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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1965 (SND Vol. VI).
This entry has not been updated but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

LILT, v., n. Also lelt-.

I. v. tr. and intr. 1. Of sound: (1) To sing in a low, clear voice, gen. connoting sweetness of tone and light, cheerful rhythm; to trill a tune without singing the words. Gen.Sc., now also adopted by Eng. Occas. applied to playing a musical instrument like a flute.Sc. 1725 Ramsay Gentle Shep. ii. iv.:
Rosie lilts the Milking the Ews.
Sc. a.1750 Scott Minstrelsy (1802) II. 157:
The tune of the ballad is ancient, as well as the two following lines of the first stanza: — “I've heard them lilting at the ewes milking, … The flowers of the forest are a' wede away.”
Abd. 1768 A. Ross Helenore (S.T.S.) 128:
Afttimes, unbidden, she's lilted it to me.
Edb. 1772 Fergusson Poems (S.T.S.) II. 82:
Nae mair to you shall shepherds in a ring, Wi' blythness skip, or lasses lilt an' sing.
Ayr. 1786 Burns Ordination iii.:
Mak haste an' turn King David owre, An' lilt wi' holy clangor.
Kcb. 1808 J. Mayne Siller Gun 44:
But wha's he lilting in the rear, Sae saft, sae tunefu', and sae clear?
Sc. 1818 Scott H. Midlothian x.:
By there came lilting a lady so gay.
Sc. 1825 Wilson Noctes Amb. (1855) I. 61:
A strapping quean, wi' a satisfied ee, a lilting voice, and a step o' elasticity.
Rxb. c.1885 W. Laidlaw Poetry (1901) 45:
Wi' glee he lilted “Duncan Gray.”
Dmf. 1912 J. L. Waugh Robbie Doo 88:
Wi' a sang within me, liltin' to every step.
Lth. 1921 A. Dodds Antrin Sangs 8:
Liltin' and crackin' his thooms And hoochin' for a' he was able!

Hence (i) lilter, one who lilts, a songster, a rhymer, poet; (ii) liltin, vbl.n., specif. in Slk. applied to the old set of “The Flowers o the Forest” (see 1750 quot. above).(i) Sc. 1829 Wilson Noctes Amb. (1855) II. 221:
All linnets have died, James — that race of loveliest lilters is extinct.
Sc. 1844 Sc. Songs (Whitelaw) 494:
Now wae to the weary psalm-lelter.
Abd. 1898 J. Hardie Sprays 128:
Lilters like John Imrie an' Sandy Anderson.
(ii) Sc. 1776 D. Herd Sc. Songs I. 48:
We'll hear nae mair lilting at our ewes milking.
Slk. 1913 G. Lewis Flodden Trad. 43:
“The Liltin'.” The beautiful pastoral idyll, known under the above heading, is a song of dule. Selkirk claims the song, and rightly too, as Selkirk's bravery inspired it.
Slk. 1954 Scotsman (13 Nov.) 6:
What is usually heard at Remembrance Day services is the “old” version, played by pipers. It was written by Jean Elliot of Minto as a lament for Flodden, and in Selkirk is always referred to as “The Liltin.”

(2) Transferred also to the song of birds, running water, a musical instrument, etc. Mainly poet.Sc. 1725 Ramsay Gentle Shep v. iii.:
What shepherd's whistle winna lilt the spring?
Per. c.1800 Lady Nairne Will ye no come back v.:
Sweet's the laverock's note and lang, Lilting wildly up the glen.
Slg. 1818 W. Muir Poems 64:
My chanter I'll teach to lilt over the spring.
Rnf. 1870 J. Nicholson Idylls 134:
Oh! waes me for the birdies, wha's to hear their liltin' noo?
Sc. 1887 Stevenson Underwoods 83:
Noo is the soopit ingle sweet, An' liltin' kettle.
Sh. 1898 W. F. Clark Northern Gleams 39:
Can we expect hit ta lilt a blyde tüne whin faur doon in hits deeps lie da banes o, wir nearest an' dearest?
Wgt. 1912 A.O.W.B. Fables 37:
He liltit oot a cuddy-sang, Weel-kent, an' vera lood an' strang!
Sc. 1928 Scots Mag. (May) 128:
An' burnies follow knowes that tilt Towards the glen, an' dance an' lilt.

(3) With up: to strike up a tune or song, to raise a tune and sing it with gusto (Sc. 1808 Jam.); to tune up (the pipes)Sc. 1728 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) II. 111:
Lilt up your Pipes, and rise aboon Your Trivia and your Moorland Tune.
Rnf. 1788 E. Picken Poems 17:
Frae the sprigs, the sylvan quire War liltan up their early spring.
Edb. 1791 J. Learmont Poems 332:
Whan ye see me, lilt up a whistle clear.
Rxb. 1847 J. Halliday Rustic Bard 267:
As arm in arm we walk'd alang, The mavis lilted up his sang.

(4) To celebrate in song.Rxb. 1815 J. Ruickbie Poems 17:
Poor Sally Gray, and Geordie Gill, Are liltit here on ilka hill.
Ayr. 1901 Kilmarnock Standard (12 Jan. 1935):
Since Burns in high-poetic style Sweet lilted her and sang her.

2. Fig. of motion: (1) to move in a sprightly manner, to trip, jig, skip, to dance a lively step, lit. and fig. (Abd., m.Lth., Uls. 1960). Common in n.Eng. dial. Phr. to lilt it, id.; to leap, bound (Cai. 1907 County of Cai. (Horne) 78).Ags. 1790 D. Morison Poems 25:
Come billies, lilt it pair an' pair, I'll dance wi' Jenny Bell.
Fif. 1808 Jam.:
To lilt and dance, to dance with great vivacity.
Lth. 1813 G. Bruce Poems 68:
The bride, an' bridegroom baith that night Fu' cantily did lilt it.
Cai. 1829 J. Hay Poems 135:
Now to the dancing floor they hied And to't again they lilted.
Rnf. 1862 A. McGilvray Poems 138:
Not one was there could neater lilt — Her lameness fairly fled.
Ork. 1880 Dennison Sketch-Bk. 143:
They held a beullie for seevan days Wi' liltin' at Graem's-ha'.
Lth. 1920 A. Dodds Songs 12:
Frae Monday tae Sunday life just lilts alang.

(2) to move in a jerky, hopping manner, to limp (w.Sc. 1825 Jam.). Hence lilti-cock, a nickname for one with an uneven hobbling gait.Rnf. 1835 D. Webster Rhymes 62:
She was the widow of lilti-cock Lauchlan; He was a body gaed rockin and rowin, For he had a stracht leg and ane wi' a bow In't.
Rnf. c.1850 Crawfurd MSS. (N.L.S.) L 65:
Cripples and stilts thegither lilts To ilka simmer fair.

(3) To do something with a smart jerk, to pull out smartly, to toss off (a drink). Also in n.Eng. dial.Sc. 1721 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. 175:
Til't Lads, and lilt it out, And let us ha'e a blythesom Bowt.
Sc. 18th c. Merry Muses (1959) 120:
Ne'er a word to me he spak, But liltit out his cutty gun.

II. n. 1. A clear cheerful singing, a lively song, of human beings or birds, freq. in the title of tunes, the tune itself (Sc. 1808 Jam.). Gen.Sc.Sc. 1728 in Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) II. 71:
The blythest Lilts that e'er my Lugs heard sung.
Hdg. a.1801 R. Gall Poems (1819) 51:
O weel ken I their bonny lilts, Their sweetest notes o' melody.
Dmf. 1814 R. Cromek Remains 30:
Fu' well the sleekit mavis kens The melting lilt maun muve.
Ayr. 1822 Galt Sir A. Wylie i.:
His laugh's as blithe as the lilt o' the linty.
Sc. 1837 Lockhart Scott vii.:
Celebrated for his skill on the Border pipe, and in particular for being in possession of the real lilt of Dick o' the Cow.
m.Lth. 1882 Mod. Sc. Poets (Edwards) IV. 323:
Let's teach them in the morn to sing, … A lilt o' praise unto the King.
Ags. 1887 D. Willock Rosetty Ends 27:
[He] bravely whistled a bit lilt to mak' him step the brisker.
Ayr. c.1892 R. Lawson Ballads Carrick 6:
The ballad, I may mention, had originally a “lilt” of its own.
Lth. 1925 C. P. Slater Marget Pow 126:
Miss Celandine has been singin' the o'ercome even on ever since: it was a bonny lilt.
Abd. 1926 M. Argo Makkin' o' John 24:
That wis a bonnie wee lilt I heard ye at.

2. Rhythm, cadence. Gen.Sc.Sc. 1840 Carlyle Heroes iii.:
It [Dante's Divina Commedia] proceeds as by a chant … One reads along naturally with a sort of lilt.
Sc. 1893 Stevenson Catriona v.:
Haenae I got just the lilt of it? Isnae this the tune that ye whustled?
Abd. 1924 Swatches o' Hamespun 44:
The lilt o' a laich, sweet sang.

3. A dance, dancing. Cf. v., 2. (1).Ork. 1880 Dennison Sketch-Bk. 144:
The Ha' wus blide baith day an' nicht Wi' drink an' lilt an' sang.
Sc. 1952 D. G. Maclennan Highland & Trad. Dances 27:
The Scottish Lilt. This is a very attractive dance in 9/8 Jig time. It is supposed to have been composed after 1746 in Perthshire, and has been handed down from one old teacher to another.

4. A cheerful mood or disposition, one's “bent.”Per. 1951 N. B. Morrison Hidden Fairing 92:
All glint and glisk she was, aye at the top of her lilt although she might never be saying a word.

5. Erroneously for Lill (Sc. 1776 D. Herd Sc. Songs II. Gl.).

6. “A large draught or pull in drinking, freq. repeated”, a swig (Fif. 1808 Jam.). Cf. v., 2. (3).

7. A smart blow, a whack. Cf. v., 2. (3).Ags. 1821 D. Shaw Humorous Songs 30:
Ae night she cam hame roarin' fou, An took me a lilt wi' the poker.

[O.Sc. lylt, to lift up the voice, 1513, lilt pype, c.1450, Mid.Eng. lulte. Orig. mainly imit. but prob. influenced by Du., L.Ger. lul, pipe, Norw. dial. lilla, to halloo, call like a flute, Eng. lull. Cf. Du. lulle-pijp, a bagpipe.]

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"Lilt v., n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 9 Dec 2022 <>



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