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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.

SHIFT, v., n. Also shuft. Sc. form and usages:

I. v. 1. intr. To change places with (Abd., Ags. 1970). Obs. in Eng.Ayr. 1785 Burns To J. Lapraik (21 Apr.) xiii.:
Wi' cits nor lairds I wadna shift.

2. (1) To change (one's clothes)' remove (one garment) and put on (another), to exchange for (Sc. 1881 A. Mackie Scotticisms 48). Gen.Sc. Phr. to shift one's feet, to change one's shoes and stockings (Per. 1915 Wilson L. Strathearn 199). Gen.Sc. Now only dial. in Eng.Abd. 1784 Regulations Gordon's Hosp. (1850) 14:
The boys shall receive their bread and coffee, having previously shifted their clothes if the Master has thought proper.
Ayr. 1823 Galt Gathering of West (1939) 79:
That worthy woman had shifted her clothes.
Abd. 1827 Aberdeen Star (15 June) 211:
Shifting his prison garments.
Sc. 1837 R. Chambers Hist. Rebellion (1869) 361:
Charles shifted the old [shoes] for the new.
Sc. 1833 J. Cairnie Curling 45:
Persons using them should be furnished with a spare pair [of slippers] to shift if necessary.
Ayr. 1840 J. Ramsay Poems 82:
That hadna ane [shirt] to shift it.
Ags. 1894 J. B. Salmond B. Bowden (1922) 91:
I wis up the stair shiftin my buits.
Sh. 1900 Shetland News (15 Dec.):
Alto' dey wirna a lass i' da company wi' a dry fit, dey wirna a fit shiftid.
Abd. 1956 G. S. Morris Bothy Ball. I. 38:
At siven Jock had suppit's brose, and shiftit's claes sae cheery, O.
Ags. 1990s:
Shift muhsel: change my clothes.
wm.Sc. 1991 Liz Lochhead Bagpipe Muzak 56:
Mum's got her rollers in with waveset
and her well-pressed good dress
slack across the candlewick upstairs.
Nearly half-ten already and her not shifted!

(2) with pers. obj.: to change (a person's) clothes, to dress in fresh clothing, to provide with clean clothes (Sh., n.Sc., Ags., Per. 1970). Obs. in Eng.Sc. 1730 Earl of Haddington Select Poems (1824) 105:
I've brought you clean and dainty linen, The nurse will shift you, I presume.
Sc. 1754 W. Smellie Midwifery I. 204:
She must then be shifted with a clean, warm, half-shift, linen skirt and bed-gown.
Abd. 1965:
I took the bairn up and shiftit her.

(3) refl. or intr.: to change one's own clothes, put on fresh clean garments. Gen.Sc. Also in Eng. dial.Sc. 1746 Lyon in Mourning (S.H.S.) II. 21:
The company desired him to shift and put on a dry shirt. The Prince refused to shift, as Miss Flora MacDonald was in the room.
Ags. 1760 Abd. Journal (8 Sept.):
A Girl, who went after Work, to shift herself, but forgot to bring away the Candle.
Sc. 1773 Boswell Tour (1936) 293:
I fell into a brook and wet myself to the middle very much. When we reached Grishipoll, I got myself all shifted.
Ayr. 1832 Galt Stanley Buxton I. v.:
It's no' discreet to sit down with damp clothes. So go shift yourself.
e.Lth. 1840 P. McNeill Tranent (1884) 37:
I shift mysel' of a nicht noo and gang to the schule to learn the letters.
Ags. 1894 J. B. Salmond My Man Sandy (1899) 115:
I shiftit at tea-time, for thae gutters mak' sic a dreedfu' mairter o' a body.
Sh. 1900 Shetland News (24 Feb.):
Doo'll hae to shift dee frae da skin an' oot.
Lnk. 1960 Stat. Acc.3 407:
The miners, home from their work, their faces washed and “shifted” (as they describe their getting into the suits they use for lounging about at the Cross).

Comb. shiftin claes, one's second-best clothes, the ones generally worn after changing from one's working clothes (Ayr. 1928; Lnk. 1960 Stat. Acc.3 154; e. and wm.Sc. 1970).Lnk. 1885 F. Gordon Pyotshaw 51:
Ma guid shiftin' claes clean spilt.
w.Lth. 1957 Scotland's Mag. (June) 46:
The first of the noisy band of workers came “skailing” out of the pithead baths, in their shifting clothes.

3. In jute or linen spinning: to change the bobbins on a spinning-frame, to replace full with empty bobbins (em.Sc., Rnf. 1970). Hence shifter, shiftin-mistress, shiftin-wife, a forewoman or employee who does this (Id.).Ags. 1962 Scots Mag. (Oct.) 19:
The hilarity of the celebrating of the shuftin'-wifie's silver wedding.
Ags. 1982 Mary Brooksbank Sidlaw Breezes 59:
Oh, dear me, the mill's gaen fest,
The puir wee shifters canna get a rest
... Shiftin', piecin', spinnin', warp, weft and twine.
Sc. 1996 Herald 16 Feb 15:
Jute was a low-grade commodity at the bottom end of the textile league so wages were relatively low and the workforce of spinners, shifters, winders and weavers was largely female.
Per. 2000 Betty Stewart in Ian Macdougall Voices from Work and Home 388:
When ah began in the mill ah wis a shifter, and that wis takin' the bobbins off the machines before they were automatic.

4. Specif. of herring-nets: to change (nets), to substitute a fresh net for one that has been used (Bnff. 1970). Comb. shifting-knife, a knife which cuts the net from the drift rope in changing nets.Sc. 1788 Aberdeen Mag. 183:
The Yarmouth fishers never use a whole fleet of nets for three or four weeks at one time without shifting . . . . 6 shifting knives at 4d. . . . 2s.

5. To make a move in the game of draughts. Gen.Sc.Mry. 1897 J. Mackinnon Braefoot Sk. 76:
He shifts withoot ever thinkin' aboot it.

6. (1) To put off, defer, delay; to allow (time) to elapse. Followed by inf. with to or gerund.Wgt. 1712 Session Rec. Whithorn MS. (27 May):
He was rebuked for his shifting to obey the act of the Session.
Sc. 1721 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. 22:
Death nae langer wad be shifted.
Sc. a.1732 T. Boston Memoirs (1776) 80:
Langton minded to shift it till Michaelmas was past.
Sc. 1746 D. Warrand More Culloden Papers (1930) V. 75:
They shifted doing anything for ten or twelve days.
Per. 1766 A. Nicol Poems 1:
I shifted time, toss'd by hard fortune, Till I was near the age of fourteen.

(2) to evade, elude, dodge.Wgt. 1700 Session Bk. Glasserton MS. (27 Nov.):
He shifted the question and declined to give a positive answer.
Fif. 1704 App. to G. Sinclair Satan's Invisible World (1871) li.:
Beatrix Layng desired him to make some nails to her, which he modestlie shifted.
Abd. 1733 W. Forbes Dominie Depos'd (1765) 41:
The Lettergae thus play'd the fool, And shifted the repenting stool.

7. As in Eng., now obs.: to make a living, to keep going, make progress. Vbl.n. shifting, means of subsistence, provender.Abd. 1745 Invercauld Rec. (S.C.) 451:
The snow is prodigiously deep there and no shifting for the beasts.
Abd. 1966 Abd. Press and Jnl. (24 Feb.):
Feeding cattle are “nae shiftin'” to the extent that they normally do, in spite of very good quality hay, and swedes.

II. n. 1. A change of clothing (Sc. 1886 J. Barrowman Mining Terms 60). Gen.Sc. Also in Eng. dial.Dmf. 1834 H. Johnston Poems 7:
A coat, a cap, aye, and a shift.
Abd. 1959 People's Jnl. (1 Aug.):
A clean shift twa-three times a week.

2. A move in the game of draughts. Gen.Sc.Mry. 1897 J. Mackinnon Braefoot Sk. 77:
A few more shifts and Jeames had scored another win.
Abd. 1913 G. Greig Mains Again 15:
It's your shift, Jeck.

3. A change of situation, abode or employment. Dial. in Eng.; dismissal from work, the sack (Sh., n. and em.Sc. (a), Lth., Lnk., Slk. 1970).Sc. 1871 Carlyle in J. W. Carlyle Letters (Froude 1883) III. 194:
A small furnished house should be rented, and a shift made thither.
Lth. 1895 A. S. Swan Gates of Eden xvi.:
Anither shift! Are ye for awa' frae Glesca a' ready?
Per. 1897 C. M. Stuart Sandy Scott's Bible Class 65:
I've been like mysel' owre long, and I'm for a shift.
Lnk. 1923 G. Blake Mince Collop Close x. i.:
Me work wi' a wumman! Nae ruddy fears! She's gaun' to get the shift, quick!

4. The crop grown in any particular season in a system of crop-rotation, the land or field on which this is grown (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 153). Gen. (exc.I.) Sc. The system itself is called by the number of crops in the rotation, as the five-, six-, etc. shift. Also in Eng. agric. usage.Peb. 1802 C. Findlater Agric. Peb. 107:
Five distinct fields, to be kept in constant rotation of tillage, under a course of five shifts, viz. turnip fallow, barley with grass, hay, oats, peas.
Slg. 1812 P. Graham Agric. Slg. 143:
In the carse grounds lying to the west of Stirling, a course, or shift, as it is here called, of six years is practised.
Kcb. 1845 Stat. Acc.2 IV. 187:
In tillage husbandry, the seven shift rotation is usually followed.
Inv. 1872 Trans. Highl. Soc. 16:
The heavy clay on the Lovat estates suits the four-shifts or six-shifts better than five.
Rs. 1936 C. Macdonald Echoes of Glen 91:
The “shift” was as little as one acre.
Abd. 1969 Huntly Express (19 Sept.) 2:
He noticed something amiss near his tattie shift.

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"Shift v., n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 24 Feb 2024 <>



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