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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.

WITCH, n., v. Also wutch (Sc. 1829 Wilson Noctes Amb. (1855) II. 286; Gsw. 1877 A. G. Murdoch Laird's Lykewake 53; Kcb. 1901 R. Trotter Gall. Gossip 149; Abd. 1922 Swatches o' Hamespun 88; Rxb. 1926 Kelso Chronicle (25 June) 4); whitch. Sc. form and usages. [wɪtʃ; wʌtʃ. See P.L.D. § 59.]

I. n. 1. As in Eng. Dim. witchlin, a little witch, used transf. in quot. of a magpie's young. Deriv. adjs. ¶witchfu, supernatural, bewitching; witchy. For phr. Witchie and Namer see Namer.Abd. 1844 P. Still Poems 126, 155:
The witchfu' elf, she's Willie's bride . . . Reca' the witchfu' willow tree.
Ayr. 1879 R. Adamson Lays 142:
The witchy pyat's nest Wha e'er micht try Her brood o' witchlins tae molest.

Combs. and attrib. usages (with witch('s), witches', witchie, -y): (1) witch-bead, one of the joints of a fossil crinoid, an entrochite; (2) witch-bell, (i) the harebell, Campanula rotundifolia (Sc. 1808 Jam.); (ii) the corn bluebottle, Centaurea cyanus (Edb. 1886 B. and H.); (3) witchie-body, a witch (Ork. 1974); (4) witch-book, a book of magic and witchcraft, a witch's spell-book; (5) witch-bracken, bracken, as a hiding-place for witches and spirits; (6) witch(es)-bridle, a kind of iron collar and gag used to confine witches undergoing trial (see quots.). Hist.; (7) witch brooch, a heart-shaped brooch sometimes used as an amulet. Cf. J. Hall Travels (1807) II. 415 and Luckenbooth brooch s.v. Lucken, adj., 1.; (8) witch(es') butterfly, a species of moth, “a very large thick-bodied butterfly of the moth tribe, and of a drab or light-brown colour” (Sc. 1825 Jam.); a tortoiseshell butterfly (Rxb. 1915 Jedburgh Gazette (3 Sept.) 2, wutchie); a meadow-brown butterfly. Cf. 2.(1); (9) witch cake, a cake baked with toad's blood and used for witchcraft purposes (Dmf. 1810 R. Cromek Remains 282). Hist.; (10) witch-carline, a witch. See Carline, 2.; (11) witchie-clock, a species of burrowing beetle, a carabid (Sh. 1974). See Clock; (12) witch-clout, a cloth wound round the finger as an amulet; (13) witchiflooer, the scentless mayweed, Matricaria inodora (Sh. 1914 Angus Gl., Sh. 1974); (14) witch(es)-geet, -geit, -gett, -gite, -gyt, the offspring of a witch, freq. used in the early 18th c. as a term of abuse. See Get, n., 3.; (15) witch-gowan, the dandelion. See Gowan, n., 2.(14). Also attrib.; (16) witch-hag, see 2.(5) below; (17) witch(es) knot, (i) an elflock, a tangle or matting of the hair supposed to have been caused by a witch's spell. Obs. in Eng.; (ii) a proliferation of twigs where a tree has been attacked by a fungus, etc., a witches' broom (Rxb. 1825 Jam.); (iii) a knot made unintentionally on a thread in the act of sewing (Sc. a.1838 Jam. MS. X. 359); (18) witch('s) mark, (i) “a ring observed on moors and green hills, generally of a greenish or brown colour” (Rxb. a.1838 Jam. MSS. IX. 217); (ii) “a nick which a blacksmith puts on the blades of his tongs to make them keep their hold” (Ib.); (iii) “the marks or nickings which appear on old-fashioned chimney crooks” (Ib.). Cf. (21) below; (19) witches' milk, the sap of the dandelion, Leontodon taraxacum (Dmf. 1810 . Cromek Remains 110); (20) witches' needle, the plant lady's comb or shepherd's needle, Scandix pectenveneris (Bwk. 1853 G. Johnston Botany E. Borders 87); (21) witches' nick, a notch cut in the hook suspending a cooking-pot over the fire (see quot.). Cf. (18)(iii); (22) witch's nip, a blue mark on the body not attributable to a bruise or other natural cause (Sc. 1808 Jam., s.v. dede-nip). See Deid, III. 34.; (23) witches' paps, the foxglove, Digitalis purpurea (Arg. 1936 L. McInnes S. Kintyre 9; Arg., Ayr. 1974); (24) witches' pouches, the shepherd's purse, Capsella bursa-pastoris (Mry. 1839 G. Gordon Flora 20; Nai. 1892 Trans. Northern Assoc. I. v. 68); (25) witch-queen, a witch, a malignant woman; (26) witch-score, a cut usu. in the form of a cross made on the brow of a supposed witch to render her power harmless (Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 495, wutch-). See Score, v., 1.; (27) witches' spittin, cuckoo-spit (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.); (28) witch(es')-thimbles, -thummles, (i) the foxglove, Digitalis purpurea, esp. its flowers (Ags., Edb. 1886 B. & H. 497; Per. 1887 Proc. Per. Soc. Nat. Science xv.; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; Cai., Mry., m. and s.Sc. 1974); (ii) sea-campion, Silene maritima (Bwk. 1853 G. Johnston Botany E. Borders 40); (29) witch's thorn, a solitary gnarled hawthorn associated with witch practices. See (30); (30) witch-tree, id.; (31) witch-wean, a child substituted by witchcraft for a living child, a fairy changeling; (32) witch's whorl, see quot.; (33) witch-wife, a witch. Also in n.Eng. dial.(1) Sc. 1793 D. Ure Rutherglen 319:
The Entrochi comprehend a class of fossils. . . . They have obtained various names as . . . Witch-beads, of the vulgar in Scotland.
(2) (i) Fif. 1827 W. Tennant Papistry 9:
Her fingers in her basket dippin' Pick witch-bells out, dear daffodillies.
Sc. 1970 Sunday Post Mar :
The harebell (the bluebell of Scotland) has an old Scottish name of witchbells.
(3) Sh. 1958 Shetland News (9 Dec.) 3:
“Lukki Minni” was said to be a witchie-body biding in the secluded parts of the hills.
(4) Per. 1835 J. Monteath Dunblane Trad. 55:
With his witch-book an' black-art stick in his hand.
(5) Dmf. 1894 R. Reid Poems 161:
Where the lang witch-bracken is stiff and still.
(6) Sc. 1833 R. Pitcairn Criminal Trials (M.C.) I. 50:
Iron collars, or ‘witches' bridles, are still preserved in various parts of Scotland. . . . These instruments were so constructed, that, by means of a hoop which passed over the head, a piece of iron, having four points or prongs, was forcibly thrust into the mouth, two of these being directed to the tongue and palate, the others pointing outwards to each cheek. This infernal machine was secured by a padlock. At the back of the collar was fixed a ring by which to attach the witch to a staple in the wall.
Ags. 1881 J. Carrie Ancient Things 94:
In the course of twelve years, from 1650 to 1662, nine miserable victims of fatuity were burned at the stake in the Play Field of Forfar, on the charge of witchcraft. They were led to the place of execution, harnessed like beasts with an iron instrument, called “the Witch-Bridle”. It was long preserved in the church steeple, and is still in existence.
(7) Sc. 1911 Palace of History I. 135:
Sometimes they are called Witch Brooches, a name due to the belief that if pinned on a child they kept off spells.
(8) Bnff. 1930 A. I. McConachie Glamour of the Glen 49:
Elusive meadow-browns suddenly drop down and disappear into them [grasses] so effectually as to make it almost impossible to find them again. This habit of the meadow-brown explained the name of witch-butterfly which was given it by the boys.
(9) Sc. 1927 J. Buchan Witch Wood xvi.:
The witch-cake — a food made of grey bear and a black toad's blood and baked in the light of the moon.
(10) Sc. 1806 Scott Minstrelsy II. 388:
He's ta'en doon the bush o' woodbine, Hung atween her bour and the witch-carline.
(11) Sh. 1899 J. Spence Folk-Lore 20:
The witchie-clock and the tur-diel, two kinds of beetles.
Sh. 1952 J. Hunter Taen wi da Trow 7:
Da Pechts . . . Dat lived ata holls ida grund, Da sam as da witchie clock.
(12) Bnff. 1705 Boharm Parish Mag. (Nov. 1893):
Slandering his good name in calling him a devil and a witch, and that he should always carry a witch clout about his finger.
(14) Abd. 1702 Abd. Jnl. N. & Q. III. 42:
Calling and saying to the Complainer that he was a witch geet.
Bnff. 1714 W. Cramond Ch. Grange (1898) 75:
Another said she called her witch or witch gite.
(15) Dmf. 1810 R. Cromek Remains 110:
Ye maun rufflet i' the bosom wi' witch-gowan flower.
(17) (i) Sc. 1783 Willie's Lady in Child Ballads No. 6 A. xxxiv.:
Oh wha has loosed the nine witch knots That was amo that ladie's locks!
(ii) Sc. 1806 J. Grahame Birds Scot. 51:
The simple boy . . . Mistakes the witch-knots for the cushat's nest.
(21) s.Sc. c.1830 Proc. Bwk. Nat. Club (1916) 62:
These hooks in general have a deep cut or nick in the iron in form of the cross X which is called the witches' nick or mark, in order to prevent the witches presiding over the fire, which by most old people is accounted sacred.
(25) Mry. 1716 Boharm Parish Mag. (Sept. 1898):
She heard Grisell Gray call Agnes Grant Witch quean that she was.
(28) (i) Rxb. 1820 Scots Mag. (April) 344:
The mother went to the crags, and pulled some witches thimbles.
Bwk. 1876 W. Brockie Leaderside Legends 45:
I wadna gie the witches' thimmles, That grew near Howmeadows well.
Ayr. 1890 J. Service Notandums 99:
The muir-cock churrs and the witch thummles grow.
(29) Lnk. 1880 W. Grossart Shotts 263:
A solitary tree may frequently be seen in the midst of a well-cultivated field, and is the Witch's-thorn of popular superstition, which it was thought “no canny” to remove.
(30) Sc. a.1838 Jam. MSS. XI. 215:
Witch Tree. The name very generally but not exclusively, given by the peasantry throughout Scotland to an old hawthorn, growing singly, and most frequently expanding its shrivelled branches in a solitary situation. The belief half a century ago was that witches came and danced round such a tree.
(31) Ayr. 1889 H. Johnston Glenbuckie 101:
Was it a fairy, a brownie, or a witchwean? Its general appearance was almost sufficient to lead him to suppose it was a witchwean, as it lay there with its wee thrawn face blinking uncomfortably at the obtrusive light.
(32) Rxb. a.1838 Jam. MSS. XI. 217:
Witch's whorl. A species of self bored stone, of the blue slatey colour; denominated from the superstitious idea of its being formed, or used, by witches as they fly for their spinning-nock.
(33) Ayr. 1821 Galt Annals vii.:
Nanse was a curious discontented blear-eyed woman, and it was only with great ado that I could get the people keepit from calling her a witchwife.
Per. 1897 S. Tytler Witch-Wife 18:
Let the bairn have nothing to do with the witch-wife, and if he dies, he dies.

2. Transf. to various animals, insects and objects in some way associated with witches: (1) a moth in gen. (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 211; Kcd., Ags. 1974); a tortoise-shell butterfly (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; Slk., Bwk. 1974); (2) the pole flounder or dab, Glyptocephalus cynoglossus. Gen.Sc. and in Eng. fishing usage. Also witch-sole (Sc. 1930 Fishery Board Gl.). Comb. witch-ground, see 1903 quot.; (3) the sea weed, Laminaria saccharina; (4) a red clay marble (Abd. 1904 Weekly Free Press (9 April)), gen. one that is considered effective in winning games, a “wizard” (Abd. 1910). Dim. witchy, id., used attrib. in quot.; (5) in dim. forms witchag, ¶witch-hag, witchuck, one of the swallow family, the swallow itself, Hirundo rustica (Cai. 1885 C. Swainson Brit. Birds 54, witch-hag, Cai. 1974, witchag), the sand-martin, Riparia riparia (Ork. a.1795 G. Low Fauna Orcad. (1813) 74, 1891 Buckley and Harvie-Brown Fauna Ork. 114, witchuck).(1) ne.Sc. 1881 W. Gregor Folk-Lore 147:
Moths were called “witches,” and were looked upon with a sort of undefinable dread, as being very uncanny.
s.Sc. 1896 Border Mag. (June) 89:
Mossy haughs where “Wutchies” flit.
Abd. 1931 Press and Jnl. (27 Jan.):
There was a fat, dusky butterfly called a wutch, often found in seedhay sheaves, and in the dry peat rickles in the moss.
(2) Abd. 1895 Scotsman (21 Sept.):
Whitches, 35s to 39s per box, dabs 5/9 to 10/6.
ne.Sc. 1903 G. Sim Fauna of “Dee” 247:
For twenty years prior to the commencement of trawling along the east coast of Scotland, I had seen only three specimens . . . but since trawling . . . has proved that the “Witch Sole” is quite an abundant species . . . a trough that runs from near Rosehearty to opposite Tarbet Ness is now known as the “Witch Ground”.
Abd. 1949 Evening Express (27 June):
Haddocks 36/8 to control, whitings 22/8 to control, witches 38/8 to 46/8 (including transport levy).
(3) Abd. 1815 J. Arbuthnot Fishes 39:
Fucus Sacharinus Frondi, Sugar Fucus, or Sea Belt, vulgarly called Witches.
(4) Ags. 1896 Barrie Sentimental Tommy xv.:
She collected all her treasures, the teetotum, the pretty buttons, the witchy marble.

II. v. As in Eng., to affect by witchcraft. Sc. combs.: 1. witched corn, corn affected by wilt or similar disease (see 1794 quot.); 2. witching docken, “a name given by old women to tobacco” (Avr. 1825 Jam.).1. Abd. 1794 J. Anderson Peat Moss 99-100:
Though the corn may spring up, and appear healthy enough for some time, yet when it gets into ear, it becomes weak and soft in the stalk, and falls over and withers before there be the smallest mark of a kernel in the grain. This disease is well known in all moss countries; and as it was originally believed to be occasioned by witchcraft, the name still remains, and it is called witched corn.
Sc. 1822 Farmer's Mag. (Nov.) 432:
On No. 2, it was what is by some country people called ‘witched corn:' i.e. corn withered for lack of nourishment and moisture soon after it comes in the ear.

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"Witch n., v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 29 May 2024 <>



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