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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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

NEEDLE, n., v. Also niddl. Sc. usages:

I. n. 1. As in Eng., in Combs. and Phrs.: (1) deil's needle, an instrument of the devil, an ill-doer (Uls. 1963). See Deil; (2) needles and pins, young fish found in shallow water in rivers (Ayr. 1910); (3) needlecases, fig. (i) the smooth horsetail, Equisetum limosum, from the appearance of the sections when pulled apart (Sh. 1947 Folk Bk. I. 84). Also called fairy needlecases (Ork. 1963); (ii) a children's singing game (see quot.) (Uls. 1963); (4) needle-dumper, a “needlepusher”, a seamstress (Abd. 1903 E.D.D.). See Dump, v. (1); (5) needle(‘s)-ee, a needle's eye, fig. a narrow compass, tiny space, a “nutshell”. Cf. Matthew xix. 24. Obs. in fig. sense in Eng. from 17th c. Hence comb. and phr.: (i) needle-ee-boy, the needle- or pipe-fish, a fish of the order Solenichthyes. Cf. 3.; (ii) through the needle-e'e, (boy(s)), a children's game (see quots.) (Abd. 1890 Sc. N. & Q. (Ser. 1) IV. 26; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; s.Sc. 1963). Also in shortened form through the needle (Gsw. 1854 Gsw. Past and Pres. (1884) II. 191). Also in Nhb. dial. See Ee; (6) needle height, the height of a needle, in phr.: to loup needle height, to give a start of surprise; (7) needlenaked, stark-naked (Sh., Cai., Kcd. 1963). Cf. obs. Eng. naked as a needle; (8) needle speed, the utmost speed (Per. 1903 E.D.D.); (9) needle-steik, a needle-stitch (Sc. 1911 S.D.D.). See Steek, n.; (10) needle-tack, id. See Tak.(1) Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 411:
He has ruin'd me the deil's needle, He has kill'd puir Mary Lee.
(3) (ii) Abd. 1898 A. B. Gomme Trad. Games II. 448:
“Needle cases, needle cases, in a silver saucer. Who shall I direct it to but Captain — 's daughter?” All the players but one stand in a circle — this one goes round with a handkerchief, singing the first lines. When the girl's name is mentioned, she tells her sweetheart's name to the girl with the handkerchief, sits down in the centre, and covers her face with her hands. The one with the handkerchief goes round again, asking, “what will you give?” and the ring answers. Her name is then given, and the girl with the handkerchief again asks, “what will you give to tell his name?” The ring answers again, and the sweetheart's name is then given. The girl with the handkerchief goes round again and sings the last lines, the ring singing with her. Then the one in the centre joins the ring, and the game begins again.
(4) Edb. 1895 J. Tweeddale Moff 71:
It's no unlike she'll be some needledumper frae Scuttlebrig.
(5) Ayr. 1796 Burns The Trogger iii.:
Here's the worth o' Broughton, In a needle's ee.
(i) Slk. 1893 R. Hall Schools 15:
Primitive aquariums consisting of a soda water bottle, having a collection of “powheads”, hair eels, needle-ee-boys.
(ii) Sc. 1821 Blackwood's Mag. (Aug.) 36:
Another game played by a number of children, with a hold of one another, or tickle-tails, as it is technically called in Scotland, is Through the needle e'e. The immemorial rhyme for this alluring exercise is this: — Brother Jack, if ye were mine, I would give you claret wine; Claret wine's gude and fine — Through the needle-e'e, boys.
Rxb. 1825 Jam.:
Through the Needle-e'e, a play among children, in which a circle being formed, each takes one of his neighbours by the hand, the arms being extended; and he, who takes the lead, passes under the arms of every second person, backwards and forwards, the rest following in the same order, while they repeat a certain rhyme. . . . It is played in a different manner in Teviotdale. Two stand together, facing each other, having their hands clinched, and lifted above their breath, so as to form an arch. Under this perhaps twenty or thirty children pass, holding each other by their clothes. When all have passed save one, the arms of the two, like a portcullis, fall down and detain this individual as prisoner. He, or she, is asked in a whisper, “Will ye be Tod or Fern-buss?” If Tod is the answer, the person takes one side, and must wait till all are caught one by one. This being done, the Tods draw one way, and the Ferns another, the two candidates still keeping hold of each other's hands; and he, who can draw the other and his party to the opposite side of the street, and separate their hands gains the victory.
Abd. 1853 W. Cadenhead Flights 251:
Wi' their hey-jing-go-ring and their through-the-needle-e'e.
Ayr. 1890 J. Service Thir Notandums 75:
The callans are playing at . . . “Through the needle e'e, boys!”
Abd., Gall. 1898 A. B. Gomme Trad. Games II. 289–90:
The formula sung in Fraserburgh is . . . “Clink, clink through the needle ee, boys, One, two, three, If you want a bonnie lass, Just tak me.” After the tug of war the victors call out “Rotten eggs, rotten eggs”. . . . The words used in Galloway are — Through the needle e'e, boys, Through the needle e'e! If 'twasna for your granny's sake, I wadna let 'e through.
Slk. 1960:
They then stand with their arms raised and the other children pass through in procession, and sing “Through the needle eye boy, eye boy, eye boy, through the needle eye boy, one, two, three.” At this point they lower their arms so that they catch the child passing under at that moment.
(6) Ags. 1794 Tam Thrum Look before ye Loup 35:
A rap at the door gart me loup needle height; an in comes the Shirra.
(10) Sc. 1776 D. Herd Sc. Songs I. 150:
At every needle-tack was in't There hang a siller-bell.

2. An iron pin or spike used by thatchers to keep their straw in position. Attrib. in quot.Hdg. 1811 Foord MS. 108:
To making ridg batton and putting in niddl hols. . . . 7s. 6d.

3. Fig. (1) A tiny fraction, a grain, in phr.: a needle o' differ, an iota of difference, used with neg. (Sh. 1963); (2) a hot, scalding drop or spirt of a boiling liquid.(1) Lnk. a.1779 D. Graham Writings (1883) II. 34:
They warna a needle o' differ between their dadies.
(2) Sh. 1899 Shetland News (1 July):
If a spark o' watter, or a needle o' gruul comes near a man, ye wid think he wis rossn.

4. A small minnow (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.). Also dim. needlie, id. (Ib.); in dim. form needlach, -ack, a young eel (Inv. 1948).Inv. 1897 Highland News (27 March) 9:
Next minute D — was knotting himself on the ground like a needlach.
Inv. 1919:
Needlack, needlack, knot your tail, And you'll get back to your mother again. A boy's rhyme when they find a small eel in a ditch or stream.

5. In dim. form needlack, the meadow pipit, Anthus pratensis, a translation of Gael. snàthadag, id., lit. “little needle.”Rs. 1936 C. MacDonald Echoes Glen 103:
Then there was the rarer nest of the “Needlack” that was built of withered grass in a hole in the ground.

II. v. 1. tr. and intr. To move like a needle, move or conduct in and out rapidly, slip quickly through, to thread one's way, pierce, penetrate (Slk. c.1820 Hogg Poems (1874) 290; Kcd. 1963).Slk. 1813 Hogg Poems (1874) 14:
Quhan we culdna speil the brow of the wavis, We needilit them throu belowe.
Rnf. 1835 D. Webster Rhymes 24:
They needled grumphy's legs between, And march'd sae trimly.
Mry. 1875 W. Tester Select Poems 22:
She's needl't me through the queerest lanes.
Wgt. 1877 G. Fraser Wigtown 231:
His favourite dance, in the progress of which, he used adroitly to needle a stick backwards and forwards between his legs.
Abd. 1910 C. Murray Hamewith 49:
The dancers lichtly needle thro'.

2. To interlace ropes on a roof or cornstack to hold the thatch down (Sh. 1963). Cf. n., 2.; to use a kishie-needle or large bodkin for the finishing touches in weaving a kishie (Sh. 1963: to needle up a kishie).Ork. 1920 J. Firth Reminisc. 14:
The end of a simmon was fixed to the laight on one side, brought over the upper laights, then round the laight on the other side, and over the ridge again, and so on the simmon was passed till the whole roof was shut in by a web-work resembling darning. This process was called “needling the roof”.
Sh. 1948 New Shetlander (Oct.-Nov.) 22:
We gets up a pretty ting a dess an haes him needled aff afore tay time.

3. Appar. to support with transverse beams. Cf. Eng. needle-beam.m.Lth. c.1700 G. Good Liberton (1890) 80:
One day and a halfe neidling the stair and mending the sink.

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"Needle n., v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 20 May 2024 <>



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