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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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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.

NEB, n., v. Also nebb; neeb (Ayr.). Dims. nebbie, -ock, -ek (Sh.). [nɛb]

I. n. 1. (1) The beak or bill of a bird (Sc. 1755 Johnson Dict., 1808 Jam.; Uls. 1880 Patterson Gl.; Ork., Cai. 1903 E.D.D.; Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928)); the nose (-tip) of a person (Lnk. a.1779 D. Graham Writings (1883) II. 16; Rxb. 1942 Zai; Uls. 1953 Traynor), hence by metonymy the whole face; the snout of an animal. Freq. used in fig. contexts. Gen.Sc. Now obs. in Eng. exc. dial. Dim. nebbek, the corn bunting, Emberiza calandra (Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928)). Also fig. as in 1908 quot. (2) An instance of prying or being nosey; a look. (1)Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 390:
You may dight your Neb and flie up . . . you have ruined and undone your Business, and now you may give over.
Sc. 1736 Ramsay Proverbs (1776) 80:
Ye breed of Saughton Swin, your neb's ne'er out of an ill turn.
Edb. 1812 P. Forbes Poems 6:
Critics keen their nebbs may dight.
Kcb. 1814 W. Nicholson Poems 123:
Foul fa' thee, vile unchancie docken, That e'er thou set thy neb in Scotlan'.
Sc. 1817 Scott Rob Roy xxv.:
The neb o' him's never out o' mischief.
Slk. 1818 Hogg B. of Bodsbeck vii.:
Bring down the tyrant an' his lang neb.
Ayr. 1822 Galt Sir A. Wylie ii.:
[The pyet] was caught in the fact, with a new pen in her neb.
Sc. 1826 Wilson Noctes Amb. (1855) I. 122:
The nose o' him raither hyuckit, and aften a drap at the neb o't.
Sc. 1847 R. Chambers Pop. Rhymes 181:
Brow, brow, brenty, Ee, ee, winkey, Nose, nose, nebbie.
Lnk. 1876 J. Nicholson Kilwuddie 26:
Sneeshen mills to feed their nebbocks.
Sc. 1887 Jam.:
I dinna like his looks: he has a gae dour neb.
Sc. 1893 Stevenson Catriona xv.:
He minded that ropes was unco saft things, and the solan's neb and the Bass Rock unco hard.
Kcb. 1893 Crockett Raiders xlvi.:
Then Rab would come oot, dichting his neb frae the byre.
Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928):
When a' fuls is laid and sitten, den comes nebbek a' bedritten [said of a tardy person].
Ags. 1921 V. Jacob Bonnie Joann 15:
For there's him noo wi' his neb to the sky.
Slg. 1929 Sc. Readings (Paterson) 3:
Gin ye'd dune a day's darg at the plooin' like I have ye wouldna turn up yer neb at plain parritch.
Sh. 1959 Shetland News (27 Jan.) 4:
One of the ducks gave a quack or two, fluttered its wings, wiggled its neb.
wm.Sc. 1980 Anna Blair The Rowan on the Ridge 88:
" ... but I wish James didnae irritate me the way he does. He wid let the coos milk theirsel's afore he wid think to tak' his neb oot his books. ... "
Gsw. 1985 Michael Munro The Patter 48:
neb As a noun this can mean: 1. the nose: 'Some neb on him, eh?'
em.Sc. 1988 James Robertson in Joy Hendry Chapman 52 72:
He clautit it out wi his nail, and wis haudin it up tae the licht lik a medal atween his fingers, whan a muckle sea-maw swouffed doun an cleiked it awa in its neb.
Sc. 1999 Daily Record (8 Apr) 13:
I wouldn't put it past the Royals to look after the Number One family. If so, they are sticking their Hanoverian nebs into Scottish politics, where they do not belong.

(2) Gsw. 1985 Michael Munro The Patter 48:
neb As a noun this can mean: ... 3. An instance of prying or being nosey: 'You just want them to ask us in so's you can have a good neb round the place.' To neb is to be nosey, to pry.
Edb. 1999 Laura Hird Born Free (2000) 16:
He really ogles the guys' arses during gym ... and see when you're in the changing room? He makes any excuse to come in for a neb, slimy cunt.
em.Sc. 2005:
Could you take a wee neb at my essay if you've time.

2. In a more gen. sense: any pointed tip or projection (Sc. 1808 Jam.). Specif. (1) of a piece of land, rock, etc. (Sh., Lth., Ayr., Uls. 1963). Sometimes used in placenames (Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928)).Sc. 1816 Scott Antiquary vii.:
Yonder's the Ratton Skerry — he aye held his neb abune the water in my day.
Edb. 1828 M. & M. Corbett Tales III. 30:
I see Moss and Corbie coming scouring ower the neb o' the hill.

(2) the tip of a finger or toe (Fif. 1899 Proc. Philos. Soc. Gsw. XXXI. 39; Ags., Edb., Lnk. 1963); the tip of the tongue.Fif. 1767 Session Papers, Fowler v. Boyter (8 Feb.) 82:
He would work till the Blood came out at his Finger Nebs rather than take a Bribe.
Edb. 1773 Fergusson Poems (S.T.S.) II. 127:
Writers, your finger-nebbs unbend, And quatt the pen.
Edb. 1828 D. M. Moir Mansie Wauch xxi.:
The sleeves coming over the nebs of his fingers.
Fif. 1864 W. D. Latto T. Bodkin vi.:
Willie had a pooer o' norlan lingo on his tongue neb.
Sc. 1893 Stevenson Catriona xi.:
I couldnae see the nebs of my ten fingers.

(3) the point or nib of a pen or pencil (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Abd., Fif., Lth., Lnk. 1963). Comb. pen-neb.Edb. 1798 D. Crawford Poems 48:
The words just at the pen-neb hung Like new peel'd eggs.
Sc. 1822 Scott F. Nigel v.:
A new pen with a sharp neb.
Ayr. 1823 Galt R. Gilhaize iii.:
Thou's got a tongue in thy pen neb.
Sc. 1825 Wilson Noctes Amb. (1855) I. 11:
With the neb of my keelivine pen.

(4) the point of a pin or hook (Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928)) or of the blade of a knife, etc. (Sc. 1808 Jam.); the muzzle-point of a gun; the tip of a spoon (Sh. 1963); the mouth of a bottle.Rnf. 1837 Crawford MSS. X. 108:
Finning the head of a prein good, but the neb a bad omen, or a sharp meeting.
Per. 1838 W. Scrope Deer-stalking 152:
I joost tuk up the gun by the neb, as she lay on the ground ahent you.
Kcb. 1885 A. J. Armstrong Friend and Foe xxiv.:
The hin leg o' a hare stickin oot o' a'e pooch an' the neb o' a bottle o' wine o' the ither.
Sh. 1898 Shetland News (14 May):
Takkin' a drap oot o' da neb o' a horn spüne 'at Sibbie ran da gin intil.
Abd. 1949 Buchan Observer (23 Aug.):
He fan a queer tip-tippin' on the neb o's scythe.
Rxb. 1961 W. Landles Penny Numbers 22:
And the thrang threid cairriers dirl aboon the sinker nebs, To the ribs' lood chorus cuissen off the wanted walts.

(5) the toe of a shoe.Gsw. 1855 Gsw. Past & Present (Pagan 1884) II. 300:
Can you gi'e me a wee pickle 'oo to stap in the neb o' my shune, for they're unco shachlan?
Fif. 1864 W. D. Latto T. Bodkin ix.:
The neb o' Andra's tackety shoe.
Slk. 1892 W. M. Adamson Betty Blether 74:
Tae buy a pair o' buits tae Tammy, as his auld yins were gettin' gey thin at the neb.

(6) the prow of a boat (Fif., wm.Sc. 1963).Lnk. 1895 A. G. Murdoch Readings II. 83:
I got planted weel forrit, near the neb o' the boat.

(7) the handle-grip of a scythe (Sc. 1762 Scots Mag. (Aug.) 404).

3. “Oatmeal and water mixt up together in a wooden dish, rolled up like cucumbers, and boiled” (Edb. 1812 P. Forbes Poems 135, note). Cf. nibbit s.v. Nib.Ib.:
But sometimes at night ere we gaed to our beds, Join'd neivefu' about to mak' twa or three nebs.

4. Part of a blast furnace (Lnk. 1950), the tuyere.

5. In transf. sense: sharpness, keenness. pungency; (1) of liquor.Edb. 1812 P. Forbes Poems 67:
Craig-end whisky, one to five, . . . Next Linton linn, wi' dinsome guller, Wi' gay strong neb, but stronger colour.

Phrs.: to gie a neb (n.Sc. 1825 Jam.), to put the neb on, to make pungent, to add pungency or strength, to give (a drink) a “kick”.s.Sc. 1832 Border Mag. I. 328:
Ye wunna alloo me to help ye to a drap o' our Islay Whusky to put the neb on your cauld yill.

(2) of the air: chilliness, the sharp tang of early morning.Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 363:
There are few who do not love to keep the bed until the neb gangs aff the morning; . . . it is when the neb is on the morning that the hoar-frost is produced.
Sc. 1890 J. Kerr Curling 162:
With “the neb o' the morning”, all were astir.

6. Combs. and Phrs.: (1) goose-neb, see Guse, A. (5); (2) neb and feather, from top to toe, completely; (3) neb-cap, = (7) (Slk. 1825 Jam.); (4) neb-clout, id. (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.). Cf. Cloot, n.1, 2.; jocularly, a handkerchief (Ork. 1963); (5) nebend, the tip of the nose (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; Edb., Dmb., Ayr., s.Sc. 1963); (6) nebfu, a beakful, hence a small quantity, a drop, esp. of liquor (I.Sc., Ags., Fif., Edb. 1963); (7) neb-piece, -plate, a strip or sheath of metal put over the toe of a boot or shoe to strengthen it (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B., Rxb. 1963); (8) neb-stick, a paddle; (9) nebwise, having a keen sense of smell (Fif. 1899 Proc. Philos. Soc. Gsw. XXXI. 39); (10) nether's neb, a cantankerous person (Cai. 1939). See Nether, n.; (11) quay-neb, the projecting part of a pier or quay; (12) the neb o' the mire-snipe, the last extremity; (13) to cock (up) one's neb, to hold one's head high, to look haughtily or contemptuously (I.Sc., Ags., Uls. 1963); ¶(14) to dab nebs wi, to exchange pecking kisses; (15) to haud one's neb up hill, to strive towards higher things; (16) to lead by the neb, to have (a person) under one's complete control or influence, to “have on a string”, to make a submissive tool of one, to befool (I.Sc., Ags., wm.Sc., Uls. 1963); (17) to see far afore one's neb, to have foresight, be able to gauge the future course of events (I.Sc., Ags. 1963); (18) to tak by the neb, = (16) (Ork. 1963); (19) to tak one's neb, id.; specif. to beguile with drink, befuddle.(2) s.Sc. 1825 Jam.:
She's dinkit out neb and feather.
(4)Rxb. 1970 Border Mag. (Jan.) 14:
Fusees, lamp-wicks, an' nebcloot nails.
(6) Dmf. 1831 Fife Herald (28 July):
The auld pair . . . can . . . bring nebfu' after nebfu' o' corn to the young anes.
Kcb. 1890 A. J. Armstrong Musings 178:
Na! naebody left wi' a nebfu' o' wit Wad reject sic a sonsy wee steadin'.
Knr. 1925 H. Haliburton Horace 32:
An' since o' water we are scant Fess ben the barley-bree — A nebfu' baith we sanna want.
(8) Gsw. 1880 J. J. Bell I Remember (1932) 58:
Oar awa' wi' the neb-stick!
(11) Arg. c.1850 L. McInnes Dial. S. Kintyre (1936) 29:
O' the Clabbydhu, it loves the Trinch, The Cruban, the quay-neb.
(12) Slk. 1818 Hogg B. of Bodsbeck xiv.:
The scrow's come fairly to the neb o' the miresnipe now.
(13) Rnf. 1870 J. Nicholson Idylls 26:
An' cock up his neb wi' the lave at the schules.
Lnk. 1922 T. S. Cairncross Scot at Hame 4:
At ither times I turn my tail And cock my neb as at green-kail.
(14) Lnk. a.1779 D. Graham Writings (1883) II. 51:
You may tak her head in your oxter, like a creesh pig, dab nebs wi' her now an' then.
(15) Bnff. 1937 E. S. Rae Light in the Window 30:
Noo ye're awa' fae the ill influence o' the toon haud ye your neb up hill, man.
(16) Kcb. 1911 G. M. Gordon Clay Biggin' 2:
She cud lead him by the neb ony gate she chose.
(17) wm.Sc. 1835 Laird of Logan 164:
Balawill himsel, wha pretended to see farer afore his neb than his neighbours.
(18) Edb. 1768 A Refuge of Lies sweeped away 67:
He never got leave to speak in session, for some years bygone, without the foremost libeller taking him by the neb.
(19) m.Lth. 1857 Misty Morning 252:
He'll hae got a bit cauker or twa owre muckle, it'll hae taen his neb.

7. a nosey person. (Ags., Edb., Gsw., Ayr., Dmf. 2000s). Gsw. 1985 Michael Munro The Patter 48:
neb As a noun this can mean: 1. the nose: ... 2. A nosey person: 'The aul neb wants tae know aw yer business.'
wm.Sc. 1985 Liz Lochhead Tartuffe 18:
You brassnecked neb you, ya bletheranskite -
Edb. 1992:
The auld neb next door is aye tryin tae see inside yer hoose ...

II. v. †1. tr. and intr. Of birds: to tap with the beak, to tap beaks together, to bill; fig. of persons: to kiss, to exchange kisses.Sc. a.1819 Hogg Jacob. Relics I. 214:
For these two drakes may neb, go hand in hand.
Abd. 1868 W. Shelley Wayside Flowers 81:
Welcome back, thou bonnie croodler, Nebbin' at my window pane!
Edb. 1885 Mod. Sc. Poets (Edwards) VIII. 227:
An' he press'd her to his bonnie red breist, An' he happit her owre wi' his wing; An' they nebbit thegither nine times at least.
Ayr. 1912 G. Cunningham Verse 48:
Neckin' and nebbin' the lasses like doos.
Sc. 1950 Scots Mag. (Nov.) 121:
Curiosity displayed by puffins when a pair of their fellows settled down to neb bills — that delightful antic in which the two participants get down to it like a couple of boxers, rapping their horny beaks one against the other for minutes at a time.

2. To provide with a neb; to put a point on a quill-pen or pencil (Fif. c.1850 R. Peattie MS.; Uls. 1953 Traynor).Bnff. 1880 J. F. S. Gordon Chrons. Keith 68–9:
The goose-quill reigned supreme in 1835; when every Academic must be able to neb and make the Pen . . . Any caught nebbing the pen on the desk, and not on the thumb, might look out for a ticket.
Fif. 1887 G. Gourlay Old Neighbours 124:
The Session Clerk . . . with his folio book, inkhorn, and quill newly “nebbed”.

Hence neb(b)ed, nebbet, -it, -id, usu. in compounds; having or provided with a beak, nose or point of a particular description (Sc. 1825 Jam.; Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928); Rxb. 1942 Zai). Gen.Sc. Also fig. Comb. nebbit mouse, the shrew, Sorex araneus (Ork. 1975). For langnebbit see also Lang, I. 1. (11).Sc. c.1746 T. Bobbin Lanc. Dialect 92:
Keep a' witches and warlocks and langnebbit things frae about this house, especially thae 'at gaes thro' the hether.
Sc. 1776 D. Herd Sc. Songs II. 143:
A nebbed staff, a nutting-tyne, A fishing wand with hook and line.
Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 29:
The mavis and the yellow-nebed blackburd.
Fif. 1827 W. Tennant Papistry Storm'd 11:
To hunt the Roman beast in Fife, And ettle fiercely at his life Wi' Calvin's lang sharp-nebbit knife.
Edb. 1839 W. McDowall Poems 153:
Ye wee, black nebbit, writhing thing.
m.Lth. 1882 J. Strathesk Blinkbonny vii.:
A brood o' chickens, lang-leggit, sharpnebbit things.
Lnk. 1882 Songs & Ball. Cld. (Nimmo) 39:
A dour-lookin' red-nebbit chiel, John Frost.

3. To enter a point into a hole or socket (Fif. c.1850 R. Peattie MS.).

4. to be nosey, to pry. (Ags., Edb., Ayr., Dmf. 2000s).Gsw. 1985 Michael Munro The Patter 48:
neb ... To neb is to be nosey, to pry.
Gsw. 1994:
She's aye nebbin intae hoo much ye earn.
Sc. 2003 Edinburgh Evening News (26 Sep) 28:
It is surely one of the most basic of all human instincts. Wanting to poke around in places where you probably have no right to be is an innate desire which proves the philosophy: I neb, therefore I am.

[O.Sc. neb, beak, a.1400, nebbit, pointed, 1567, O.E. nebbe, id.]

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"Neb n., v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 19 Jun 2024 <>



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