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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1971 (SND Vol. VIII). Includes material from the 1976 and 2005 supplements.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

SKAIL, v., n. Also skaill, skale, skayl, scail(l), scale, scayl, skel(l); sk(j)ael(l) (Sh.); skeyl (Lnk. 1833 Whigs of Scot. I. vii.); skile, skyle (wm.Sc.); scall (e.Ags.). [skel, skɛl; e.Ags. skɑl]

I. v. 1. tr. (1) To scatter in gen., to disperse, to throw or spread about (a cluster or collection of things) (Sc. 1782 J. Sinclair Ob. Sc. Dial. 93, 1808 Jam.). gen. Sc.; to squander or lavish (wealth). Vbl.n. scailin; agent n. scailer, one who scatters or disperses (Cld. 1825 Jam.): deriv. skail(a)ment, scale-, a scattering, dispersal (s.Sc. 1793 T. Scott Poems 341; Slk. 1825 Jam.). Combs. skailset, to scatter, drive in different directions, esp. of sheep; skailwin, skile-, a scattering wind, a hurricane, tornado (Sc. 1879 P. H. Waddell Isaiah 36), also fig., a spendthrift, squanderer. Phr. to skail the air, see 1839 quot.Abd. p.1768 A. Ross Fortunate Shep. (S.T.S.) 199:
Skail the clouds that's gather'd o' your brow.
Ayr. 1789 D. Sillar Poems 142:
Sae weel ye ken the time tae plow, An' skaill the seed.
Edb. 1798 D. Crawfurd Poems 48:
I'd wad a plack the pose I'd skail.
Peb. 1805 J. Nicol Poems II. 15–8:
Gude sooth! it [gold] sall soon get a scailin!
Dmf. 1820 Blackwood's Mag. (April) 57:
Ye've coupit the soldering-pan, my lass, And ye have scaled my clinks o' brass.
Ayr. 1826 Galt Last of the Lairds i.:
It has skail't the daunert wits o' the master.
Abd. 1832 W. Scott Poems 153:
O' a' their gear to mak' a skellin'.
Sc. 1839 A. Ure Dict. Arts 990:
The working of the coal must be suspended, and a current of air sent directly from the fresh in-going stream, in order to dilute the explosive mixture, before it reaches the furnace. This is termed skailing the air.
Bwk. 1853 G. Johnston Botany E. Borders 125:
The pains that Nature takes to ‘scale' her species.
Ork. 1893 Sc. Antiquary VIII. 56:
While du wür skalan frank an' free De dearest tocher o' a wife?
Knr. 1895 H. Haliburton Dunbar 18:
A revelling youth that skails an' scatters a'.
Sh. 1897–99 Shetland News (24 July, 13 May, 8 July):
He 'ill hae da hauf o' da caa skailset. . . Fader send a skailamint o' som' kind among da baard. . . . Som' ane grippin, der aalilambs to roo, skjaelset dem frae der midders.
Edb. 1915 T. W. Paterson Auld Saws 59:
Ye canna spare To skail yer time, or chances as ye gang.
Sc. 1928 J. G. Horne Lan'wart Loon 10:
He skail'd the snaw frae aff the slaes.
Arg.2 1931:
They're hingin on lake grim daith tae the owld folks, but there'll be a skilewin there some day. She had a lot o' money afore she wuz merrit, but her man's a rale skilewin an he'll soon mak it spin.
Abd. 1932 R. L. Cassie Sc. Sangs 10:
Rise up, my country, young tho' auld, An' skail your anti-Scots!
m.Sc. 1988 William Neill Making Tracks 21:
The Makkars say whit the hert lacks
is skailt abreid in the licht o Mey ...
Edb. 1991 J. K. Annand in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 20:
Aneath a hap o snaw it derns
Deep in a dwam for maist the year
To burst throu in a bleeze o starns
Syne skail its flourish on the stour.
Sc. 1991 T. S. Law in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 31:
In siccan a dreech ootlin orrie airt
ane wurld an groo but growthieness
that skyles in aa its sairie stanes
or the groo gangs lirt i the luft
sae nane may lippen ont.
Ork. 1995 Orcadian (2 Nov) 16:
Barbara went away to collect the few strewn soft-drinks cans skailled along the spectator line.

(2) To spread over the surface of the ground as manure, peats, etc. (Uls. 1931 Northern Whig (5 Dec.); Cai., Per., wm. and sm.Sc. 1970). Also in n.Eng. dial. Hence scaler, one who spreads peats out to dry.Dmf. 1827 in Lockhart Burns vii.:
Women in the parish skaling dung to their father's potato-field in silk stockings.
Ayr. 1840 Carrick Anthol. (Finlayson 1925) 228:
“A cart o' wrack's a bow”, said he, “Just skail it on the stubble free.”
Kcb. 1899 Crockett Kit Kennedy xxxiii.:
What can a learned man ken aboot Skailin' middens?
Uls. 1924 Northern Whig (5 Jan.):
Graiping weeds and scaling dung developed my muscles.
Cai. 1963 Edb. John o' Groat Liter. Soc. Mag. 7, 30:
My job, using a graip, was to skail the peats out in rows to dry. . . . A peit squad consisted of a cutter, lifter and two scalers.

(3) To clear (a field) of surface weeds, to pare (ground) (Fif. 1953). Also in n.Eng. dial.

(4) “To plough ground so as to make it fall away from the crown of the ridge” (Sc. 1808 Jam.), orig. in reference to the ridges of the previous year; now to plough out a ridge by reversing the direction of the horses or tractor to the left in turning on the head-rig, so that the furrows fall outward on either side of the mids or hintin, the opposite of Gaither, v., 6. (n. and m.Sc. 1970), freq. with out or †down. Hence skailin, the section of field so ploughed (Arg. 1937).Abd. 1759 Gordon's Mill Farming Club (1962) 71:
They should skell the rigs to the last Cropt.
Abd. 1777 J. Anderson Essays I. 206:
If the ridges have been raised to a very great height, as a preparation for the ensuing operations, they may be first cloven or scaled out, as it is called in different places; that is, ploughed so as to lay the earth on each ridge from the middle towards the furrows.
Ayr. 1780 Session Papers, Wallace v. Wilson Proof 13:
It is usual to skale or lay open the tops of the ridges of gathered land, when fallowed.

(5) Of a boat: to cross or traverse water, phs. a fig. use of (4).Sc. 1776 D. Herd Sc. Songs II. 163:
Mony a boat skail'd the ferry.

2. tr. To separate, part, take away (one thing from another).Sc. a.1833 Mary Hamilton in Child Ballads No. 173 App. 664:
The king is to the Abbey gane, To pu the Abbey-tree, To scale the babe frae Marie's heart.

3. tr. (1) To shed, cast, throw (out of a container); to discharge (a gun) (Sc. 1825 Jam.).Per. 1811 J. Sim Poems 15:
When Ladies hunt for their lang tens, An' skail the dice.
Ags. 1923 V. Jacob Songs 12:
For there's mony a load on shore may be skailed at sea.
m.Sc. 1916 J. Buchan Greenmantle xii.:
What for wad ye skail a dacent tinkler lad intil a cauld sea?

(2) To shed, spill accidentally, to let fall from an overflowing or leaking container (Sc. 1808 Jam.). Gen.Sc. Also fig. Hence skailins, ¶scallons, spillings, overflow. Comb. †skail-water, “the water that is let off a sluice before it reaches the mill, as being in too great quantity for the proper motion of the mill” (Rxb. 1825 Jam.).Sc. 1728 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) II. 21:
When Clan Red-yards, ye ken, wi' wicked Feud, Had skaild of ours, but mair of his ain Blood.
Rnf. 1788 E. Picken Poems 128:
The warlike swarm, Wha wad hae skail'd their hettest blude, Or he had met wi' harm.
Sc. 1812 The Scotchman 80:
Fause notions, as skailins an off-fa'ins o the feudal times, anent the distinction o ranks.
Abd. 1817 J. Christie Instructions 126:
Her box skel't out some poisonous stuff.
Edb. 1828 D. M. Moir Mansie Wauch xix.:
Driving about with pitcherfuls of water, and scaling half of it on one another.
Ags. 1833 J. S. Sands Poet. Effusions 114:
It hauds within, but risk o' scallons, Twa hunder gude o' porter gallons.
Slg. 1870 R. Buchanan Poems (1901) 157:
Anither bit seep, wi' her han' below the glass in case o' ony scaling.
Dmf. 1873 A. Anderson Song of Labour 60:
Scalin' a' the sowp, an' lebbrin' baith himsel' an' me.
Ayr. 1890 J. Service Notandums 74:
A wee callan' has skailed them [marbles] a' on the causey.
Ags. 1893 Arbroath Guide (14 Jan.) 4:
The bottle broken an' a' the guid wine scalled.
Edb. 1915 T. W. Paterson Auld Saws 59:
Palauver nane — mind! Ye canna spare To skail yer time.
Dmb. 1932 A. J. Cronin Hatter's Castle ii. vi.:
Scale the good drink on the floor.
Gsw. 1950 H. W. Pryde McFlannel Family Affairs 130:
Are ye no' feart yer coalman'll skite some day an' skail 'is bag?
Gsw. 1966 Archie Hind The Dear Green Place (1984) 181:
... turning towards the hooks to hang up his belt and scaling his knives on the floor.
Ags. 1988 Raymond Vettese The Richt Noise 42:
He's skailt on the bar's formica bleck
a puckle gowden draps o whisky.
Whaur's the strength that fund
gowden hairst in dreichest grund?
wm.Sc. 1991 Liz Lochhead Bagpipe Muzak 30:
my heart's been roasted wi' the eejits I get working on the next station to me. Skitin' about the flair scalin' gazpacho down the back of some poor guy's new Matinique shirt, can't carry more than three plates at one time - pathetic.
m.Sc. 1994 Martin Bowman and Bill Findlay Forever Yours, Marie-Lou 38:
And if ah waant tae ah kin even gie the table a shove wi ma feet an skail aw the beer! Fur it's mines, ah've peyed fur it, ah kin dae whit ah waant wi it, ...
em.Sc. 1999 James Robertson The Day O Judgement 15:
Sae the sax days' darg o God is skailt.
An brocht by fire tae nocht again.
But Lord, sae great thy gear ye'd loss
A thoosan warlds an hardly ken!
Edb. 2000:
She's skailed her coffee.
em.Sc. 2000 James Robertson The Fanatic 180:
'Then the testimony o ma bluid will hae mair weicht and credit. A man like me disna win tae God like a lawyer, sir, wi wishin and wordspeakin, but by the skailin o his bluid. There's nae safter place tae lie than on the altar for Christ.'

4. tr. To burst (a garment) at a seam (Mry. 1813 W. Leslie Agric. Mry. 465; Cai. 1904 E.D.D., Cai. 1970). Hence skelt, burst at the seams, having the stitches undone (Rs. 1970); to unwind knitting. Skailed wool, a bag of wool rewound from previous knitting (Inv. 1970).Abd. 1778 A. Ross Helenore (S.T.S.) 29:
Her gartens tint, her shoon a' skelt and torn.
Ags. 1868 G. Webster Strathbrachan II. iii.:
Wi' your coat skailt, or rather I'm thinking it's a fair skreed.
Cai. 1869 M. Maclennan Peasant Life 73:
He “skaillit his Kersemere breeks, back an' front o' them”.

5. tr. (1) To disperse, scatter, break up, disrupt (a group of people), to rout, put to flight. Gen. (exc. I.)Sc. Phrs. to skail the bike (Sc. 1808 Jam.), -kivvan (Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 421), id., see Byke, n.1, Covine, Kivin.Wgt. 1705 Session Rec. Glasserton MS. (27 May):
The said Margaret replyed if it shold skail a family so as never to meet she would never give it to another.
Sc. 1736 Ramsay Proverbs (1776) 65:
The death o' ae bairn winna skail a house.
Per. 1750 Session Papers, Magistrates Perth v. Gray (9 Jan.) 18:
A considerable Number of Fish may be skelled, or may escape out of the Pyroad Net.
Abd. 1790 A. Shirrefs Poems 220:
Now raise the skelling o' the rout.
Ayr. 1821 Galt Annals ii.:
I gave them a sign by a loud host, that Providence sees all, and it skailed the bike.
Sc. 1827 Literary Gazette (8 Sept.) 589:
The fiery sword made an unco skaling o' them.
Sc. 1831 S. E. Ferrier Destiny III. xxii.:
She hoped to skail the dooket yet.
Kcb. 1901 R. D. Trotter Gall. Gossip 276:
A great big fremit warrior . . . in twa-three minutes skail't the haill jing-bang o' them.
em.Sc. 1913 J. Black Gloamin' Glints 91:
Syne Gipsy Queen, her voyage o'er, At Port Dundas was skailin' Her happy freight upon the shore.
Abd. 1929 J. Alexander Mains & Hilly 211:
A gweed company's seen skailt.

(2) Specif., of a meeting, congregation, school or the like: to dismiss.Peb. 1715 A. Pennecuik Works (1815) 385:
When kirk was skael'd and preaching done.
Edb. 1791 J. Learmont Poems 43:
Stick baith the sermon an' the tune, An, skale the Kirk.
Bwk. 1853 G. Johnston Botany E. Borders 126:
To “scale” the school is, in the Border language, to dismiss the boys from it.
Knr. 1886 H. Haliburton Horace 11:
Then Patie's wauken'd wi, a kick, An' skells the meetin'!
Ayr. 1887 J. Service Dr Duguid 222:
He wad gaen tae the schulemaister an' asked him tae skyle the schule tae him.
Hdg. 1903 J. Lumsden Toorle 66:
Our common Quarter meeting . . . it wasna skail'd till gloamin'.
Abd. 1928 Abd. Weekly Jnl. (29 Nov.) 6:
Aifter the kirk wis skailt.

6. intr. (1) To depart from a place, as a ship from an anchorage (Sc. 1825 Jam.); to break away from one's associations or companions, to make a dash for it. Used refl. in Sh.Kcd. c.1800 Fraser Papers (S.H.S.) 55:
The ox skailed and so frightened the rest that they immediately drew the boat out of the sea.
Sh. 1898 Shetland News (29 Jan.):
Doo needna skail de ta da back o' da door.
Abd. 1932 Abd. Press and Jnl. (6 April) 2:
Haudin' at dominies an' sic like t' gar them see 'at wir littlins dinna skaill awa' fae their Midder Tongue.

(2) of an object: to come apart, move away from its attachments, to detach itself; of a wall: to jut outwards, to bulge.wm.Sc. 1825 Jam. s.v. Sile, n.:
The superincumbent load which would soon make the walls skail.
Ags. 1927 V. Jacob Northern Lights 29:
The brown leaves skailed frae the kirkyaird trees.
Rs. 1929:
The string skailed.
m.Sc. 1982 Stewart McGavin in Hamish Brown Poems of the Scottish Hills 38:
sweirt, laith,
the mists skail,
an whan they dae
the fuffs,
ahent the riggs,
roun the pinnacles
mak kythans.

(3) specif. of an assembly of persons in a school, church, factory, meeting, etc.: to break up, disperse, go their several ways (Sc. 1808 Jam.). Gen.Sc. Vbl.n. skailin, dismissal, as in combs. skailin-hour, -time, time to break up, stopping-time; skailing psalm, the last psalm at the end of a church service (Lnl. 1970).Ayr. 1705 Arch. and Hist. Coll. Ayr. & Wgt. IV. 208:
After proclamatione of the blessing of the forenoon sermone and skailling of the people from the said Kirk.
Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 20:
A Bread House skail'd never. Bread is the Staff of Life, and while People have that, they need not give over Housekeeping.
Lnk. a.1779 D. Graham Writings (1883) II. 137:
She curr'd there 'till the kirk skaild.
Ayr. 1822 Galt Provost xiii.:
The grammar school was at the time scayling.
Edb. 1828 D. M. Moir Mansie Wauch xix.:
I saw the crowd scaling.
Gsw. 1884 H. Johnston Martha Spreull 55:
As they filed past at scalin'-time.
Kcb. 1895 Crockett Bog Myrtle 178:
As the mourners “skailed” slowly away from the kirkyaird in twos and threes.
Ork. 1907 Old-Lore Misc. i. ii. 64:
Id wass 'greed dat dere so'odna be ony mair feightin' dat night. Dan dey skailed.
Rxb. 1925 E. C. Smith Mang Howes 24:
The mills war skailin an the mill-yins war toavin hyimm.
Ags. 1929 Scots Mag. (Feb.) 321:
The bummers in half a dozen factories in Aberbrothock were skirling the skailing hour.
wm.Sc. 1951 Scots Mag. (Jan.) 317:
He joined a crowd of workers skailing from a factory.
Bnff. 1965 Banffshire Advert. (18 March) 10:
I had been loitering waiting for the pictures to skail.
wm.Sc. 1980 Anna Blair The Rowan on the Ridge 23:
When the preaching skailed she hastily gathered her family and shepherded them outside, away from awkward questions, ...
wm.Sc. 1980 Anna Blair The Rowan on the Ridge 109:
James managed to step alongside the girl at the skailing of the kirk and ask if he might walk her home.
m.Sc. 1988 William Neill Making Tracks 38:
The meenister's lang gane; his kirk is skailt
for the last time. The freestane manse is sellt
tae (sae I'm tellt) a southron millionaire.
Bwk. 1997:
What time dis the kirk scale?
Gsw. 1998 Glaswegian (19 Mar):
Jaywalking is picked up from a young age here, as anyone trying to drive past a skailing school will discover.
w.Lth. 2000 Davie Kerr A Puckle Poems 18:
In excitement, the laddies wad skail fae the schuil,
Ti bi doun jist in time for the last o the kill, -
Mebbe beg a coo's blether or, - (whit wad be worse),
Huntit hame tuim-haundit, wi a whack oan the erse.
Edb. 2004:
Ah wis waitin for the skailin o the kirk.

7. To spill out or over, to overflow or leak from a container; of the container itself: to run out in driblets, to leak, overflow its contents (Cai. 1904 E.D.D.). Gen.Sc. Also fig.Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 24:
An old Sack is ay skailing.
Nai. 1828 W. Gordon Poems 28:
When Betty heard the dreadfu' clash, And saw her whisky skaling.
Per. 1881 D. MacAra Crieff 24:
There was a considerable incline, and the broth would skail.
Dmf. 1914 J. L. Waugh Cracks wi' R. Doo 104:
[He] sat doon gey heavy on a dizzen o' them, makin' the stoorie stairch skail in a' airts.
Slg. 1932 W. D. Cocker Poems 150:
It's rainin' like a skailin' bine.
wm.Sc. 1937 W. Hutcheson Chota Chants 10:
Andy gaes raffan by, skailing wi' life.
Abd. 1961 People's Jnl. (7 Jan.):
Wi' a' the joys that life could gie My cup was fu' and scailin'.
ne.Sc. 1979 Alastair Mackie in Joy Hendry Chapman 23-4 (1985) 63:
And sae to teem oot aa my clytrie like you,
skailin on the beaches
amon corks, tangle, star-fish,
the affcasts and bruck o your abyss.
Dundee 1991 Ellie McDonald The Gangan Fuit 11:
Laddie, my laddie,
nae words o mine,
wrocht in this course land,
whaur nocht is gotten
wi'ooten pain,
cud ever match
sic sangs o luv
that skail frae safter leids.
m.Sc. 1997 Liz Niven Past Presents 14:
The skillet skailed, bluid struled
Sutherland cursed tae hae
Sic reid hauns.
Abd. 2000 Sheena Blackhall in Alec Finlay Atoms of Delight 107:
A slocken smile, scaled frae a burnie's mou
Waves rowe the crib o simmer
Saft as oo.

II. n. 1. The dismissal or dispersal of a group of people, as from a church, school, meeting, etc. (Sc. 1808 Jam.). Gen. (exc.I.)Sc.Rnf. 1813 G. MacIndoe Wandering Muse 38:
Glint up the Hie Kirk brae about the skail.
Ayr. 1833 J. Kennedy G. Chalmers 48:
Four lessons frae the inganging to the skale.
m.Sc. c.1840 J. Strathesk Hawkie (1888) 85:
A ballad singer thinks nothing of drawing 2s. at the “scale” of the public works.
Fif. 1863 St Andrews Gaz. (14 Nov.):
The public meeting held in the Council Chambers on Friday evening got a rather quick ‘scale.'
Lnk. 1877 W. M'Hutchison Poems 147:
I've seen't — shame fa't! — at mid-day skale, The lads amang the lasses wale.

2. A strong scattering or driving storm-wind, a gust, blast, swirl. Cf. skailwin under I. 1. (1). Now only liter.Rnf. 1790 A. Wilson Poems 87:
Waves dashin down wi' blattrin skyle.
Sc. 1879 P. H. Waddell Isaiah xxviii.:
Like a hurl o' hail, like the swirl o' a skail.
Sc. 1913 H. P. Cameron Imit. Christ ii. viii.:
Eftir the skail a grit lown.

3. What is spilt or scattered, the overflow or leakings, anything superfluous which has been separated or discarded from others of its kind; in mining: “a quantity of air allowed to take a short cut to rejoin the main current” (Sc. 1886 J. Barrowman Mining Terms 57). Rarely of persons.Hdg. 1709 Trans. E. Lth. Antiq. Soc. VI. 65:
That no person presume to cast any Skail within another's ground.
Fif. 1827 W. Tennant Papistry 160:
Within the yetts, that stood unlockit To catch the skails, that maul'd and mockit.

4. In net-making: the proper run or direction of the cord ends as they leave a sheet-bend knot (Bwk. 1970). A knot wi or again the skail is a knot made so that the cord leaves it correctly in the same direction as (wi) or incorrectly at right angles to (again) that in which it entered it.

5. An amount or quantity of anything. This usage is nonce and dubious, phs. a corruption of Skair, n.1Ayr. 1790 A. Tait Poems 113:
Of beef ye maun tak a large skale.

[O.Sc. scale, to spread about, put to flight, to disperse, dispersal, 1375, skail, to dismiss, 1420, skealwind, 1661, North Mid.Eng. scail, to scatter, prob. of Scand. orig. cogn. with O.N. skilja, to separate, divide. N.E.D. postulates a strong grade ablaut form *skeila. The historical evidence is against connection with Gael. sgaoil, O. Ir. scáilim, to scatter, although the latter may have influenced the wm.Sc. form skyle.]

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"Skail v., n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 25 Apr 2024 <>



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