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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1968 (SND Vol. VII). Includes material from the 1976 and 2005 supplements.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

PLAY, v., n. Also pley (Dmf. 1898 J. Paton Castlebraes 124). Sc. form and usages:

Sc. form of Eng. play.Dundee 1994 W. N. Herbert in James Robertson A Tongue in Yer Heid 158:
But he hud a pack o cairds, so he pleyed patience. Aw the time. And the warder didnae like him, so he pit him in the dark. But Patience hud mairked the pack wi his thumbnail. So he pleyed oan.

I. v. 1. Used refl., now obs. in Eng., to amuse oneself, sport (Sc. 1881 A. Mackie Scotticisms 26). Gen.Sc. Also used in imper. as an expression of impatient or contemptuous dismissal, = “go to blazes”. Gen.Sc.Sc. 1819 Scott Letters (Cent. Ed.) VI. 67:
When work is scarce, and we offer pay for them playing themselves, we should have choice of men.
Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 483:
I gaed awa to . . . my grandfather's, to stap a week or twa, and play myself amang the Moorhills.
ne.Sc. 1828 P. Buchan Ballads I. 122:
He was playing him at the Clyde's water, Perhaps he has fa'en in.
Fif. 1864 W. D. Latto T. Bodkin xxix.:
I sent Archie awa to play himsel' for the day.
Uls. 1880 Patterson Gl.:
The chile's playin' his self.
Ags. 1888 Mod. Sc. Poets (Edwards) XI. 170:
He kaims my hair, an' dichts my mou', . . . Syne bids me rin an' play me noo.
Rnf. 1926 G. Blake Young Malcolm ii.:
Away and play yourself, laddie.
Rnf. 1935 L. Kerr Woman of Glenshiels x.:
The children were told to go and play themselves and not be listening to what wasn't for their ears.
wm.Sc. 1980 Anna Blair The Rowan on the Ridge 21:
And it was Bryce, Will and young John who maintained cot and kailyard while the man of the house played himself.
Gsw. 1985 Michael Munro The Patter 54:
play yourself To play yourself is to amuse yourself, mess about or waste time: 'Here Ah'm knockin ma pan in an youse are just playin yersels.'
Mry. 1988:
Ye're jist playin yersel.
Edb. 1992:
He's just playin hissel workin in a bar - he'll get a real job efter he's been tae the Uni.
Ags. 1992:
Will you two stop playin yersels and get on doin the dishes.
Edb. 1993:
He's just playin hissel at bein a doactor - the auld one's the real man.

Comb. †play-fool, a jester, mountebank, clown.Edb. 1726 Edb. Ev. Courant (3–4 Jan.):
Henry Lewis a common Tumbler, and menial Servant to Doctor Edward Green . . . has resorted to Fife Side, or some of the North Country Burrows, with Design to get himself furnish'd with a Play-Fool, and to set up himself for a Doctor.

2. Of a liquid: to boil, seethe (Sc. 1710 T. Ruddiman Gl. to Douglas Aeneis); also transf. of the vessel containing the liquid. Obs. in Eng. exc. dial. Phr. to gar (mak) one's pat play (broon), fig. to provide one(self) with food, support one(self).Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 106:
Fair words will not make the Pot play.
Gall. 1810 R. Cromek Remains 102:
Ye're big brose pot has nae played brown Sin the Reaver Rade o' gude Prince Charlie.
Rnf. 1813 E. Picken Poems I. 124:
Their walth, for either kyte or crown, Will ne'er gar Symon's pat play brown.
Sc. 1817 Scott Rob Roy xxvi.:
Credit is a decent honest man, that sits at hame, and makes the pat play.
Ags. 1858 People's Jnl. (10 April) 2:
Send for Janet Grierson, an' gie her as meikle beef as she can carry hame wi' her, to gar her pat play broon.
Fif. 1870 R. Chambers Pop. Rhymes 67:
Ae pat gar anither pat play, Let Rashie-coat gang to the kirk the day.
Sh. 1966:
Boil kettle boil an play pot play, Mony a hungry gut is waitin dee da day.

3. Followed by a noun, forming an adv. phr. of manner, corresp. to Eng. go —. Gen.Sc., obsol. See also separate entry for second element. Phr. to play het fit to, see Het.Ayr. 1787 Burns Death & Dr. Hornbook xvi.:
It [dart] just played dirl on the bane, But did nae mair.
Edb. 1798 D. Crawford Poems 98:
Till 's crutch amang the stanes play'd rattle.
Ags. 1823 A. Balfour Foundling I. iii.:
The purse, wi' a' this in't, played clash i' the floor.
Sc. 1831 J. Wilson Noctes Amb. (1864) III. 302:
He stotted up intil the lift, and wi' ae squash played plunge into the pool.
Lnk. 1853 W. Watson Poems (1877) 157:
I flew in, the door played clink, An' that made nae debatin' o't.
Ags. 1894 J. B. Salmond My Man Sandy (1899) 5:
Aye the hent feet o' him played skelp on the boddom o' the cairt.
Dmf. 1912 A. Anderson Later Poems 150:
An then a cleek plays clink, an' a' The san' springs up twa yairds or three.
Rxb. 1925 E. C. Smith Mang Howes 6:
A felt A cood heh drucken waeter . . . till ma lugs played crack!
Fif. 1931 St. Andrews Citizen (6 June):
The best o' their sermons play baff aff my head, like a blether fu' o' wind.

4. To commit, perpetrate. Phr. to play a faut, to be guilty of misconduct, misbehave, to commit a fault; to play up wi, to play the devil with, do harm to, spoil, destroy, make an end of (I., ne.Sc., Per. 1975).Ags. 1798 W. Anderson Ladywell and Laird Dambie (1823) 6:
Ye play'd the fau't sae bear the blame.
Ags. 1821 J. Nevay Poems & Songs 28:
Anither played a faut an' lickit a bannock.
Abd. 1873 J. Ogg Willie Waly 60:
A piece o' the rope that played 'up' wi' McPherson.
Abd. 1975:
The drink fairly played up wi him. Want o ile 'll play up wi onie car.

5. In Golf, †with upon: to drive (a ball) towards (the hole), to aim at. Hence ‡(1) play-club, a wooden-headed club used for driving the ball long distances, a driver; (2) play-hole, the hole in the middle of a green into which the ball is played; (3) phr. to play (oneself) in, of a newly-appointed official of a Golf Club: to initiate oneself by means of a ceremonial drive-off from the first tee.Sc. 1955 R. Browning Hist. Golf 23:
[The golfer] did not drive towards a selected landmark, he “played upon it”.
(1) Sc. 1777 The Times (8 Dec. 1934) 13:
In time coming none of the Society shall tee their golf-balls within less than a play-club length of the hole from which they are to strike off, nor at a greater distance than four lengths of said club from the hole.
Fif. 1807 J. Grierson St. Andrews 234:
A set [of clubs] consists of four at least, viz. the common or play club, the spoon, the putter, and the iron.
Sc. 1857 Information for People (Chambers) II. 693:
The play-club is for swiping off the tee, and is further used throughout the green if the ball is lying fair, and the distance more than a full drive from the hole you are approaching.
Sc. 1890 J. Kerr Hist. Curling 258:
We might as well try to decide skill at golf by a few strokes with play-club, spoon, iron, and putter, as to test curling by a competition at points.
Fif. 1930:
The term play-club for driver was in common use at St. Andrews up to and perhaps beyond the year 1880.
Sc. 1955 R. Browning Hist. Golf 144:
The long thin heads of the drivers, or rather of the “play-clubs,” for in those days, as we have already seen, the word “drive” had not yet come into familiar use in the game.
(2) Fif. 1805 Session Papers, Cleghorn v. Dempster (17 Dec.) 57:
The rabbit scrapes or holes on the putting-greens, near the play-holes.
(3) Sc. 1955 R. Browning Hist. Golf 52:
Every year at the Autumn Meeting of the Royal and Ancient Club, the captain-elect plays himself into office at an unconscionably early hour in the morning by driving a ball from the first tee before the day's play begins. This traditional ceremony has been imitated by countless Clubs in different parts of the world.

II. n. 1. As in Eng. Combs., phrs. and derivs.: (1) play-drink, a very weak beer made from the last of the wort (Ork. 1929 Marw.); †(2) playfere, -feer, -fier, -fair, -fare, plaefer, (i) a playmate, playfellow, “chum” (Sc. 1710 T. Ruddiman Gl. to Douglas Aeneis). See also Fere, n.1; ‡(ii) a plaything, toy (Sc. 1787 J. Elphinston Propriety II. 199, 1825 Jam.; Sh., Ork. 1966); (3) playgin, -gaun, plaigan, = (2) (ii) (Bwk. a.1838 Jam. MSS. XII. 176, playgaun; Rxb. 1942 Zai, plaigan), freq. applied to potsherds used as toys, Lames (Bwk. 1942 Wettstein, Bwk. 1954). Prob. a reduced form of n.Eng. dial. play-laking (O.N. leika, to play), influenced by (5); ¶(4) play-mare, a hobbyhorse; (5) playock, -ick, -uck, ¶-cock, plai(c)k, plaig (Jam.), plack, playke, (i) a toy, plaything (w. and s.Sc. 1825 Jam.; Mry. 1930; ne.Sc., Dmf. 1966); (ii) by extension: a game, pastime; (6) play of herrings, see quot.; (7) playpiece, see 1985 quote; (8) playrife, adj., playful, frolicsome, light-hearted, fond of fun (Sc. 1825 Jam.). Hence playrifety, n., frolicsomeness, mischievousness. Only in Galt and imitators. See also Rife; (9) playsome, adj., playful, frolicsome (Uls. 1966). Also in Eng. dial.; (10) while the play is good, while one has the opportunity; “while the going is good”, “while the fun lasts.”(2) (i) Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 281:
Play with your Playfeers.
Sc. 1768 Jew's Daughter in Child Ballads No. 155 C. v.:
I canna cum, I darna cum, Without my play-feres three.
Rxb. 1821 A. Scott Poems 43:
Hail, auld playfier, dainty chiel.
(ii) Edb. 1773 Fergusson Poems ( S.T.S.) II. 158:
What's siller for? Fiend haet awa, But Gowden playfair, that may please.
m.Lth. 1822 R. Wilson Poems 62:
To set up for sale In playfair shops.
Fif. 1862 St. Andrews Gazette (25 July):
Drinkin' whusky is juist like middlin' wi' poother . . . it's no a playfair for fools an' bairns.
Ork. 1931 J. Leask Peculiar People 138:
Tak yer playfares an' rin awa but, bairns.
Sh. 1950 New Shetlander No. 20. 26:
Nae kirkyard by da sea for wis. Na, na; da sea itsel; doon i'da deep, maet for da fishes; swüpid among da tangles, da plaefer o' da undergro.
(3) Rxb. 1921 Kelso Chron. (28 Jan.) 3:
Oo play'd an feuch thegither; Owre playgins an' whae kens what-nots.
(4) Sc. 1820 Scott Abbot xiv.:
Here one fellow . . . performed the celebrated part of the hobby-horse, so often alluded to in our ancient drama. Note to 1832 ed.: This exhibition, the play-mare of Scotland, stood high among holyday gambols.
(5) (i) Sc. 1711 R. Wodrow Corresp. (1842) I. 227:
Send me word with Johnny what placks to buy for M[ary].
Peb. 1793 R. D. C. Brown Carlop Green (1817) 132:
Here are packmen and hawkers, Sellin' braws tae the crowd, And bonny waulies, and playocks.
Sc. 1796 Poetry Orig. and Selected III. No. 15. 5:
Now rickities and trumpets come, And a' the streets wi' playocks bum.
Sc. 1821 T. Carlyle Early Letters (Norton) I. 349:
Forsaking the switch and quizzer and other plaiks invented by French barbers.
Gsw. 1860 J. Young Poorhouse Lays 206:
He's copied aff some playucks rare, That were by Greek an' Roman prized.
Dmf. 1875 A. Anderson Two Angels 68:
Then I took doon the plaicks frae the shelf on the wa'.
Abd. 1882 G. Macdonald Castle Warlock xxiii.:
I'm no sic a born idiot as think ye wad set the han'-haudin' o' a playock like yon again' the yoong laird's edication.
Sc. 1909 N.E.D.:
Bring in your plaigs, it's gaun to rain.
Lnk. 1910 C. Fraser Glengonnar 71:
A' she kenned about arks was bairn's playcocks — wee wuden beasts pented red, wi' Noah and his wife among them.
Arg. 1914 N. Munro New Road vi.:
“If I had only just a decent stick instead of this child's playock!” said the angler in anguish.
Abd. 1956 People's Jnl. (10 Nov.) 12:
It maun be gran' bein' a littlein' nooadays an' tae hae sic a ch'ice of playicks.
(ii) Ayr. 1822 Galt Sir A. Wylie xl.:
If ye hae nae other playock, try if ye can persuade the cat to stand on her hind legs till I come back.
Abd. 1868 G. Macdonald R. Falconer i. v:
Neither huntin', nor fishin', nor shutin', nor onything o' the kin' aboot han' to be playacks till him.
Dmf. 1874 R. Wanlock Moorland Rhymes 11:
That's but a swatch o' the plaiks that they play — Be it curlin' or quoitin' they carena a strae.
(6) Sc. 1785 J. Anderson Acct. Hebrides 364:
At times they [herring] seem to take pleasure in rising to the surface of the water, and putting up their noses, and instantly drawing back. This occasions a little pattering noise, like the sound of a few large drops of rain on the water; which is denominated by the natives on the shores they frequent, the play of herrings.
(7)Gsw. 1985 Michael Munro The Patter 54:
playpiece A snack given to a schoolchild for consumption at playtime. Despite the name this isn't necessarily a sandwich: 'What have ye got for yer playpiece?' 'A Mars bar.'
Gsw. 1985 Anne Downie in Julie Milton Original Prints 83:
Every day during the interval break we all used to produce 'play-pieces' which conformed to some unwritten maternal code . . . an apple, a biscuit or a piece and jam, . . .
Edb. 1992:
I used to take an apple for my playpiece.
Gsw. 1994 Herald 2 Sep 16:
Do you feel threatened by the New Kids on the Box at Scottish Television? Only when they try to steal my playpiece.
Sc. 2003 Sunday Herald 6 Jul 62/2:
I lost my house and car keys, sending them to school in my son's bag, perhaps mistaking them for a playpiece.
Sc. 2004 Press and Journal 7 Oct 6:
In between pawky-humour performances - and a traditional 11am "play piece" that had nothing to do with plays but a much-needed interval refreshment - the youngsters got together for bothy ballad singing with Dorothy Taylor.
(8) Ayr. 1821 Galt Annals xvi.:
In such plays, pranks, and projects, she was as playrife as a very lassie.
Ayr. 1822 Galt Entail xci.:
A wee thought mair o' daffing and playrifety.
Ayr. 1838 Galt in Tait's Mag. (Jan.) 39:
Though then but a playrife wean, I mind that there was a doleful weeping when we met.
Bnff. 1895 N. Roy Horseman's Word x.:
A bit dash o' skeely advice about daffin' and playrifety.
(9) e.Lth. 1896 J. Lumsden Battle Dunbar 23:
Twa playsome foalies wi' our mithers.
(10) Sc. 1816 Scott O. Mortality xxxvi.:
Come, laddie, speak while the play is good; you're too young to bear the burden will be laid on you else.
Sc. 1909 N.E.D.:
Stop now while the play is good; you have gone far enough.

2. An act of playing, a performance. Gen.Sc.Abd. 1877 G. Macdonald M. of Lossie III. viii.:
Jist sit doon . . . an' tak a play o' yer pipes. I'll hear ye fine.

3. A game, sport, pastime (Sh. 1966). Rare or obs. in Eng.Edb. 1773 Fergusson Poems (S.T.S.) II. 84:
Fareweel ilk cheery spring, ilk canty note, Be daffin an' ilk idle play forgot.
Ayr. 1786 Burns Scotch Drink xviii.:
O Whisky! soul o' plays an' pranks!
Edb. 1821 Blackwood's Mag. (21 Aug.) 36:
Pirley Pease-weep is a game played by boys . . . The following is the rhyme of this play.
Abd. 1853 W. Cadenhead Flights 256:
It matter'd nae whether the bools or the buffets, The gird, tap, or pear, at the time was the play.
Gsw. 1865 J. Young Homely Pictures 142:
Sic chiels as ane sees noo-a-days Pick up schulin' wi' their plays.

4. A period of leave from one's occupation, a holiday, esp. a school interval or holiday, gen. with def. art. (w.Sc. 1741 A. M'Donald Galick Vocab. 100). Gen.Sc., obsol. Also attrib. in combs. play-day, a day of holiday, Play-Wednesday, -Saturday, etc. Hence also big-play, the school lunchtime break (Ork. 1966), little play, peerie — (Ork.), the mid-morning school break (Id.).Abd. 1700 Burgh Rec. Abd. (B.R.S.) 331:
The first three lawfull dayes of Januarie be allowed to the schollars for play dayes, instead of the Yooll vaicance.
Sc. 1710 R. Wodrow Analecta (M.C.) I. 358:
There was never a school-boy that was more desirouse to get the play then I am to have my leave of the world!
Sc. 1721 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) II. 146:
When equal is the Night and Day, And Ceres gives the Schools the Play.
Edb. 1773 Fergusson Poems (S.T.S.) II. 111:
Whan Phoebus blinks wi' warmer Ray And Schools at Noonday get the play.
Ayr. 1822 Galt Provost xviii.:
The country folks came in dressed in their best, the schools got the play.
Sc. 1825 Aberdeen Censor 10:
They struck for higher wages and “the play” on Saturday afternoon and Sunday all day.
Abd. 1868 G. Macdonald R. Falconer i. xv.:
He found it was play-Wednesday, and that he had been all the half-holiday trying one thing after another.
Edb. 1900 E. H. Strain Elmslie's Drag-Net 281:
It was Saiterday mornin' — they get the play frae the school, ye ken.
Ayr. 1913 J. Service Memorables 13:
[I] had far mair broo o' the Saturday's play than a' the lear o' a' the beucks.
Abd. 1915 H. Beaton Benachie 176:
In winter the school door was left open at “little play” and dinner-time.
Rxb. 1927 E. C. Smith Braid Haaick 17:
How is't ee're no at the skuil the day? Oh, oo've gotten the play till the morn.

5. A country fair or festival, a gala. Freq. used attrib. in combs. play-Saturday, -Tuesday, etc., the Saturday (Tuesday, etc.) of the fair, but cf. 4. above.Abd. 1779 Session Papers, Bremner v. Lord Forbes (16 Nov.) 2:
The weekly market there, called Play-Saturday's fair, held in the town of Kincardine O'Neal.
Sc. 1825 J. Mitchell Scotsman's Library 183:
Every burgh of Scotland, of the least note . . . had their solemn play or festival, when feats of archery were exhibited, and prizes distributed to those who excelled in wrestling, hurling the bar, and other gymnastic exercises.
m.Lth. 1835 T. Watson Poems 35:
Wi' folk clad thick on ilka side. To see Lasswade auld Play Sae brisk that day.
Abd. 1877 W. Alexander Rural Life 77:
Such expressions as “Play Feersday” when the fair happened to be held on that day of the week, or “Play Friday”, if it happened to be on a Friday.
Sc. 1886 Stevenson Kidnapped xxii.:
Never a word passed between us; each set his mouth and kept his eyes in front of him, and lifted up his foot and set it down again, like people lifting weights at a country play.

6. A toy, plaything. Also used attrib. as in 1727 quot.Ork. 1727 A. W. Johnston Church in Ork. (1940) 76:
A delation given in against John Weilie guilty of Sabbath breach in sporting himself with a little play ship, or some childish fancy.
Slk. 1820 Hogg Tibby Johnston's Wraith (1874) 188:
There was a play for ilk ane o' the bairns — a whup to Harry, a knife to Jock, and a picture-beuk to little Andrew.

[O.Sc. play, refl., a.1400, to boil, c.1420, in adv. phr., 1540, a game, 1456, a fair, a.1500, school holiday, 1630, playok, c.1460, playfere, 1513, play fule, 1538.]

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



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