-net (Arg. 1940). See Raw, n.1; (18) wee schule, the infant department in a school (Abd., Ags. 1973); (19) wee sermon, the public rebuke or homily delivered in church to offenders against Church discipline. See Sermon; (20) wee Setterday, see Seturday, 10.; (21) wee spell, see Spell, n.1; (22) wee taws, see Taw, n.1, 1. (Lth. 1885 quot.); (23) wee thing, (i) a small child; (ii) see 2. above; (24) wee-toon-clock, the moschatel, Adoxa moschatellina, so called from the clock-like appearance of the corolla (Ayr. 1828); (25) wee wheel, see Wheel, 2. (3). (1) Edb. 1772 Fergusson Poems (S.T.S.) II. 91:
There's sic yellowchin and din, Wi' wives and wee-anes gablin.
Ayr. 1822 Galt Sir A. Wylie l.:
A shilling a-piece to the wee anes.
Mry. 1824 J. Cock Hamespun Lays 29:
A' the bliss o' man an' wife, O' parent an' o' wee ane.
Ayr. 1836 J. Ramsay Woodnotes (1848) 53:
Wee anes, daubit wi' blackman.
(2) wm.Sc. 1825 Jam., s.v. Sile:
Two transverse beams go from the one sile-blade to the other. . . . The lower beam is called a jeest, or joist; the one above a bawk, and sometimes a third is added, called a wee-bawk.
(3) m.Lth. 1856 J. Ballantine Poems 133:
Tho' cruikit, wee-buikit, an' stickit, He's no very easily licket.
Lnk. 1881 D. Thomson Musings 94:
Tho' she's wee boukit, [She] may wear geyan teugh.
(4) Dmf. 1843–5 Trans. High. Soc. 293:
3d Coal is called the wee coal. It is about 21 inches thick, having its roof composed of slate-clay and impure iron ore.
Lnk. 1864 J. Greenshields Annals Lesmahagow 248:
Auchinheath Oil Coal. — Better known as the “Wee” or upper gas coal.
Lnk. 1937 Econ. Geol. Cent. Coalfield I. 73:
This seam has received different names in the surrounding districts, such as Upper Wee, First Wee and even Possil Upper Coal.
(5) Sc. a.1796 Burns Merry Muses (1965) 139:
I gied her her wee coat in her teeth, Her sark an' a'.
(6) Gsw. 1843 Children in Trades Report (2) i 22:
At the time the duty was taken off, a heap of workers who had saved some bawbees, started up, they were called “wee corks”.
(7) m.Sc. 1954 Bulletin (11 Nov.) 6:
Mr Woodburn certainly has a heart for the Wee County.
(11) Lnk. 1873 A. G. Murdoch Doric Lyre 19:
A ‘wee hauf' held my heart in cheer.
Gsw. 1973 Sc. Short Stories (Paterson) 169:
Wull ye huv a wee half tae drink ma daughter's health?
(13) wm.Sc. 1868 Laird of Logan App. 524:
A cant term, denoting a mixture of intoxicating liquors administered to an individual without his knowledge. “To gie Wee Jock”, a trick well understood in Paisley.
(14) (i) Lnk. 1928 W. C. Fraser Yelpin' Stane 140:
As cowherd, and later as wee man at Raggamgill.
(15) Rnf. 1842 Children in Trades Report ii. i. 59:
Another flagrant cause of immorality is the “wee pawns”, or small unlicensed pawnbrokers.
Edb. 1850 G. Bell Blackfriars Wynd 13:
“Wee pawn” brokers are jackals — providers for the lions of the city.
Fif. 1864 St Andrews Gazette (11 June):
The facilities given by pawnbrokers, and especially ‘wee pawns,' for the disposal of stolen cloth and yarn.
(16) Ayr. 1847 J. Taylor Annals Fenwick (1970) 78:
Oatmeal was selling at ¥3. 5. 0 to ¥3. 7. 0 per load. It was retailing at 20 and 21 pence per wee peck.
(18) Lth. 1885 J. Strathesk More Bits 12:
The ‘wee schule”, called nowadays the ‘infant department,' or the ‘junior division.'
(19) Ags. 1769 W. M. Inglis Angus Parish (1904) 138:
The Minister gave the word to the beadle, he ordered the culprit frequently to stand on the stool, or assisted him or her considerably to do so, as a sign of repentance. Thereupon they received their rebuke and the “Wee Sermon.”
(23) (i) Sc. 1776 D. Herd Sc. Songs II. 213:
When I was a wee thing, And just like an elf.
Ayr. 1785 Burns Cottar's Sat. Night iii.:
Th' expectant wee-things, toddlin, stacher through To meet their dad.
Ags. 1794 “Tam Thrum” Look before ye Loup II. 14:
An' the wee things climmin' upon his knees.
Dmf. 1808 J. Mayne Siller Gun 36:
Wie-things giggling i' the arms O' their fond mithers!
Abd. 1845 P. Still Cottar's Sunday 19:
The wee-things now demand a mither's care.

4. Transf. Mean, of conduct, small-minded, petty; niggardly, stingy (Uls. 1901 Northern Whig (8 May)). Hence weeness, mean-spiritedness (Cld. 1825 Jam.). Cld. 1825 Jam.:
That was very wee in him.

III. adv. With verbs of speaking: softly, in a low voice. wm.Sc. 1911 H. Foulis Para Handy 108:
I canna hear mysel' readin' for you chaps barkin' at each other. I wish ye would talk wee.
Rnf. 1928 G. Blake Paper Money vii .:
“Wheesht, Alan!” she answered . . . “Speak wee — ”

[The word is orig. a noun from O.E. wēȝ, , a weight, found also in Mid.Eng. and first in O.Sc. 1375, in the phr. a lytil we, a small quantity, a short time or distance, and adv., to a small degree, 1513. As an adj., by the sense development described in II., the word occurs first in O.Sc., 1450. For the phonology see wee, Weigh.]

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"Wee n.1, adj., adv.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 1 Dec 2021 <>



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