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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1974 (SND Vol. IX). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

STEAM, n., v. Also stame, staem, stem (Sc. 1743 R. Maxwell Select Trans. 289). Sc. forms and usages. [stim; ne., em.Sc. (a) stem. See P.L.D. §§ 88, 120, 130.]

I. n. As in Eng. Combs. and derivs.: 1. steam-boat, a long flat farm cart without sides. and with high wheels, used gen. for carrying sheaves, from its similarity to a paddle-steamer (Fif. 1971). In pl. = II. steaming. 2. steamie, a local name for a public wash-house (m., s.Sc. 1971). Also attrib.; 3. steam-mill, st(a)em-mull, a threshing-mill driven by a steam engine, usu. one travelling from farm to farm as required. Gen.Sc., now obsol. Also attrib. and in reduced deriv. form stemmer.1.Rnf. 1972 Bill Bryden Willie Rough 35:
WILLIE: Ye're steamboats. HUGHIE: Ye're no lookin sae sober yoursel', Willie.
wm.Sc. 1984 Liz Lochhead Dreaming Frankenstein 118:
Somebody absolutely steamboats he says on
sweet warm wine ...
Gsw. 1985 James Kelman A Chancer 20:
The first policeman grinned: He's steamboats anyhow, look at him, he can hardly stand.
Gsw. 1985 Michael Munro The Patter 65:
steamboats A picturesque if somewhat inexplicable word for drunk: 'Look at the state of him - steamboats again!'
Sc. 1991 Scotsman (16 Mar) 2:
They would have you believe beer will make you suave, sophisticated slim, scintillating ... anything but get you steamboats.
Sc. 1991 Daily Record (23 May):
A Boozy navy officer landed in trouble when he got steamboats at a hospital party.
2. Gsw. 1935 Sc. Educ. Jnl. (8 March) Suppl. vi.:
Modern sanitation has caused the coining of “steamie”.
Gsw. 1958 Stat. Acc.3 560:
Attendances at the “steamies” in the year were just short of 1,800,000.
Gsw. 1967 Stephen Mulrine in Moira Burgess and Hamish Whyte Streets of Stone (1985) 130:
Rags, a steamie pram jammed against the door. Wet clothes in it stiff with soap. Or frozen.
Dmf. 1969 Dmf. & Gall. Standard (29 Oct.) 1:
There was still a need for the “steamie” as launderettes were not as cheap as the council maintained.
Edb. 1971 Edb. Post (18 Feb.) 1:
The city's “steamies” which the city first introduced in 1908.
Gsw. 1985 Michael Munro The Patter 66:
steamie A communal wash-house. There are few, if any, of these left but their reputation for being hotbeds of gossip lives on.
Dundee 1986 David A. MacMurchie I Remember Another Princes Street! 31:
Few tenements in Princes Street had wash-houses so the womenfolk were obliged to use the 'steamie' in Constable Street.
Sc. 1989 Scotsman (19 Jan) 12:
Robert Smith ... expressed the hope that someone will preserve a steamie for posterity for future generations. In Edinburgh the term "washhoose" was more common, the "steamie" being largely used by the Press.
Lnk. 1991 Duncan Glen Selected Poems 26:
There bidit a man in Glasgow
lady, lady.
He was weill-kent for his weekly shauchle
doon to the broo. His lady, lady
pushed a pram to the steamy
and skelpt the bairns
oot onto the streets.
  Gsw. 1997 Dorothy Paul Dorothy: Revelations of a Rejected Soprano 17:
Miss Brown was one of God's unclaimed treasures: she would be returned to him marked 'Package unopened', an unwed haddock, a single fish. She didn't like us. We were the hoi polloi, the offspring of workmen and steamie women, 'common'.
  Sc. 2000 Herald (27 Mar) 24:
The next floor takes you into the twentieth century, and all Edinburgh life seems preserved here, with every conceivable artefact highlighting the daily working experience of the docks, breweries, hotels and shops. The reconstructed wartime kitchen comes complete with Acme wringer and clothing coupons, while the steamie, the store and a tearoom all evoke the past.

Phr.: the talk of the steamie, The subject of gossip. Gsw. 1985 Michael Munro The Patter 66:
steamie A communal wash-house. There are few, if any, of these left but their reputation for being hotbeds of gossip lives on. The phrase the talk of the steamie describes something or someone that is (or deserves to be) the subject of gossip or scandal: 'Is that another fella ye've got? You'll be the talk of the steamie ma girl.'
Gsw. 1992 Jeff Torrington Swing Hammer Swing! (1993) 16:
He tugged now from his pants pocket a hankie, so clatty it would've been the talk of the steamie.
Sc. 1999 Herald (19 Aug) 16:
... to make no public comment, although I have been asked to do so many times, and, indeed, many times daily since arriving at the Edinburgh Festival, where his controversial views are still the talk of the steamie.
Sc. 2000 Herald (23 Mar) 19:
Soon, she was the talk of the upper-class steamies and salons. She would wear outrageous garments at society parties.
3. Cai. 1871 M. McLennan Peasant Life 33:
The steam-mill at the Lowes was going and all hands were busy thrashing out the grain.
Bnff. 1871 Banffshire Jnl. (26 Dec.) 17:
I've never engaged ony o' that stemmers.
Abd. 1887 Bon-Accord (26 March) 17:
The “stem-mull” man of Longside.
Abd. 1920 G. P. Dunbar Peat Reek 35:
The stame mull cam' an' thresh them oot.
ne.Sc. 1956 Mearns Leader (26 Nov.):
A speenfu' o' the finest stame-mull-day shoop tatties.

II. v. In phr. steamin' wi drink, very drunk (Fif. 1912 D. Rorie Mining Folk 406; Ork., n. and m.Sc. 1971). Also steaming, steamin drunk.Gsw. 1977 Alan Spence in Moira Burgess and Hamish Whyte Streets of Stone (1985) 147:
' ... Ah suppose you jist made ur a wee bit worse, comin in steamin. ... '
Gsw. 1985 Michael Munro The Patter 66:
steamin Another word for drunk.
Abd. 1990 Stanley Robertson Fish-Hooses (1992) 80:
The white blinds were up and aa of the mirrors were happed up according tae the tradition of the folks, but the front window where aa of the folks congregated, wis a wee bittie open for fresh air tae get intae the hoose, cos there were a lot of the folk steaming.
Sc. 1990 Scotsman (24 Mar) 10:
... but I question whether the hangover was universal and whether all jubilant, rugby-loving patriotic Scots were steaming drunk on Saturday night; I wasn't.
Sc. 1991 Scotsman (16 Mar) 2:
Why don't they just come out and say, "This beer will get you steaming in no time!" - They'd sell thousands.
Rnf. 1993 History on your Doorstep, The Reminiscences of the Ferguslie Elderly Forum 11:
"We're against strong drink" we used to shout out, and maybe your dad would be at hame steaming. Good fun.
m.Sc. 1994 Martin Bowman and Bill Findlay Forever Yours, Marie-Lou 34:
That's no true! When ah take a maddie, it's no a's 'cause ah'm steamin wi drink!
wm.Sc. 1998 Alan Warner The Sopranos (1999) 138:
Sorry, Phhhh, Chell laughed and rose back up again. I'm fucking steaming, she says.
Gsw. 1999 Herald (19 Aug) 19:
"Would you shut your stupid mouth, you daft cow?" The officer asks her: "Does he always talk to you like that?" and she replies: "Och no. Only when he's really steaming."
Sc. 1999 T. M. Devine The Scottish Nation 1700-2000 355:
The temperance reformers even had a teetotal paddle-steamer, The Ivanhoe, which provided excursions on the Clyde from 1880 to compete with the steamboats which were notorious as floating public houses where binge-drinking was common (thus 'steaming' as the popular Scots term for 'drunken') and which were not covered by the 1853 prohibition on the selling of alcohol on the Sabbath.

[From a time in Sc. when alcohol was sold on a Sunday only to bona fide travellers and people therefore took a steamer down the Clyde so that they could buy it. See also 1999 (21 Sep) quot. Cf. steamboats.]

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



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