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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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About this entry:
First published 1934 (SND Vol. I). Includes material from the 1976 supplement.
This entry has not been updated but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

BACKSPANG, n. [′bɑkspɑŋ]

1. A legal flaw or loophole.Sc. 1808 Jam.:
Backspang. A trick, or legal quirk, by which one takes the advantage of another, after the latter had supposed everything in a bargain or settlement to be finally adjusted.
Sc. 1811 Scott Letters (Cent. Ed.) III. 15:
I have some hopes of getting a back-spang as you would call it for a quarter or two.
Sc. 1844 G. Outram Lyrics, Invit. to a Dinner (1874) 14:
It will be taen into cannie consideration how we may now best free oursels o' that unnatural band, either by a backspang . . . or by an evendown cassin o' the bargain.
Ayr. 1889 H. Johnston Chron. of Glenbuckie vi.:
The laird in making his last will . . . waited at the lawyer's offices till it was extended, paid the charges, and brought it home with him in his pocket, for as he said, he “wanted no back spangs.”

2. A reservation, sometimes dishonest; an advantage taken behindhand.Sc.(E) 1913 H. P. Cameron Imit. of Christ iii. xxxvii. 144:
A wheen haun theirsels owre, bot wi' a certain backspang; for they divna hailly lippen till God.
wm.Sc. [1835] Laird of Logan (1868) 67:
Tell him so that there may be nae backspangs; in the mean time, I'll take anither look at the mouth.
Arg.1 1932:
Back-spang. The taking of a mean or underhand advantage of a person in a bargain. “Nane o' yer back-spangs here.”
Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 38:
Backspang — Backspring; men not overly honest, too, are said to “hae mony a backspang about them.”
Uls. 1904 J. W. Byers in Victoria Coll. Mag. 42:
A man . . . may be one of those undesirable men who give you a “back-spang,” that is, fair to your face but treacherous behind your back.

Phr. tae draw a back-spang, to attempt to withdraw from an undertaking, to resile from one's promise. m.Lth. 1857 Misty Morning 217:
It's deevilish shabby o' ye to draw back-spangs that way, when it's no to sair ye muckle less when ye gae wi' me.

3. Score for unpaid drinks.Lnk. 1922 T. S. Cairncross Scot at Hame 54–55:
O wae's me for sic days, . . . There was drink for a' in rowth and aye fetch mair, And nae back-spangs were chalked up; ye never thocht to cheat.

4. (See quot.)Uls.1 c.1920:
Back spangs, unpleasant reflections or returns.

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"Backspang n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 9 Dec 2022 <>



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