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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1941 (SND Vol. II). Includes material from the 1976 and 2005 supplements.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

CARLE, Carl, Cairl, Karl, Carel, n.1 [kɑrl, kerl]

1. Man, fellow, in a gen. sense; “an old man” (Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928), karl). Known to Bnff.2, Abd., Ags. and Fif. correspondents, Lnk.3 1938. Also fig.Sc. 1756 Mrs Calderwood Journey (Maitland Club 1842) ii. 118:
There were severall Hanoverian officers very rugged-like carles, stiff-backed and withered, with gray hairs tyed behind, and the forelock cut short by the ear.
Sc. 1822 Scott F. Nigel iii.:
The twa iron carles yonder . . . were just banging out sax o' the clock.
Sc. 1825 Wilson Noctes Amb. (1855) I. 58:
In a poupit — though I have seen some grim carls there . . . dreigh at the thocht. and dour at the delivery.
Sc. 1991 John McDonald in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 88:
The feck hae notions o an auld carle
daffin 'kypes', an plunkin planets.
Abd. 1995 Flora Garry Collected Poems 19:
Cam ye fae some idder warl,
Mysterious, oonchancy cat,
A speerit-craiter athoot faat,
To me, a feel, roch human carl?
m.Sc. 1926 Wilson Dials. Cent. Scot. 126:
A gei pawkay cairl. A pretty shrewd old fellow.
m.Sc. 1998 Lillias Forbes Turning a Fresh Eye 18:
They'll aye come for ye, loupin oot their kists ...
Queer wizzent carls an quines
An a hail smarrich o Stuarts.
Fif. 1937 St Andrews Citizen (1 May) 3/1:
An interesting “character” belonging to a former generation was Dauvit Laing, more familiarly known as the “Carle” or “Carlie Laing.”
Kcb. 1894 S. R. Crockett Raiders x.:
He was a stark carle in his cups.

†Phrase: carle and cavel, “a proverbial phrase for honest man and rogue, or all without distinction” (Sc. 1808 Jam. s.v. kavel). See Cavel, n.2Sc. 1711 Country Wedding in J. Watson Choice Collection (1869) iii. 50:
And a' the rout began to revel: The Bride about the King she skipped, Till out starts Carle and Cavel.

2. A man of the common people (esp. of people working on the land) as opposed to a gentleman; sometimes a labourer as opposed to a farmer; “every man under the rank of a gentleman in blood, such as a working man, a merchant, a vassal, a feuar” (Kcb.3 1929). Known to Bnff.2, Abd.22, Lnk.3 1938.Sc. 1724–1727 Ramsay T. T. Misc. (1733) 84:
The night was cauld, the carle was wat And down ayont the ingle he sat.
Sc. 1820 Scott Monastery xvii.:
It seems as if you had fallen asleep a carle, and awakened a gentleman.
Ayr. 1792 Burns Hey, ca' thro' (Cent. ed.) i.:
Up wi' the carls of Dysart And the lads o' Buckhaven.

3. In a derogatory sense, often with a descriptive adj. (Bnff.2, Abd.19, Fif.10, Lnk.3 1938).Sc. 1822 Scott F. Nigel v.:
The carle of a Conservator . . . evict the auld estate and lordship of Olifaunt?
Sc. 1874 A. Hislop Sc. Anecdotes 207:
The “Carles of the Carse” was an ancient term of reproach for the farmers of the Gowrie district of Perthshire.
Edb. 1872 J. Smith J. Blair's Maunderings (1881) 72:
Noo ye wha are far i' the douncome o' life, Ilk crabbit auld carle, an' ilk cankert auld wife.

4. Used attrib. to indicate the male sex and hence often in the sense of strong or large. Known to Abd.22 1938.Sc. 1827 C. I. Johnstone Eliz. de Bruce III. ix.:
I would shew her or any quean I wedded, who is the carle cat at my fireside.
Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 22:
Carl-tangle. Tangle, Sea-girdles (Laminaria digitata).
Mearns 1879 Jam.5Ags. 1880 Arbroath Guide (9 Oct.) 4/4:
Ae moonless nicht Jean slyly took A muckle carl partan To gar the witch at Lordburn-heid Spae out her comin' fortune.
Fif. 1710 R. Sibbald Hist. Fife and Kinross 54–55:
The common Sea-Crab; our Fishers call it a Partan; the Male they call the Carle Crab, and the Female the Baulster Crab.
Bwk. 1856 G. Henderson Pop. Rhymes 56:
Wi' carl-cats they squeel'd.

5. Applied in a fig. sense to a candle-stick: (1) “a tall rustic candle-stick” (Ayr.4 1928; Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 115; Gall. 1947 A. McCormick Galloway 207, carel). See also Kerl; (2) “a candle stand used by women when sewing in the evenings” (Wgt. 1935 (per e.Dmf.2), carle). Dim. cairlie, “a tripod for holding a candle” (Wgt. 1934 (per Kcb.1)). Cf. Peer-man, with similar meaning.

6. Proverbial sayings:Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 136:
Hair and hair makes the Carles Head bare. — An Estate may be ruined by small Diminutions.
Sc. 1737 Ramsay Proverbs 72:
When Lairds break Carles get Land.
Sc. 1896 A. Cheviot Proverbs 227:
Knock a carle, and ding a carle, That's the way to win a carle.

7. In phrase: to play carl- (carle) again, “to return a stroke, to give as much as one receives” (Ags. 1808 Jam.); also simply carl-again (Fif. 1825 Jam.2).Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 280:
Play Carle again, if you dare.

8. Combs.: (1) auld carle, the Devil (Bnff.2, Abd.9, Ags.1, Fif.10 1938); †(2) carlwife, “a man who interferes too much in household affairs” (Lnk. 1825 Jam.2).(1) n.Sc. 1891 A. Gordon Folks o' Carglen 103:
May the auld carle get me, if it hasna brought aboot puir Amos's doonfa'.

[O.Sc. carl(e), cairl(e), (1) a man of the common (esp. peasant) class; a husbandman, a rustic; (2) in depreciatory use; (3) in carl-cat, a male cat. Earliest quot. 1375 (D.O.S.T.). O.N. karl, man, male, man of the people, Gmc. karlo-s. Found in O.E. only in combs., e.g. hūs-carl.]

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"Carle n.1". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 30 May 2024 <>



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