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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1971 (SND Vol. VIII). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

SCLATE, n., v. Also scla(i)t(t), scleat, sklait(t), sklate, skleat, sklaet, sklet. Sc. forms of Eng. slate. See also Slate. [sklet]

I. n. 1. As in Eng., the material, a roofing-slate, writing-slate, etc., and attrib. Gen.Sc. Dim. sclattie, sclaitey, slate-pencil (Bnff. 1948), a marble made of slate (Ags. 1969). Phr. to want a sclate, to be weak in the head, have a slate loose. Gen.Sc. Adj. sclaty.Sc. 1701 Burgh Rec. Gsw. (1908) 321:
To put ane sklaitt roof thereon.
Rs. 1720 W. MacGill Old Ross-shire (1909) 195:
I was speaking to McKinay about winning skleat at Ulladeall.
Ayr. 1733 Ayr. Presb. Reg. MS. (30 May):
Three hundred sklait naills three shillings.
Edb. 1773 Fergusson Poems (S.T.S.) II. 156:
Now shou'd our sclates wi' hailstanes ring.
Sc. 1826 Wilson Noctes Amb. (1855) I. 124:
He could rin up three columns of feegures at a time, no wi' his finger on the sclate, but just in his mind's ee.
Slk. 1889 Blackwood's Mag. (Oct.) 560:
New houses, . . . cauld and peekit Wi' sklates.
Ags. 1895 J. Inglis Oor Ain Folk 94:
Our bools were known as “piggers,” “marleys,” and “sclaiteys.”
Abd. 1903 W. Watson Auld Lang Syne 79:
Work in the sklate quarries o' Foudlan'.
Kcb. 1913 A. Anderson Later Poems 4:
Last to get his books an sklate.
s.Sc. 1929 Sc. Readings (Paterson) 47:
She's wantin' a sclate or twae.
m.Sc. 1988 William Neill Making Tracks 33:
Yestreen the gale wes rettlin gless an sclait.
I heard a muckle dunt in the mirk nicht;
an oorie thing, I waukent in a fricht
gruppit, I thocht, atween the shears o fate.
em.Sc. 1999 James Robertson The Day O Judgement 11:
The gow o licht is roun his heid,
His thrapple bullers like glens in spate.
His glower skits doun like fireflaucht
Frae heiven's black weet sclate.

Combs.: (1) sclateban(d), a stratum of slate between bands of rock, schistus; (2) sclate-house, a slated house, one with a slate roof, as opposed to thatch; (3) sclate-pen, a slate pencil (Cld. 1882 Jam.); (4) sklet-pike, id.; (5) sclate-stane, a piece of slate or piece of stone resembling slate (Sc. 1825 Jam.), freq. used in proverbial phrs. and similes as in quots. alluding to money being abundant and hence, by implication, of less value or account, and appar. originating in the belief mentioned by Jam. “that the money given by the devil, or any of his emissaries, as a reward for service, or as arles on entering into it, although when received it had every appearance of good coin, would again next day appear merely as a piece of slate” (See 1818, 1822 quots.). Gen.Sc.(1) Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 191:
The sclateban o' the quarry shott.
(2) Ayr. 1821 Galt Annals ii.:
At the corner where John Bayne has biggit the sclate-house for his grocery-shop.
(4) Abd. 1879 G. MacDonald Sir Gibbie xxiv.:
Donal's school-slate, with a sklet-pike.
(5) Sc. 1720 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. 181:
When she comes to count the Cunzie, 'Tis a' Sklate-stanes instead of Money.
Sc. 1793 Tam Thrum Look before ye Loup 10:
The siller's as plenty wi' him as sclate stanes.
Cld. 1818 Scots Mag. (Aug.) 157:
The fairies . . . immediately vanished, leaving a large purse of money behind them, which the good dame would not touch till she had sained it, when, finding that it did not turn into withered leaves, nor bits of “sclate stanes, but bade still gude white siller”.
Ayr. 1821 Galt Legatees 168:
Seeing the money fleeing like sclate stanes.
Sc. 1822 Scott Pirate vi.:
Gie the ladie back her bonie die there, and be blithe to be sae rid on't — it will be a sclate-stane the morn, if not something worse.
Slk. 1823 Hogg Tales (1876) 293:
Ye threw away money as ye had been sawing sklate-stanes.
Bnff. a.1829 J. Sellar Poems (1844) 28:
He near han' gar'd the sclate stanes dance Whan he began to diddle.
Abd. 1882 W. Alexander My Ain Folk 16:
Skellie's deein' weel — makin' siller like sclate steens.
Kcb. 1896 Crockett Grey Man xxiv.:
Scarted other folk's siller into their wallets like sclate-stanes.

2. A flat piece of hardwood nailed on the under- and fore-side of an oar to prevent wearing against the thole-pin (Sh. 1866 Edm. Gl., 1914 Angus Gl., Sh. 1969).Sh. 1898 Shetland News (23 April):
He laid his aer in ta da sklaets.

II. v. 1. As in Eng., to cover (a roof) with slates (Sc. 1782 J. Sinclair Ob. Sc. Dial. 168). Gen.Sc.Mry. 1707 J. B. Ritchie Forres (1926) 97:
Eighteen pounds Scots paid to John Young, skletter, in part for skletting the school.
Ork. 1771 P. Fea MS. Diary (Sept.):
He agreed with Ed Moodie to Scleat his house.
Sc. 1818 Scott Bride of Lamm. xxiv.:
Folk are far frae respecting me as they wad do if I lived in a twa-lofted sclated house.
Bnff. 1869 W. Knight Auld Yule 176:
They're at hame in a braw, sclatit house.
Rxb. 1925 E. C. Smith Mang Howes 21:
The riggens an ruiffs o Denum — theekeet yins an sklaitteet yins.
Bwk. 1947 W. L. Ferguson Makar's Medley 59:
Her byre was hard-up i' the riggin', And sae we fell to sklatin' wark.

Hence scla(i)(t)ter, skla(i)tter, scletter, skl-, (1) a slater. Also as v. to work as a slater. Gen.Sc.; (2) the wood-louse, Oniscus (Sc. 1741 A. McDonald Galick Vocab. 71; Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 361). Gen.Sc., also in n.Eng. dial., said to be so called from being freq. found under roof slates but may instead be from its appearance as its back resembles a roof covered in overlapping slates.(1) Sc. 1701 Foulis Acct. Bk. (S.H.S.) 288:
To Rot Crichtoune, sklaitter, to drink, for helping the roof of Capn douglas house . . .5s.
Sc. 1721 Ramsay Poems List of Subscribers:
James Sym his Majesties Sclater.
Ags. 1762 Dundee Charters, etc. (1880) 166:
The Sclaiters of this Burgh are always very assisting with ladders for extinguishing fires.
Sc. 1818 S. Ferrier Marriage II. xi.:
To see tyleyors and sclaters leavin, whar I mind Jewks and Yerls.
Abd. 1884 D. Grant Lays 55:
The sclaiters, plasterers, an' vrichts.
Dmf. 1921 J. L. Waugh Heroes 12:
Ser'ed his time to the sclaterin' wi' his faither here.
(2) Sc. 1704 J. Moncrief Poor Man's Physician (1731) 245:
With the Juice of 400 or 500 Sclaters squeez'd through Linen into the Barrel.
Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 422:
Sclater's eggs, little white eggs like beads, found amongst red land.
Lth. 1825 Jam. s.v. heart-axes:
The heartburn, or Cardialgia. The common cure for it, in the country, is to swallow sclaters, or wood-lice.
Abd. 1892 Blackwood's Mag. (Oct.) 480:
I canna sleep at hame for the rattons and the sklaters.
Sc. 1931 J. Lorimer Red Sergeant xviii.:
Mistress Laidlaw disna shed the blood o' sclaters, gin it's bluid they beasties hae.
Ags. 1988 Raymond Vettese The Richt Noise 67:
...and there's a hornygoloch and there's a slater,
sae muckle life in sic a smaa place
gin ye look!
wm.Sc. 1998 Alan Warner The Sopranos (1999) 86:
Swear Mum left the key under a different pot last week to spite late late nights and ma long-lies; so Chell's head's spinning, bent right over on the steps, scraping her varnished nails under the tipped pots, where slaters and spiders might touch her fingertips and old Selwyn the dog is out ...
em.Sc. 2000 James Robertson The Fanatic 229:
'There was naethin for him tae get aff wi. The idea that the doctor's womenfolk were queuin up for us was jist laughable. And this guy was power, ken? He could crush me like a slater. I couldna win. ... '

2. To write down on a slate. Rare and later in Eng.Ayr. 1835 Galt Efforts by an Invalid 40:
To read and write, and sclate 'rithmetic wark.

[O.Sc. sclater, as a prop. n., 1398, sclate, a slate, 1456, Mid.Eng. sclate, O.Fr. esclate. The scl- forms disappear from Eng. after 1630.]

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"Sclate n., v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 12 Jun 2024 <>



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