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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1956 (SND Vol. IV).
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

GAELIC, n., adj. Also gaalic (wm.Sc. 1906 “H. Foulis” Vital Spark iv.), †gal(l)ic(k), †gaelick; †gelic(k) (Sc. 1748 in A. Reid Kirriemuir (1909) 384); †gailic (Sc. 1795 R. Macfarlan Alph. Vocab. vi.), †gaulic (w.Sc. 1774 D. McQueen App. to Pennant Tour (1776) 435). [The orig. Gael. pronunciation ′gɑ:lɪk has always prevailed in the Highl. and was current in Lowland usage in the second half of the 18th cent., as the spellings show. The pronunciation ′ge:lɪk thereafter supervened in the Lowlands, prob. under the influence of Gael and the spelling Gaelic, but there is a growing tendency in Scot. to revert to ′gɑ:lɪk, the original.]

I. n. 1. The original Celtic language of the Scottish Highlands, Hebrides and other Scottish islands. Often prefixed by the def. art. Cf. highlands, id., s.v. Hielan(d), n., 3.w.Sc. 1744 in R. C. MacLeod Island Clans (n.d.) 108:
Son Jamie is getting more Gallick at Kingsburgh than tongue can tell.
Sc. 1760 J. Macpherson in J. Browne Hist. Highl. (1837) I. 44:
You may perhaps have heard that I am employed to make a collection of the ancient poetry in the Gaelic.
Sc. 1774 Weekly Mag. (28 April) 159:
My mother . . . spoke the Galic very properly.
Sc. 1775 Boswell in Life Johnson (1791) 455:
It is affirmed that the Gaelick . . . has been written in the Highlands and Hebrides for many centuries.
Sc. 1782 W. Shaw Authentic. Ossian 8:
The Earse dialect of the Gallic was never written nor printed, until Mr Macfarlane . . . published in 1754, a translation of Baxter's Call to the Unconverted.
Sc. 1818 R. Jamieson in E. Burt Letters II. 82:
The natives call it Gaëlic. and the Lowlanders call it Erse.
Sc. 1886 Stevenson Kidnapped xxi.:
Alan . . . would suffer him to speak no Gaelic.
Sc. 1953 Scotsman (14 Aug.):
In 1951 there were 91,000 speakers of Gaelic in Scotland, compared with 129,000 as recently as 1931.

Hence Gaelic-speaking, adj. comb.Sc. 1884 Crofters' Commission Report 81:
The discouragement and neglect of the native language in the education of Gaelic-speaking children.

Phr.: to have the Gaelic, to speak the Gaelic language. Trans. of Gael. bith an Gàidhlig aig.Arg. 1947 Scots Mag. (Dec.) 190:
He had the Gaelic, had Angus, not so as to read . . . but well enough to speak a bit.

2. Fig. An unintelligible jargon (Slg.3 1946). Cf. similar use of Greek.Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.:
That's Gaelic (Gallic) (ti me), = I don't understand what you mean (or say).

II. adj. 1. Pertaining to the Celtic-speaking inhabitants of the Sc. Highlands, hence, loosely, Highland. Cf. Hielan(d), adj., 3. The word was adopted about the middle of the 18th cent. and by the early 19th cent., as a result of the opening-up of the Highlands and of the publication of Ossian, had practically superseded Erse, q.v.Sc. 1741 A. Macdonald Galick Vocab. vi.:
I was brought up with the Galic Language, as my Mother-Tongue.
Sc. 1760 J. Macpherson Fragments Title:
Fragments of Ancient Poetry, Collected in the Highlands of Scotland and translated from the Galic or Erse Language.
Sc. 1768 Scots Mag. (Aug.) 445:
The building of a house for public worship in the Erse or Gaelic language in Edinburgh . . . was begun in the beginning of last May.
Edb. 1773 R. Fergusson Poems (1925) 49:
Speak, was I made to dree the laidin Of Gallic chairman heavy treadin.
Ayr. 1787 Burns Letters (ed. Ferguson) No. 155:
The air is admirable: true old Highland. It was the tune of a Gaelic song, which an Inverness lady sung me when I was there.
Sc. 1828 Scott F.M. Perth xxvii.:
Your craft . . . is something too mechanical to be much esteemed at the foot of Ben Lawers. . . . We have not a Gaelic word by which we can even name a maker of gloves.
Sc. 1837 J. R. McCulloch Acc. Brit. Empire I. 311:
The Gaelic language prevails throughout almost all Inverness-shire.

2. Foolish, ingenuous, naïve. Cf. Hieland, adj., 6. (1), id.Gsw. 1910 H. Maclaine My Frien' 80:
The minister saw this — catch him, he wasna that Gaelic.

[O.Sc. galeig, the Gaelic language, c.1515; Gael. Gàidhlig, id. The adj. appears to be a later development of the n. and, in its earlier applications, refers gen. to language.]

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"Gaelic n., adj.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 19 May 2024 <>



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