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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1960 (SND Vol. V). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

HANDY, adj., n. Also hany (Mry. 1806 J. Cock Simple Strains 109); hannie (Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 252); hanny (Ayr.4 1928); han'y; handie, haundy. Sc. forms and usages of Eng. handy.

Sc. forms:Gsw. 1990 John and Willy Maley From the Calton to Catalonia 14:
Mrs Cochrane came roon yesterday way a balaclava an a bag a soor plooms. Ah hope the balaclava comes in haundy. The wee yins ate the soor plooms.
Lnk. 1998 Duncan Glen Selected New Poems 7:
Here it is gey haundy but faur oot the wey,
here still moment before movement
already in the language
the nippin north wi angry sough.

Sc. usages:

I. adj. 1. Manual, of or by the hand. Now obs. in Eng. Phr. by handy micht, by main force.Lnk. 1709 Minutes J.P.s (S.H.S.) 84:
Breaking the Sabbath day . . . in useing of handy labour.
Abd. 1872 J. G. Michie Deeside Tales 121:
Seean' nae way for the laird out o' his difficulty but by handy micht.

2. Light-fingered (Lnk. 1825 Jam., hanny). Gen. used in a bad sense = thievish.

3. Dexterous, skilful, as in Eng. Hence comb. handy wife, an unqualified midwife or knowledgeable woman who used to assist at confinements (Abd., Kcd., Per., Fif., m.Lth., Ayr. 1956).Ags. 1894 Brechin Advertiser (13 Feb.) 3:
He rade to Brechin for Luckie Ga', the handie wife.
Sc. 1920 D. Rorie Auld Doctor 53:
At ilka cryin' I'm handy wife, Wi' herbs I hae trokit awa'.
Sc. 1927 Scots Mag. (Dec.) 212:
The handy-wife . . . mounted pillion behind him, and the worthy pair started hell-for-leather on the return journey.

4. With neg.: easy to accomplish or to put up with (Bnff., Ags., Ayr., Kcb., Uls. 1956); adj.phr. nae handy (always following the word qualified), “awful”, beyond moderation, excessive; also used adv. (Abd.16 1947, Abd. 1956). Of price: moderate, reasonable (wm.Sc.1 1956).Bch. 1804 W. Tarras Poems 68:
“I kent,” quo she, “'twas some good gift, To fleg me was na handie.”
Fif. 1806 A. Douglas Poems 69:
Gin ye angry grow, or glowr, That winna be sae handy.
Abd. 1839 A. Walker De'il at Baldarroch 21:
To strive wi' some it's nae sae handy.
Ayr. c.1892 R. Lawson Ballads Carrick 8:
When climbing owre the Hadyet Hill It wasna han'y wark, man.
Abd. 1913 G. Greig Mains Again 42:
I cam on Peter oxterin Kate nae handy.
Abd. 1926 E. Duthie Three Short Plays 9–10:
She's affa feart o' bein' lost fan there's onybody else aboot. It's nae handy, bit fit can ye dee?
Abd. 1951 Buchan Observer (28 Aug.):
And he proceeded to lay off at a rate nae handy. But he summed up, at “lang lenth.”
Bnff. 1989:
A dirl nae-handy means a 'real good' dirl.
Gsw. 1993:
'His shoe! It's got a weight nae handy.'

5. Of an animal: quiet to handle, amenable, adaptable (ne.Sc. 1956).Abd. 1765 Aberdeen Jnl. (12 Aug.):
Four Years old Geldings . . . broke to be quite handy and gentle.
Abd. 1954 Buchan Observer (28 Dec.):
For Sale Shetland Pony, Harness, very handy. Young Calver Cow for Sale, very handy.

II. n. A nickname for one who has a maimed or missing hand. Cf. Fittie, n., 5.Bwk. 1796 Session Papers, Bell v. King (25 Feb.) 9:
Mr Purves (who went by the nickname of Handy, on account of his having lost a hand).

[O.Sc. handy, a.1500, ready with the hands.]

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"Handy adj., n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 21 Feb 2024 <>



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