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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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

STAFF, n. Also †stafe; stawf (Sc. 1826 Wilson Noctes Amb. (1855) I. 165). Pl. staffs, sta(a)ves. Sc. usages. See also Stave. [stɑf, pl. stɑ:vz]

1. A walking-stick (Sc. 1904 E.D.D.). Gen.Sc. Rare or obs. in Eng. Hence staffless, without a stick.Fif. 1701 A. S. Cunningham Largo (1907) 47:
He did beat him twice with a stafe.
Sc. 1755 Session Papers, Primrose v. Primrose (24 Nov.) 10:
For eight Years before his Death he commonly walked with two Staves.
Sc. 1818 Scott Bride of Lamm. xix.:
The old blind woman arose, assumed her staff.
Sth. 1849 C. W. St John Tour I. 156:
He [deer-stalker] has in his hand some favourite stick (or “staff” as he calls it) made of hazel or juniper.
Mry. 1852 A. Christie Mountain Strains 27:
My hat an' staff I straight picks up.
Sh. 1886 J. Burgess Sketches 106:
A aafil coff, 'at maistly shaks da staff oot o' mi haand.
Kcb. 1913 Rymour Club Misc. II. 90:
A lang man, legless. Cam' staffless owre the hill. Ans. A worm.
Abd. 1929 J. Alexander Mains & Hilly 190:
Fin he's at the ploo he's leanin' on the stilts like twa staaves.

2. A stave, a component part of a cask, wooden drinking vessel, etc. Obs. in Eng. Freq. in phr. a staff out o' one's bicker or cog, a reduction in one's income, a drain on one's resources, a heavy outlay, sc. something which reduces the amount of one's subsistence. See Stave.Sc. 1817 Scott Rob Roy xxiv.:
It will be a heavy deficit — a staff out o' my bicker, I trow.
Fif. 1832 Fife Herald (15 March):
No poor man on that account will be necessitated to “sell his cow,” or hae a staff taen out o' his cog to “fatten the Edinburgh lawyers.”
Abd. 1881 W. Paul Past & Present 142:
My gennius lay in staaves.
Edb. 1884 R. F. Hardy J. Halliday xvii.:
They too knew what it was to have ‘a stave out o' their bicker.'

3. A bar of cloud across the sun or moon looked on as a sign of bad weather (Mry. 1925–71).

4. Special phrs. and combs.: (1) staff and baton, -†basto(u)n, the symbols by which a vassal resigned his feu into the hands of his superior. In practice in the 18th-c. a pen was substituted for the staff or rod of authority and symbolic resignation was abolished entirely by the Infeftment Act, 1845. The phr. is a translation of Lat. per fustim et baculum; (2) staffman, an official carrying a staff of office, a constable, tipstaff; (3) staff-net, a salmon-net set up on stakes in a tidal river, a stake-net; (4) staff-swerd, a sword-stick. Arch.; †(5) staffy-nevel [staff-and-nevel], a set-to with cudgels and fists, a brawl. See Nevel; †(6) to be at the staff and the burdon, to be at daggers drawn, in a state of active enmity (Rxb. 1825 Jam.). See Burdon; (7) to keep (one) at (the) staff('s)-end, to keep (one) at his distance, at arm's length, keep aloof from. Obs. in Eng. The Sc. quots. may derive from Shakespeare Twelfth Night V. 292.(1) Sc. 1708 Acts of Sederunt (11 Feb.):
The Lords discharge in time coming the using any other symboll in resignations, except staff and baston.
Sc. 1722 W. Forbes Institutes I. iii. 3:
Resignation is either made by the Vassal himself called Resignation propriis manibus, or by one having a Procuratory from him, by the symbolical Delivery of a Pen (called Staff and Bastoun) to the Superior.
Sc. 1754 Erskine Principles II. vii. § 10:
In all resignations, the Vassal surrenders the lands, by giving the symbol of staff and baton on his knee to the superior.
(2) Edb. 1700 Burgh Rec. Edb. (1962) 271:
The Council . . . appoint eight strong and sufficient staffmen who are to have six shillings per diem and are to free the toun of the foresaid beggars.
Fif. 1723 L. Macbean Kirkcaldy Burgh Rec. (1908) 249:
The Council appoints John Cunningham the piper and staffman of the town.
Gsw. 1742 Burgh Rec. Gsw. (1911) 111:
Paynting of King Williams statue pedestal, lamps and powlls for the staffmen.
(3) Slg. 1795 Stat. Acc.1 III. 488:
Salmon are chiefly caught in July and August with staff-nets at the time of low water.
(4) Fif. 1827 W. Tennant Papistry 70:
He had a staff-swerd, straucht and lang.
(5) Abd. 1737 Caled. Mag. (1788) 500:
To mell wi' twa he wadna mank, At staffy-nevel Job.
Abd. 1900 J. Milne Poems 23:
A staffy nevel sair stramash.
(7) Abd. 1790 A. Shirrefs Poems 235:
Fowks . . . sud keep sic lads at the staff-en'.
Sc. 1816 Scott Antiquary xvi.:
I will keep at staff's end, I promise you.
ne.Sc. 1880 D. Grant Keckleton 10:
I keepit the maist forward o' my wooers at the staff end.

[O.Sc. staf and bastoun, 1423, staff suerd, c.1470.]

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"Staff n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 22 Apr 2024 <>



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