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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1960 (SND Vol. V). Includes material from the 1976 and 2005 supplements.
This entry has not been updated but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

HEN, n.1 Sc. usages. Also dims. hennie, henny. Hen is often used in Sc. where Eng. has chicken, e.g. hen-broth, -hertit.

1. Sc. Combs.: (1) hen a(i)pple, hennies-, henny-, the fruit of the service tree, Sorbus aria (Mry. 1886 B. & H. 256, hen apple, 1919 T.S.D.C. III. 17, hennies aipple, Mry.1 1925, henny apple; Inv. 1957); (2) henbauk, a tie beam of the roof of a country cottage, so called because the hens were accustomed to roost on these (Ork., Cai., Per., Fif., Ayr., Kcb. 1957). See Bauk, n.1, 4. Also used jocularly for any similar beam; (3) †hen-broo, chicken broth, broth made with a hen. Also called hen-broth, -bree (Gen.Sc.). See Broo, n.1, Bree, n.1; (4) hen-cavie, hencoop (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; Knr., m.Lth., Ayr., Rxb. 1957); (5) hencrae, = (4) (Ags., Ayr., Dmf. 1957). See also Cray, n.1; (6) hen('s)-craft, -croft, that portion of a cornfield which has been frequented and damaged by fowls (Per. 1902 E.D.D., hen('s) croft; Bnff., Abd. 1957, hen's craft); the tangled corn so caused; (7) hen-dabbit, hen-pecked (Rnf. a.1850 Crawfurd MSS. (N.L.S.) H. 29); (8) hen-drunks, a name given to rowan berries from their intoxicating effect on fowls (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.); (9) hen('s)-flesh, goose-flesh (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B., hen-flesh; Sh., s.Sc. 1957). Now only dial. in Eng.; (10) hen-gabbit, = (20) (m.Lth. 1957); (11) hen's gerse, -gress, as much grass or land as would produce food for a hen (Sh. 1957); also fig., a trifling consideration; (12) hen-hallan, see Hallan, n., 6.; (13) hen-heids, small specks of roughness on a painted surface caused by grit adhering while paint is still wet (Fif. 1957); (14) hen-hertit, timorous, cowardly, chicken-hearted. Gen.Sc. Now obs. in Eng. exc. dial.; (15) hen's inheritance, common chickweed, Stellaria media (Nai. 1892 Trans. Northern Assoc. I. v. 70); (16) hen's kames, the spotted palmate orchis, Orchis maculata (Bwk. 1853 G. Johnston Botany E. Borders 193). Also known as hens (Ib.); (17) hen-laft, a hen-roost; the roof-joists of a house and the space above them (Sc. 1887 Jam.; Abd., Per., Knr., wm.Sc., Kcb., Dmf. 1957). Cf. (2); (18) henman, a man who looks after fowls (Ayr. 1887 J. Service Dr Duguid 155, Ayr. 1957); (19) hen('s) money, a tax levied on tenants in lieu of the feudal payment of fowls to the landlord. Cf. Kain; (20) henmouthed, toothless; ‡(21) hen's nest, (a) a blancmange pudding made to resemble a nest with eggs in it (see quots.); †(b) a variety of potato (Per. 1868 Trans. Highl. Soc. 171); (22) hen-pen, the droppings of fowls, used for manure (Ags. 1808 Jam.; Cai. 1902 E.D.D.; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; Lth. 1926 Wilson Cent. Scot. 248; Abd., Per., Slg., Fif., Ayr. 1957); (23) hen-pickit = (7) (Lnk. 1827 Blackwood's Mag. (July) 46);  (24) hen's picks, = (9) (ne.Sc. 1957); (25) hen-plooks, id. (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; Dmf., Slk. 1957); (26) hen-ree, (ne.Sc., Ayr., Kcb. 1957), hen's riv (Abd. 1957), a hen run. See Ree; (27) hen scarts, lines of cirrus cloud. See quot.; (28) hen's taes, (a) used as a description of bad hand-writing: scrawls, pot-hooks (Abd., Ags. 1825 Jam.; Sh., ne.Sc., Ags., Kcb. 1957); (b) the ends of the jointing slats on the lead or felting of a flat roof when these are curved round so as to grip the under edge (Fif. 1957); (29) hen-taed, in-toed (Cai. c.1920; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.). Gen.Sc.; (30) hen-taes, crowfoot, Ranunculus repens (Rxb. 1915 Jedburgh Gaz. (3 Sept.); Kcd., Per., Knr., Rxb. 1957). Cf. craw-taes s.v. Craw, n.1, IV. A. 11. (2); (31) hen-toomal, = (6) (Ork. 1929 Marw., Ork. 1957); (32) hen('s) ware, an edible seaweed, Alaria esculenta (Sc. 1808 Jam., hen('s)-; Kcd. 1957); †(33) henway, a hen-run; (34) hen-wife, a woman who has charge of, or deals in poultry (Rxb. 1802 J. Sibbald Chron. Sc. Poetry Gl.; Sc. 1825 Jam.). Gen.Sc. Contracted dim. hennie (Abd. 1871 W. Alexander Johnny Gibb xl.). Also applied to a man who concerns himself about matters usually left to women (Cai., Cld. 1902 E.D.D.; Per., Knr., Slk. 1957). Hence henwifely, pertaining to a henwife; †(35) henwile, -wyle, a contemptible, rather inept trick. Found in O.Sc. from 1596.(2) Sc. a.1724 in W. Stenhouse Illustr. to Sc. Musical Museum (1853) 310:
Up amang the hen-bawks, . . . Amang the rotten timmer.
Lnk. c.1779 D. Graham Writings (1883) II. 16:
Down comes the clay hallen and the hen bauk with Rab Reid the fidler, who had crept up aside the hens for the preservation of his fiddle.
Wgt. 1804 R. Couper Poems II. 79:
The marbl't ha's and painted bow'rs, To hen-bauks and the swine.
Kcb. 1894 Crockett Lilac Sunbonnet xvi.:
I never heard that ye had him cockit up on the black henbauks i' the kirk.
(3) Ayr. a.1796 Burns We're a' Noddin ii.:
Kate sits i' the neuk, Suppin hen-broo.
Sc. 1874 A. Hislop Sc. Anecdotes 52:
“Hen-broth” . . . was nothing more or less than a simple decoction of two or three howtowdies . . . thickened with black beans, and seasoned with black pepper.
Ayr. 1890 J. Service Notandums xi.:
I got the lassock to fetch me a hue o' hen-broth.
(4) Sc. 1816 Scott B. Dwarf ix.:
D'ye think you're to be free to plunder our faulds and byres, as if they were an auld wife's hen cavey?
Fif. 1933 J. Ressich Thir Braw Days 55:
The back door o' his mither's hen-cavie had been in some way left agee.
(5) Sc. 1930 Weekly Scotsman (27 Sept.) 9:
Jimmy, your hen cray's empty, there's no a bird left in the place.
(6) Abd. 1950 Banffshire Jnl. (1 Aug.):
He had his scythe in such good fettle one day when cutting ley corn, it didn't need sharpened, though “there wis a gweed lot o' hen-craft.”
(9) Lth. 1825 Jam.:
My skin's a' hen's-flesh, a phrase used when one's skin is in that state, from extreme cold, or terror, that it rises up at every pore.
(11) Bwk. 1856 G. Henderson Pop. Rhymes 32:
For a hen's gerse They'll flit i' the Merse.
Lth. 1894 P. H. Hunter J. Inwick xix.:
An' I'm saxty-twa year auld, an' to say that I haena as muckle as a hen's gress to ca' my ain!
(14) Sc. 1728 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) II. 123:
Scar-crows, Hen-hearted, and ye meanly born, Appear just what ye are, and dread nae Scorn.
Sc. 1815 Scott Guy M. xxviii.:
Are you turned hen-hearted, Jack?
Abd. 1820 A. Skene Poems 71:
Ye dastard brood, wham terror rules! Ye bauch, hen-hearted, simple snools!
Dmf. 1820 J. Johnstone Poems 129:
Quite sheepish, hen-hearted, and mean.
Dmb. 1846 W. Cross Disruption xxviii.:
This is no a time for the like o' you to be hen-hearted.
Fif. 1894 W. D. Latto T. Bodkin xxx.:
Hen-hearted Neddie tane till's heels an' fled.
Sc.(E) 1913 H. P. Cameron Imit. Christ iii. vii.:
He wha wad fain be owre sicker i' the oor o' lown wull aften be fun' owre druffy an' hen-hertit i' time o' weir.
(17) wm.Sc. 1868 Laird of Logan 505:
Och, to clok up in the hen-laft wi' thee.
(19) Rs. 1884 Crofters' Comm. Evid. II. 964:
You complain that . . . a shilling was imposed upon the crofters, called hen money. Did you ever hear that that was in place of hens that they had previously been obliged to pay? — I heard it all, and I know it well . . . In my grandfather's time they used actually to go with a pair of fowls to the castle.
(20) Bnff. 1832 J. F. S. Gordon Chrons. Keith (1880) 322:
“Oh! Dr . . . I am oot o' my judgment wi' my Teeth; pull them a'”. “Na, feth no;” quoth the Dr, “yere nae aul' eneuch yet to be Hen-mouth'd.”
Wgt. 1912 A.O.W.B. Fables frae French 57:
I'm harder than yer strangest teeth, I trow, Ye'se only get hen-mou'd.
(21) (a) Sc. 1759 E. Cleland Cookery 152:
Hen's Nest. Take five Eggs, make a Hole in the narrow End of them that the Yolks and Whites may come out; then fill them with Blamong; . . . then lay them in the Middle of the Jelly. . . . Cut some Lemon-peel as Straws and . . . strew it over it.
Sc. 1951 Scots Mag. (July) 293:
Among other dishes I can recall having sampled many years ago was Hen's Nest, an intriguing name, but scarcely suggesting the delicious taste as well as the fascinating appearance of hard-boiled eggs peeled and laid in calves' foot jelly and blancmange.
(22) Lnk. 1818 A. Fordyce Country Wedding 177:
Forbye what we may get my dear By selling their hen-pen.
Ags. 1853 W. Blair Aberbrothock 68:
Up dirty staps an' stairs a' smaered owre wi' hen-pen an' a' that.
ne.Sc. 1881 W. Gregor Folk-Lore 176:
Another ley was made of the droppings of the poultry, and went by the name of “hen-pen.”
Abd. 1956 People's Jnl. (20 Oct.) 19:
Give a substantial top dressing of manure or hen-pen to stimulate growth.
(26) Sc.(E) 1926 H. McDiarmid Penny Wheep 43:
[When] . . . eagles settle In the hen-ree, The meek may inherit The earth.
(27) Sc. 1847 R. Chambers Pop. Rhymes 151:
Hen scarts and filly tails, Make lofty ships wear low sails. Certain light kinds of clouds are thus denominated, from their supposed resemblances to the scratches of hens on the ground and the tails of young mares. They are held as prognosticative of stormy weather.
(28) (a) Ags. 1952 Forfar Dispatch (11 Dec.):
Fat w'ee hen's taes kind o writin and 'fs, for 'ss' and twists and twines aget, wir e'en wiz nearhand pu'd ooten wir heids.
(29) wm.Sc. 1888 Anon. Archie MacNab 42:
Then a hen-taed clown cam' oot an' carried on a lot o' capers.
wm.Sc. 1904 H. Foulis Erchie i.:
It's like a man that's hen-taed — he could walk fine if he hadna a train to catch.
Lth. 1925 C. P. Slater Marget Pow 106:
Miss Celandine says it ought to be bandy-legged — it's a sign of high breedin' — but I told her it didna need to be hen-taed into the bargain.
Fif. 1929 St Andrews Cit. (9 Feb.) 9:
They're learnin' hoo tae walk hen-taed And dance the Tango.
(32) Ags. 1813 J. Headrick Agric. Ags. App. B. 35:
The F[ucus] esculentus, which is known by the name of hen-ware on the Angusshire coast.
Sc. 1849 D. Landsborough Sea-Weeds 111:
In the Lowlands, it [Alaria Esculenta] is by some called badder-locks, and hen-ware.
Ags. 1904 J. M. Campbell Notes on Bell Rock 42:
The badderlock or henware is here also in great profusion . . . being generally found where the wash of the seas is most constant.
(33) Abd. 1778 Aberdeen Jnl. (12 Oct.):
A Garden, Brewhouse, Guilhouse, Henway and Lodge.
(34) Sc. 1710 T. Ruddiman Gl. to Douglas Aeneis:
In Scotland the old women (for such are commonly employed) that take care of hens and other poultry about Noblemen's houses are called hen wives.
Sc. 1816 Scott O. Mortality ii.:
This was a half-witted lad . . . who had a kind of charge of the poultry under the old henwife.
Ags. 1894 J. Inglis Oor Ain Folk 227:
“Ou aye!” said the farmer very drily, “I behaud ye noo. Wisna yer mither henwife at Dun?”
Abd. 1899 G. Greig Logie o' Buchan 61:
He rallied her on her henwifely qualifications and zeal, and asked . . . if Clyacks kept a lot of poultry.
wm.Sc. 1987 Duncan and Linda Williamson A Thorn in the King's Foot 203:
When the maid mentioned "eggs", the queen knew the old wumman must be a henwife.
(35) Sc. 1724 P. Walker Life Peden xxiv.:
Jurants sitting at the Head of it, as if they were to communicate, using that Hen-wyle to get the Tables full.

2. Phrs.: (1) a hen's care, see quot.; (2) a hen's eeran, a fool's errand (Abd.3 c.1920; Cai., Per. 1957); (3) like a hen on a het girdle, see Girdle; (4) to be like hennie and howggie, to be close friends, to be “as thick as thieves” (Cai.9 1939); (5) to have (somebody) as far as hens go, fig. to have (someone) within one's reach or power; (6) to see (somebody) by the hens' dish, -meat, -troch, to escort part of the way home (ne.Sc., Arg., Kcb. 1957). See Dish, n.; (7) to sell a (one's) hen (†in) on a rainy day, to sell at a disadvantage, to make a bad bargain (Sc. 1825 Jam.). Gen.Sc.; (8) to sleep in a hen's feet-mark, to sleep in a very cramped position (Cai. 1957).(1) Fif. 1825 Jam.:
Hen's care. A proverbial phrase, used in Fife, and perhaps in other counties, to denote the exercise of care without judgment. It is exemplified by the watchfulness of a hen over ducklings which she has bred, as if they were her own species; and by her extreme anxiety lest they should perish, when, according to their natural propensity, they betake themselves to the water.
(5) Wgt. 1719 Session Bk. Wigtown (1934) 248:
He should not get his designs against me fullfilld which he braggd of to others, saying if he had me as far as hens go he would secure the Maidland.
(6) ne.Sc. 1992 Press and Journal 4 Jul 2:
Then, after a cup of tea with a taste of the newly-made cheese and a bit of fine hame baking, your neebor would convoy you about half way home. "Seeing you past the hens' meat", my mother used to call it.
Abd. 1993:
See someone by the hen's mait.
(7) Sc. a.1687 R. McWard Contendings (1723) 328:
This is the Price their Indemnity must be purchased at. . . . For the Devil is not such a Fool as to sell his Hens in a rainy Day.
Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 373:
You will not sell your Hen in a rainy Day. You will part with nothing to your Disadvantage, for a Hen looks ill on a rainy Day.
Lth. 1892 J. Lumsden Sheep-head 293:
John Hootsman is no' a man that'll sell his hens on a rainy day.
Dmf. 1899 Country Schoolmaster (Wallace) 372:
But sell't his hens on rainy days, Wagered and had unsettled ways.
(8) Cai.9 1946:
A'm sae forfochen at A cud sleep in a hen's feet-mark.

3. See quot.Bwk. 1853 G. Johnston Botany E. Borders 48:
In spring children rob the tree [Plane, Sycamore] of its leaf-buds, calling those which are partially expanded “cocks,” and those which are less so “hens.”

4. Used as a term of endearment or familiarity for a girl or woman (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.). Gen.(exc. I. and n.)Sc.Abd. 1768 A. Ross Helenore 28:
Then says to Nory, rest you bony hen.
Ayr. 1792 Burns In Simmer ii.:
Tak this frae me, ma bonie hen: It's plenty beets the luver's fire!
ne.Sc. 1836 J. Grant Tales (1869) 83:
Said McNab to his wife; “hae ye sic a thing's a' can'le, my thrifty hen?”
Lnk. 1881 A. Wardrop J. Mathison's Courtship 12:
O Kirsty, jist say that you'll be mine, my bonnie hen, my darlin' lamb.
wm.Sc. 1928 J. Corrie Last Day 7:
“If I was tae pray tae him wad he no' keep ane, maw?” “I doot he wadna hear ye, hen.”
Edb. 1931 E. Albert Herrin' Jennie i. i.:
Bennie primed her fondly with ornithological metaphors. “Awfu' nice, my bonnie wee hen? Eh, hen?”
Gsw. 1956 Bulletin (8 Nov.):
A rich, friendly voice called down the length of the car, “Here's a seat, hen.”
Gsw. 1984 James Kelman The Busconductor Hines 132:
On you go hen, your wee first-born's listening quite the thing, an ever-increasing belief in your continued integrity.
wm.Sc. 1985 Liz Lochhead Tartuffe 15:
Marianne, hen,
You're sicc an awfy nice-natured lass ye ken, ...
Edb. 1987 Guy Kennaway in Iain Crichton Smith Scottish Short Stories 1987 146:
'I just pray to God,' she continued, 'that the animal responsible is caught as soon as possible. Think of the patient. Poor hen.'
Gsw. 1990 John and Willy Maley From the Calton to Catalonia 22:
Ah'm tellin ye, Lorraine, when ah broke it tae ma maw that ah wiz gonnae merry a communist she says tae me, "It could be worse, hen. He could be a soldier!"
Sc. 1991 T. S. Law in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 35:
"Ach, Jean, ye neednae bother, hen,
for this I'll tell ye: ye'll can ken
he neever will chowe cheese again."
Edb. 1991 Scotsman 21 Mar 13:
"Where you bide hen, you might as well onywey. Everybody else does."
Edb. 1993 Irvine Welsh Trainspotting (1994) 33:
Nivir mind, Alice. Nivir mind, hen. Here's Nina wi the tea...
Edb. 1994 Gordon Legge I Love Me (Who Do You Love?) 10:
'Aye. Listen, hen, I better get going. Just need to visit the old cludge first.'
w.Lth. 2000 Davie Kerr A Puckle Poems 11:
Zis heat no terrible hen.
Sen ye roun the ben
so it wid!
Sc. 2000 Herald 21 Jun 35:
I resisted the temptation to be patronising and said: "I'm not sure how one does it, hen, but this is how I do it."

5. A third year pupil in Glasgow Grammar School. Comb. hen-class, the first or Humanity class in a University (Sc. a.1838 Jam. MSS. X. 129).Gsw. c.1705 J. Houstoun Memoirs (1753) 20:
The first year at the College, they teach the Latin Classics, which they call the Hen or Humanity Class.
Gsw. 1782 Gsw. Past and Pres. (1884) III. 406:
John Dow taught the Hens.

6. A cowardly person, used esp. as a taunt. Cf. Hen, v., n.2 Edb. 1866 J. Smith Merry Bridal 36:
The sprightly barefoot Gutterbluids, or denizens of the High Street, Canongate, and Abbeyhill, who invariably taunted their adversaries with being Hens, or Cowlies, in the numerous bickers that then took place.

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"Hen n.1". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 29 Sep 2023 <>



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