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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1952 (SND Vol. III). Includes material from the 1976 and 2005 supplements.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

COBLE, Cobble, Cowble, n.2 [kɔbl, kobl Sc., but s.Sc. + kʌubl, kubl]

1. A small flat-bottomed rowing boat, used mostly in river or lake fishing, or for salmon-fishing by net near the coast. (The Eng. coble, used mostly off the north-east coast of Eng., has a rudder extending four or five feet below the bottom, three pairs of oars, and is used only for sea-fishing.) Gen. salmon cobble. Given by Watson in Rxb. W.-B. (1923) as obsol. in form cowble. Also attrib. 1881 W. Gregor Folk-Lore of N.-E. Scot. 146:
In going past a salmon cobble in the harbour, a fisherman would not have allowed his boat to touch it.
m.Sc. 1986 William Montgomerie in Joy Hendry Chapman 46 6:
"An lose ten bob!" said the motor mechanic sarcastically. "For ten bob ye'd tak the Deil himself in a coble tae Fife."
Fif. 1827 W. Tennant Papistry Storm'd 137:
A skull o' herrings thick, Amid whase millions, flikkerin' quick, His coble seems to stand and stick.
Ayr. 1822 H. Ainslie Pilgrimage, etc. 137:
The river taking a sudden bend, broadened and deepened into a wheel, on the breast of which, a salmon cobble, or currach swam.

2. “A ferry boat, ferry” (Sc. 1887 Jam.6 Add.; Bnff.2 1936). Used fig. in 1883–86 D. Grant Chrons. of Keckleton (1888) 6–7:
I've seen my three-score an' ten years, an' anither half-score to haud them hale wi'; sae I am content to tak' staff in han' an' try the crossin' o' the Jordan by sic fords or coble as may be granted me.

3. Phrs.: (1) net and coble, (a) a method of fishing usual in tidal rivers, the stream being swept with a net one end of which makes a circuit with a coble, the other being held by a man on the river bank; the term is in use only in connection with the legal rights necessary for employing this method of fishing (Abd.16); †(b) the symbols of seizin in fishing; (2) to keep the coble head doun the stream, to take the easiest course.(1) (a) Sc. 1814 Scott Waverley (1817) xlii.:
The rights of net and coble in the water and loch of Veolan.
(b) Sc. 1754 J. Erskine Princ. Law Scot. (1903) ii. iii. § 17:
The symbols by which the delivery of possession was expressed were: — for lands, earth and stone; . . . for parsonage teinds, a sheaf of corn; . . . for fishings, net and coble.
(2) Sc. 1816 Scott O. Mortality xlii.:
He was no ill friend to our folk when he could protect us, and far kinder than Basil Olifant, that aye keepit the coble head doun the stream.

[O.Sc. cobill, coble, cowbill, id., first quot. a.1400 (D.O.S.T.). The word appears earlier in Latin form in Exchequer Rolls of Scot. (1264) and (1342) and in Reg. Dumferm. (1319) Charter No. 232, p. 149 (J.B.J.). The previous history is uncertain. The earliest record of the word is the “in cuople” of the Lindisfarne Gospels, but this would not give coble regularly. A Celtic origin is prob., cf. Welsh ceubal, Breton caubal, the Celtic being prob. an early borrowing from Lat. caupulus, a kind of small ship. According to A. S. C. Ross in Leeds Studies in Eng. and Kindred Langs. No. IV. (1935), older Welsh would have a form with *coub-, with reg. change of Lat. p to Welsh b. Mr Ross says: “If we emend the [Lindisfarne] cuople to couple, the word would agree well with the postulated [Welsh] form in vocalism. . . . The p in the Lindisfarne is probably due to re-analogy with Lat. caupulus.” This suggested emendation approaches phonetically the s.Sc. pronunciation [kʌubl].]

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"Coble n.2". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 22 May 2024 <>



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