Show Search Results Show Browse

Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

Hide Quotations Hide Etymology

Abbreviations Cite this entry

About this entry:
First published 1965 (SND Vol. VI). Includes material from the 1976 and 2005 supplements.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

MELL, n.1, v.2 Also mele; mall, male, maal (Sh. 1932 J. Hunter Taen wi da Trow 227).  Also dim. maulie. Sc. forms and usages corresp. to Eng. maul, mall.

I. n. 1. A mallet, a heavy hammer, freq. made of wood, used e.g. for driving in fencing posts, pounding lint, hemp or corn, driving a mason's chisel, etc. (Sc. 1808 Jam.). Gen.Sc. Also fig.; in 1714 quot. of a clock hammer.Bte. 1714 Rothesay T.C. Rec. (1935) II. 646:
Eight pound ten ounce of iron to make rods to the Knock to help the mell . . . £1 7 8.
Sc. 1724 Treatise on Fallowing 65:
With a Mell or Mallet, . . . beat out the Seed, carefully turning the Lint, and keeping a Weight upon it, to hinder it from teading, till you have got out all the Seed.
Rs. 1732 W. MacGill Old Rossshire (1911) II. 130:
A large male for the streeting.
Ork. 1756 T. Hepburn Agric. N. Scot. 5:
They are obliged to reduce the Clods by Mells.
Mry. 1756 Session Papers, Stephen v. Brodie (12 Nov.) 1:
A Mill Wheel, with a Timber Troch, and two Mells or Arms that were to be moved by the turning of the [Wauk] Mill Wheel.
Sc. 1816 Scott Letters (Cent. Ed.) IV. 221:
Allan the tinker struck him down with a mell or hammer.
Ayr. 1821 Galt Annals xlvii.:
“The devil take such love”, was his awful answer, which was to me as a blow on the forehead with a mell.
Slk. 1822 Hogg Perils of Man III. i.:
Bring gavelocks and ern mells, pinching-bars, and howies, and break open every gate, bar, and door in this castle.
Rnf. 1826 S.H.S. Miscellany VIII. 153:
A pick quarry mele & a flachter spade.
Rxb. 1847 J. Halliday Rustic Bard 161:
You'll find it's snell, To bear misfortune's iron mell.
Sc. 1878 J. H. Stirling Burns in Drama 9:
I've sic a mell o' a head — it's owre thick.
m.Lth. 1897 P. H. Hunter J. Armiger's Revenge 60:
She made a drawin' o' Jock Stoddart wi' his mell, ca'in' in stobs for sheep-nets.
Kcb. 1897 Crockett Lads' Love v.:
A mason lad gaun hame wi' his square and mell ower his shooder.
Sh. 1899 J. Spence Folk-Lore 29:
They perhaps grew corn, which they made into meal by pounding in a stone mortar, the old knockin' stane and mell — now obsolete — being an improvement on the original.
Sc. 1920 D. Rorie Auld Doctor 22:
For wi's great muckle nieves like mells He pit in banes wi' smeddum.
Sc. 1931 Gsw. Herald (3 Nov.) 5:
The wooden “mell” with which he [the hewer] drives his chisel.
Uls. 1942 E. E. Evans Irish Heritage 90:
Moreover the wooden plough left the ground so uneven that lumps had to be broken with a maul or “mell” and holes filled in with the spade to prevent the seed being “lost”.
Abd. 1953 Fraserburgh Herald (26 May):
Forks, Graips, Spades, Mail and Pinch, Minor Hand and Fencing Tools.
Wgt. 1996:
Ah've hit a stane an lost a bit aff ma mell.
Lnk. 1997 Duncan Glen From Upland Man 10:
And mony tools hung
on the waw. Mell and haimmer,
aix and saw.

2. A wooden pestle used to pound linen smooth before drying, a beetle, dolly.Dmf. 1937 T. Henderson Lockerbie 7:
There were no mangles in Lockerbie at this time, and linen garments were smoothed by a mell or wooden pestle.

3. The heavy hammer used by a slaughterer to fell a cow or ox (Sh. 1962). Hence phr. to get the mell, of a cow, etc.: to be felled.Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 156:
I John Bell, leaves here a Mell, the Man to fell, Who gives all to his Bairns, and keeps nothing to himsell.
Abd. 1768 A. Ross Helenore (S.T.S.) 121:
She's get the mell, and that sall be right now; As well's a quoy altho' she were a cow.
Sc. 1829 R. Chambers Sc. Songs I. 223:
Ilka ane should get his ain And ilka whig the mell.
Abd. 1899 W. D. Geddes J. Geddes 32:
He would count up . . . how many of the name of Duff would have to fall before he became Lord Fife! . . . “'Od man, gin the D—l wad only throw his mell amon' them”.

4. (1) A club for killing fish caught in a net (Gall. 1962).Ork. 1880 Dennison Sketch-Bk. 58:
Noo, boys, tak' your mells, an' rin doon; an' gin ye find oucht i' the net, the De'il swall the hand 'at stricks saftest!
Dmf. 1958 Scottish Studies II. 170:
If a salmon is caught in the right poke, he flings it with his right hand over into the double yarn, then . . . knocks it over the head with his “mell”.

(2) A hammer orig. used in the procedure of casting lots for stations in Halve-net fishing (see 1952 quot.). Hence phr. to cast the mell, to decide this by lot (Kcb., Dmf. 1962).Dmf. 1952 Sc. Daily Mail (14 Feb.):
Mr Fred Bryson, who acted as the Town Council's Fishery Bailiff at yesterday's “mell”, tells me the custom goes back to the days when a neutral observer threw a heavy hammer into the circle of sand-heaps, the pile nearest to the hammer's fall getting first choice.
Dmf. 1959 Bulletin (16 Feb.):
34 Annan fishermen on Saturday . . . were busy “casting the Mell” to decide who would have the best positions for their poke nets to catch the cash-rewarding Solway salmon when the season opens later this month.

(3) A team of halve-net fishermen in the Solway (Dmf. 1958 Scottish Studies II. 169).Dmf. 1795 Stat. Acc.1 II. 16:
A dozen or twenty men will . . . stand abreast at this kind of fishing, up to the middle. A company of this kind is called a Mell.

5. The heavy hammer used for throwing in athletic contests.Kcb. 1789 D. Davidson Seasons 87:
Some han' to nieve Wi' manly pith o' arm, beyond the mark, Far fling the pond'rous mell.

6. The mallet or wooden hammer traditionally presented to the one who was last in a race or contest (see 1817 quot.). Hence in gen. a “booby-prize”.Rxb. 1724 J. Wilson Mem. Hawick (1868) 68:
Given James Cowan for ribbons to the race, mell, and calk. . . . 8s. 6d.
Sc. 1737 Ramsay T.-T. Misc. (1876) II. 163:
Since we have met, we'll merry be, The foremost hame shall bear the mell.
m.Lth. a.1758 Scottish Studies V. 224:
The prizes about sixpence the first threepence or a pair of garters the second and a little mell to the third.
Slk. 1817 Hogg Tales (1874) 153:
When the victor in the race was presented with the prize of honour, the one who came in last was, at the same time, presented with a mallet or large wooden hammer, called a mell in the dialect of the country, and that then the rest of the competitors stood in need to be near at hand, and instantly to force the mell from him, else he was at liberty to knock as many of them down with it as he could.
Dmf. 1873 A. C. Gibson Folk-Speech Cmb. 112:
Gin Mylke for beauty beer the bell, I think I'd gi'e the mell to Corrie.

7. The small mallet used to drive in the fleam when animals are bled (Abd. 1962).

8. One of the mallet-shaped blocks of wood used to prop up a millstone while it is being dressed.Edb.6 1949:
The stone was then laid on 3 blocks of wood called “mells”, face upwards to be “picked” or “dressed”. The process was reversed when the stone was finished and ready to go on to the bed or nether millstone again.

9. A whisky bottle shaped like a mason's mell. Cf. Mason, 6.Ayr. 1836 C. Lockhart Poems 50:
No more with him will ye surround The mirth-inspiring mell.
Ayr. 1841 J. Paton Songs 29:
And he has something in his mell, To gull the stupit.

10. A clenched fist; a large broad fist (Sh. 1866 Edm. Gl.).Rnf. 1861 J. Barr Poems 126:
She lent him a yelp wi' her maulie.
Lnk. 1885 F. Gordon Pyotshaw 186:
Her little fist — what Doghip would have termed a “wee mell” — had left an ugly mark on his cheek.
w.Lth. a.1888 Poets Lnl. (Bisset 1896) 152:
The doctor girned and shook his mell.

11. A heavy blow, such as that given by a large hammer (Cai. 1903 E.D.D.); the stroke of a bell.Bnff. 1895 N. Roy Horseman's Word i.:
For a whole hour they would hae been at it, baff for baff and mell for mell.
Gall. 1929 Gallovidian 77:
Wi' nae far mell o' jowin bell.

12. A dolt, a big, oafish, stupid person, a blockhead (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 113; Cai. 1903 E.D.D.). Cf. 1878 quot. under 1., and 13. (3).

13. Combs.: (1) beer mell, a mallet used for pounding barley; (2) knocking mell, id., see Knock, v.1, 3. (2); (3) mell-heid, a hammer head, fig. a square, blunt-shaped head, a stupid, “thick-headed” person, a blockhead (Rxb. 1962). Also in Eng. dial. Hence mell-heided, hammer-headed; stupid, dull (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B., Rxb. 1962); (4) mellsman, a stone-mason, an efficient, skilful stone-dresser; (5) spokin mell, the hammer used in conjunction with a chisel to make and fit the spokes of a wheel.(1) Ayr. 1830 Galt Southennan I. vi.:
He has a neive like a beer mell.
(3) Dmf. 1806 Scots Mag. (March) 206:
Mell-headed Rab, wee limpin' Charlie, An' waddlin' Sam, the shauchlin' ferlie.
Rxb. 1925 E. C. Smith Mang Howes 17:
Dunion, wui its muckle mell heed, is buirdly billie ti Ruberslaw.
Rxb. 1927 E. C. Smith Braid Haaick 15:
A muckle mell-heed! . . . A mell-heedeet lubbert.
(4) Lnk. 1890 J. Coghill Poems 84:
Banker your stane an' show ye're a mellsman.
(5) Mry. 1852 A. Christie Mountain Strains 12:
I'll face them all wi spokin mell an chisel.

14. Phrs.: (1) as dead as a mell, “stone dead”, completely lifeless; (2) as fou as the e'e o' a mell, completely intoxicated, dead drunk. Cf. Ee, I. 2. (2) (g); (3) pick and mell, with all available resources and vigour, “hammer and tongs” (Wgt. 1962). See also v., 4.; (4) the shaft is oot o' the mell, things are going awry, affairs are not prospering. Cf. (7); (5) to fling the mell, to brag or exaggerate beyond the bounds of truthfulness. Cf. 5.; (6) to gree like butter and mells, to disagree violently, to be in constant discord, be completely incompatible (Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 323); (7) to keep (the) mell in (the) shaft, — shaft in mell, to maintain things in good order, to have one's affairs prosper, to keep in a good state of health, or in a sound financial position (Lth. 1825 Jam.; Ayr. 1880 Ib.). Cf. (4).(1) Edb. 1798 D. Crawford Poems 54:
They'll think you're as dead as a mell, Or my ern-tangs.
(2) Ayr. 1903 G. Cunningham Verse 142:
The buddy was as fou's the e'e O' onie mell or pick.
(3) Cld. 1880 Jam.:
He went at it pick and mell.
(4) Rnf. 1861 J. Barr Poems 109:
D'ye think, mem, her husband is wealthy? Some say the shaft's oot o' the mell.
(5) s.Sc. 1900 Abd. Wkly. Free Press (8 Dec.):
Take care o' yersel', Dan. Dinna fling the mell ower faur, or, gor, ye may gang to the bad place.
(7) Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 339:
When a person's worldly affairs get disordered, it is said the mell cannot be keeped in the shaft; now, unless the mell be keeped in the shaft, no work can be done. Bills become immoveable, the day and the way cannot be keeped clear; and when by struggling, a man is not overset, he is said to have keeped the mell in the shaft, or the soul and body in partnership.
Dmf. 1831 Carlyle Letters (Norton) I. 257:
We have wherewith to keep mall in shaft, (worse or better wedged).

II. v. 1. To strike with a heavy hammer or mallet, e.g. to hammer in a fencing post, to break up clods, etc. (Per., Fif., Ayr., Kcb. 1962). Hence vbl.n. mellin, -an, the act of striking with a mell (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 113).Fif. 1717 D. Beveridge Culross (1885) II. 218:
James Wannan was found melling and breaking land on the Sabbath day.
Ork. 1766 P. Fea MS. Diary (21 April):
Began to brake fawgh morning and evening with 4 Harrows in Cloan, the men melling thereon.
Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 113:
They mellt the palin'-hehd into the grun.
Uls. 1880 Patterson Gl.:
Mell whuns, to bruise whins with a mallet or “beetle”, for cattle feeding.
Cai. 1903 E.D.D.:
In the ancient husbandry, the finishing preparation of the ground for the later sown crops was melling the clods by mattocks.
Ork. 1920 J. Firth Reminisc. 106:
As there were no rollers to level the ground, the clods were “melled” with the eatch.

2. To strike as with a mell, to batter, maul, deal blows, to thrash; to hammer, drub, trounce, defeat (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 113; Abd., Lnk., Ayr., Kcb., Rxb. 1962). Hence vbl.n. mellin, -an, a beating, thrashing, trouncing (Gregor; Edb. 1898 J. Baillie Walter Crighton 285). ¶In 1838 quot. to clap (the hands).Sc. 1787 W. Taylor Poems 169:
True it is that they may mell you.
Abd. c.1803 D. Anderson Sawney and John Bull 23:
We like strong bulls down did it bence, As it had been nae mair to mail Than just a nowt's faul dyke o' fail.
Slk. 1824 Hogg Justified Sinner (1874) 523:
To entertain a stranger, an' then bind him in a web wi' his head down, an' mell him to death!
Peb. 1838 W. Welsh Poems 11:
The fiddle yell'd, the loofs they mell'd Till a' the house was ringin.
Rxb. 1847 J. Halliday Rustic Bard 134:
For guidsake, stay, nae mair sic tales be telling, Else, faith, I dread ye'll bring on us a melling.
Edb. 1864 A. Johnston Lays of Edina 32:
Great Miller “melled” his way to fame.
Fif. 1882 S. Tytler Sc. Marriages I. iii.:
His arm — and it's his richt ane — is that melled the doctor is feared the banes will never gang thegither again.
Kcb. 1911 Crockett Rose of the Wilderness ix.:
He danced on them! He batted them! He “melled” them! He learned them to let the minister alane!
e.Lth. 1927 J. Millar Scotland Yet 97:
If ye gang on't they'll mell ye.
Wgt.3 1930:
Ever since the Kennedies melled the Rutherfords an' the Taits at the Battle o' Hawick Brig.

3. To kick or strike a ball (Rxb. 1962).Bwk. 1848 Sc. Journal I. 323:
Their object is not to kick the ball, but to snatch it and carry it off. . . . In this way the three balls are played for, successively. The person who succeeds in kicking or in melling — such are the phrases — the first or golden ball receives from the ball-men a reward of 1/6, for the second 1/-, and for the third 6d.

4. Phr. to pick and mell, (1) to set to work with the utmost vigour, to go at something “hammer and tongs” (Cld. 1880 Jam.); (2) to thrash severely (Sh. 1866 Edm. Gl.). Cf. n., 14. (3).

[O.Sc. mell, = n., 1., c.1420, North. Mid.Eng. mell, id., O.Fr. mail, Lat. malleus, a hammer.]

You may wish to vary the format shown below depending on the citation style used.

"Mell n.1, v.2". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 9 Dec 2023 <>



Hide Advanced Search

Browse SND: