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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.

SKAITH, n., v. Also skaithe, skathe, scaith(e), skeath; scath(e) (Jam.); skaid, skaed (Sh.); ¶skeit (Sc. c.1700 Fugitive Poetry (Laing 1853) No. 41. 4) and reduced form skae. [skeθ, n.; skeð, v.]

I. n. 1. Damage, hurt, injury, harm, mischief (Sc. 1755 S. Johnson Dict., 1808 Jam.; Sh. 1866 Edm. Gl., skaed; Dmf. 1889 Trans. Dmf. and Gall. Antiq. Soc. 152; Per., Fif., Lth., Ayr. 1915–26 Wilson; Uls. 1929; Bwk. 1942 Wettstein). Gen.Sc. Now arch. or dial. in Eng. Freq. in alliterative phrs. with scorn.Lnk. 1712 Minutes J. P.s (S.H.S.) 131:
To call before the Justices the real actors of the scaith.
Sc. 1725 Ramsay T.-T. Misc. (1876) I. 132:
Better to marry, than miscarry; For shame and skaith's the clink o't.
Sc. a.1737 A. Fergusson Major Fraser's MS. (1889) I. 216:
Providence brought them thro' with Little skeath.
Sc. 1760 W. Fraser Sutherland Bk. (1892) II. 283:
It is very hard to put up both with the skeath and the skorin.
Edb. 1767 Session Papers, Dick v. Tennent Proof 28:
If they had not been doing skaith, they would not have gotten a chace.
Ayr. 1787 Burns Brigs of Ayr 27:
Potatoe-bings are snuggèd up frae skaith.
Kcb. 1814 W. Nicholson Poems 11:
My mither o' him dreads ay skaith.
Sc. 1816 Scott O. Mortality xiv.:
There wasna muckle skaith dune, for Evandale aye cried to scatter us, but to spare life.
Sc. 1827 Hind Etin in Child Ballads No. 41 B. v.:
And as she pu'd the tither berrie, Na thinking o' the skaith.
Sc. 1862 J. W. Carlyle Letters (Carlyle 1903) II. 270:
If that packet had misgone, I should have had “both the skaith and the scorn.”
Sc. 1894 Stevenson Catriona xiv.:
There'll be nae skaith to yoursel' if I keep ye here.
Lnl. 1910 J. White Eppie Gray 4:
Autumn, wi' his cauldriff breath An' yellow tints, brings muckle scaith.
Abd. 1922 G. P. Dunbar Whiff o' Doric 25:
To hap the bairn an' rowe him roon frae winter's deadly skaith.
Ags. 1934 H. B. Cruickshank Noran Water 15:
Ye've riped the pirlie mony's the time Withooten ony skaith.
Sc. 1991 R. Crombie Saunders in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 27:
Or gin mysel an luve had ches to flee
Out o thy hert thegither, I wad dree
Mair lichtlie tho my gledness suld be skaith.
Sc. 1995 David Purves Hert's Bluid 24:
Afore he made ti dee, Keing James the Fift
rowed roun ti face the waw an dwyned awa,
raither nor thole the skaith that wes ti cum ...

Phrs.: ill-scathe apae-!, devil take -!, as a malediction (Ork. 1929 Marw.); to do (dee) skaith, to do harm or injury; to get, kep, tak skaith, to take harm, be hurt or damaged (Kcd., em.Sc.(a), Lth., Lnk. 1970, tak skaith).Ayr. 1706 Arch. & Hist. Coll. Ayr. & Wgt. IV. 217:
The said Georg Harbiesone and his family threatned and minaced to doe him and his family skaith.
Sc. 1728 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) II. 70:
Ane may do the other skaith.
Abd. 1739 Caled. Mag. (1788) 501:
To bear the Ba' thro' a' his faes, And nae kep muckle skaith.
Ayr. 1789 Burns Kirk's Alarm viii.:
Though ye can do little skaith, Ye'll be in at the death.
Edb. 1828 D. M. Moir Mansie Wauch xiv.:
Benjie might take skaith from the night air.
Lth. 1851 M. Oliphant Merkland II. ii.:
The close-fitting, dark-cloth pelisse, which could take no scather [sic].
Abd. 1871 W. Alexander Johnny Gibb xxxviii.:
There wusna as muckle's dee naebody gryte skaith.
Kcb. 1885 A. J. Armstrong Friend and Foe xxix.:
The lad ‘ll tak' nae skaith while he's wi' me.
Lnk. 1910 C. Fraser Glengonnar 11:
If the win' didna rise the sheep wad tak' nae skaith.
Fif. 1946 J. C. Forgan Maistly 'Muchty 18:
Aff she set for hame carryin' turn aboot a kitten, She landit at his mither's door wi' ane that taen nae skaid.

2. Specif. damage done by trespass of animals, the act or offence of trespass, esp. in phr. in one's, that, etc., skaith, trespassing (on someone or somewhere).Ayr. 1709 Arch. and Hist. Coll. Ayr. & Wgt. IV. 239:
Nae person in Stewartoun keep any poultry. . . . Any person who gets them in that skaith ether to shoot them or kill them.
Rxb. 1725 Melrose Session Rec. (S.R.S.) 126:
She had not seen his cow in her skaith.
Dmb. 1785 Session Papers, Petition J. Colquhoun (21 June) Proof 2:
They [Lambs] were poinded in his neighbour's skaith.
Slk. 1818 Hogg B. of Bodsbeck iii.:
I weel expected I wad find them a' in the scaithe that dark day.
Per. 1898 C. Spence Poems 57:
The calves were doing him nae scaith Upon the swarded run.

3. Harm or injury attributed to witchcraft or the evil eye (Sc. 1808 Jam.); a disorder of cattle supposedly caused by this (Rnf. c.1850 Crawfurd MSS. (N.L.S.) S. 79). Hence comb. skaith-saw, an ointment thought to be efficacious against this. See Saw, n.Lnk. a.1779 D. Graham Writings (1883) II. 57:
Thou's gotten skaith, some auld wife has witcht thee.
Slg. 1795 Stat. Acc. 1 XVI. 122:
This is done with a view to prevent skaith, if it should happen that the person is not cany.
Slg. 1826 W. Hone Every-Day Bk. II. 688:
At this day, an old woman in Falkirk earns a comfortable livelihood by the sale of “Skaith Saw.”
Rnf. 1836 R. Allan Evening Hours 145:
An' love, that's been our inmate lang, Thine ill-ee'd skaith will fley awa.
Sh. 1899 J. Spence Folk-Lore 111:
The person who attempted to cross a fisherman's path when on his way to the boat, intended to do him scathe.

4. (1) Damage or injury involving compensation or financial requital; damages, costs, penalty. Hence skaith-dues, id.Ayr. 1702 Munim. Irvine (1891) II. 118:
In case of refusall or unjust delay, protested for coast skaith dammage and remeid of law.
Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 73:
Better skathe sav'd, than mends made.
Gsw. 1743 Records Trades Ho. (Lumsden 1934) 304:
To take instruments and protest for skaith and remeed of law.
Edb. 1772 Fergusson Poems (S.T.S.) II. 81:
Braid Claith . . . Gies mony a doctor his degrees For little skaith.
Rxb. 1807 J. Ruickbie Wayside Cottager 109:
I mind when neighbour Hewie's sheep, . . . Eat the corn an' tread the hay, That Hewie had the skaith to pay.
Fif. 1883 W. D. Latto Bodkin Papers 97:
I'se stand between ye an' a' skaith.
Kcd. 1890 J. Kerr Reminisc. I. 58:
We canna baith tak' on the scaith o' that.
Kcb. 1905 Crockett Cherry Ribband xx.:
Ye hae never a boat to sell to pay the scaith-dues.

(2) a compensation paid to one for one's trouble or services; a liability for such. Phr. to stand in one's skaith, to be in one's debt.Ags. 1718 R. Finlayson Arbroath Documents (1923) 25:
As his ordinary for his skeath for keeping of the toun's kine.
Slg. 1876 A. B. Grosart Wilson's Poems I. xxxiii.:
I stan' in yer skaith for mony meltiths o' meat, an' mony a nicht's lodgin'.

(3) a matter for regret, a pity, shame.Sc. 1787 W. Taylor Poems 11:
To cheat the rich some think nae skaith.

5. Something which does harm, a harmful agent or influence.Lth. 1795 H. MacNeill Scotland's Skaith Dedic.:
Without the kind interference, and friendly assistance of Dr Doig, the poem of Scotland's Skaith, in all likelihood, would never have been published.
Edb. 1812 P. Forbes Poems 23:
Poor Scotland's scaith is whisky rife.
Ags. 1883 J. Kennedy Poems 20:
Nor need they paint vile whisky's scaith As black's a craw.

6. Combs. and derivs.: (1) scaith-free, unharmed, uninjured; (2) skaithfu, harmful, injurious, working havoc. Obs. or arch. in Eng.; (3) skaithless, free of financial loss, penalty or liability; (4) skaithlie, -y, adj., = (2). Also used subst. as an epithet for a young romp (Slk. 1825 Jam.); †(5) skaithmail, a payment made to prevent harm to oneself or one's property from another, blackmail; ¶(6) skaith-seeker, one who seeks to harm others (Sc. 1911 S.D.D.); ¶(7) skaith-stroke, a sore or deadly blow; ¶(8) skaith-weir, to ward off or avert harm.(1) Fif. 1862 St Andrews Gaz. (18 July):
The men were ‘more frightened than hurt,' the horse was scaith free.
(2) Lth. 1813 G. Bruce Poems 102:
For fear o' ought that's skaithfu'.
s.Sc. 1857 H. S. Riddell Psalms cxliv. 10:
Wha delifers David his servent frae the skaithfu' sword.
Sc. 1890 in R. Borland Yarrow 185:
But who wrought such scaithful ending, He might not from scaith be free.
(3) Sc. 1709 Compend of Securities 7:
To Warrand, Free, Relieve and Skaithless keep the said D. and his foresaids of all Danger, Inconveniencies, Charges and Expences they shall incur through being Cautioner for me.
Slg. 1722 Balgair Court Mins. (S.R.S.) 19:
The said day the Baillie ordains the haill tennents to keep others skaithles by eatting others cornes.
Sc. 1781 Scots. Mag. (Oct.) 550:
To keep Catharine Watson and Grizel Foster harmless and skaithless in their persons and goods.
Sc. 1818 Scott Rob Roy xxvi.:
If ony heritor or farmer wad pay him four punds Scots out of each hundred punds of valued rent, Rob engaged to keep them scaithless.
(4) Slk. 1805 Hogg Mountain Bard (1874) 99:
Thy gruesome grips were never skaithly.
(5) Kcb. 1902 Crockett Dark o' the Moon i.:
There is nae talk o' thievery in the matter. 'Tis but the payment of lawfu' skaith-mail.
(7) Sc. 1907 D. MacAlister Echoes (1923) 123:
They flee, the tyrants gash wi' dread, The skaith-stroke o' his skian.
(8) Kcb. a.1902 Gallovidian (Autumn 1913) 109:
This youth by siclike trainin' shall be made To skaith-weir be ilka honest trade.

II. v. 1. To harm, injure, damage, in gen. (Fif., Lth., Ayr. 1923–6 Wilson; Abd., Ags., Per., Ayr., Gall., Rxb. 1970); to wrong, be unfair to. Hence skather, injurer, wronger; scaithing, harm, damage.Ayr. 1784 Burns To J. Rankine iv.:
Think, wicked Sinner, wha ye're skaithing.
Sc. 1788 Scots Mag. (Nov.) 559:
It looks na weel in ony man That Name to skaith.
Rxb. 1808 A. Scott Poems 189:
Hale skart frae the wars, without skaithing.
Sc. 1816 Scott B. Dwarf vii.:
Skaithed and injured in body, gudes, or gear.
n.Sc. 1829 H. Miller Herring Fishing 39:
“Cut, cut the swing.” “Na, na, bide a wee first, I manna skaith the rape.”
s.Sc. 1847 H. S. Riddell Poems 80:
The skather weel may rue the day That ever he was born.
Gsw. 1863 J. Young Ingle Nook 131:
Prints warranted to catch nae scaithing, Frae washin'-boyn.
Per. c.1879 Harp Per. (Ford 1893) 347:
Thae “lines” [railways] hae skaed puir fouk nae little.
Sh. 1899 J. Spence Folk-Lore 237:
If onybody wis me skaed, May ill beskae himsel', O.
e.Lth. 1905 J. Lumsden Croonings 5:
I was neither kill'd nor scaith'd ava!
Bwk. 1960 Berwickshire News (31 May) 11:
I like yon poem, but he scaiths that corner of Scotland.
Abd. 1996 Sheena Blackhall Wittgenstein's Web 88:
"Ca cannie wi yon gun tho. Nae on my accoont. Bit fur yersel - dinna skaith yersel."

2. To penalise, serve as a penalty, fine or compensation (cf. I. 4. (1)). The expression in the 1827 quot. is not clear and may be corrupt (? read “'Twill be skaith . . .”, or phs. skail (see Skail, v., 2.))Ags. 1791 Caled. Mercury (19 Sept.):
[The Critics] darena brake my heid, Nor skaid me haff a scon o' breid.
Sc. 1827 The Broomfield Hill in Child Ballads No. 43 D. xiv.:
Then be it sae, my wager gane, 'T will skaith frae meikle ill.

[O.Sc. to tak scath, 1375, do scaith, 1475, scathis, damages, scathe, to penalise, 1456.]

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



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