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A Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue (up to 1700)

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First published 1951 (DOST Vol. II).
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

Fail(l, Fale, v. Also: faylle, fayle, faille, faile, faeille, feale, feal(l, fele, feil(l, fell. [ME. (13th c.) fayle(n, faile(n, faille(n, etc., OF. faillir. See also Failȝe v.]

1. intr. To lose strength or vigour; to flag; to give way under strain.(a) c1420 Wynt. ii. 1459.
Thare hart in to the deyde suld fayle
Ib. iv. 997; etc.
All his futmen and archerys … Begouth fayntly for to faylle
(b) 1375 Barb. ii. 377.
Quhen the king his folk has sene Begyn to faile
Ib. iii. 312.
His hart begane to faile all-out
1456 Hay II. 61/24.
Quhen ony knycht has his hert failit, and his curage lawlyit
a1500 Bk. Chess 987.
Knychtis suld be richt werray liberall, Or than thair worschipe most on nedis faile
(c) 1375 Barb. i. 311.
He … neuir wald for myscheiff faill
c1420 Wynt. viii. 6870.
Pryd may offt-tymys well gere faille That is apperand rycht lykly
c1420 Ratis R. 691.
Men may weill se ilke day Renown and honore faill & fall
c1475 Wall. v. 3.
In Nouember, quhen October was past, The day faillit
1513 Doug. xii. i. 2.
Quhen Turnus … saw thar curage faill
1520 Peebles B. Rec. 50.
Gyf it happynis, … that the saidis landis faill throuch neclegens
a1585 Maitl. Q. xxv. 184.
Of loue maist leill that neuer did faill exempill wes Thisbe
(d) 1375 Barb. xii. 204.
For dout of ded we sall nocht fale
a1400 Leg. S. xxvi. 217.
To there folk that sa cane fale … askit he thame to sel vitale
(e) a1570-86 Maitland Maitl. F. xxxi. 10.
Folye is to marye Fra tyme that bayth thair strenth and nature felis

b. To break down, come to nought. c1420 Wynt. i. 524.
Part of thaim syne chawngide were In othir kynrykis severale, As thai begowth off cas to fale
a1500 Bk. Chess 1048.
Than most thair laubour fale & fall
1536 Prot. Bk. T. Johnsoun 20.
Quhair it [the contract] falis in ony pont
a1570-86 Maitland Maitl. F. xiv. 59.
In materis grit and doutsum … , Quhilk be the wirking of the warld may faile
1600-1610 Melvill 8.
As it feares with comoun turnes, when it cam to the preparing and debursing of soumes, it fealled
c1615 Chron. Kings 40.
If this band feild, and the Inglismen intendit with the lyk band

2. To become exhausted; to run short; to come to an end. 1375 Barb. viii. 460 (E).
Thar wictaille gan fast thaim faille
a1400 Leg. S. l. 701.
To cume to blis that ma nocht fale
c1420 Wynt. vi. 298.
He spendyd sa fast in hys travayle, That hys gold begouth gretly to fayle
1426 Antiq. Aberd. & B. III. 202.
His airis … per chauns faleand
c1552 Lynd. Mon. 1401.
It wes the Lordis mynde, That generatioun suld nocht faill

3. To be absent or wanting. 1375 Barb. v. 425.
For he dred thir thingis suld fale, He chesit forthward to travale
1456 Hay I. 6/3.
Be ordour of lawe of armes quhare othir witnes failis
a1570-86 Maitl. F. xlvii. 78.
Ane of thir tua sall nocht faill, Owther to be slane … Or ellis of ilk man haue ewill wourde
a1578 Pitsc. II. 216/28.
At this tyme thair fell no raine … that the cornis falit that ȝeir

4. To be in default; to omit or neglect to do something. Also ellipt. or with other constructions.(1) a1400 Leg. S. xxxii. 281.
Thai that failyt, sal haf schame, Til helpe thé, & mekil blame
1456 Hay II. 164/34.
Quhilkis gif thou faillis to do, thou sall se that thare sall cum grevous mischeif
1540 Lynd. Sat. Procl. 275.
Or ȝe cum thair, faill nocht to teme ȝour bleddir
1566 Fleming Q. Mary 500.
Ye salle nocht faeille to ansueir … of alle this aboune wretine
1590 Misc. Spald. C. II. 114.
Ye will not faill to haue hither sic support … as ye haif alreddy
1605 Stewart Mem. 114.
Thay will nocht feill to bereiff him of his lyff
1630 Misc. Hist. Soc. II. 260.
I pray ye will not feall … to caus Patrik heast himselfe hither
(2) a1500 Henr. Robin & Mak. 117.
My hairt is on thé sett, … Nevir to faill, … Quhat grace that evir I gett
1490 Irland Mir. I. 13/25.
Be ware … that thi hienes fall nocht in thir materis
1513 Doug. i. Prol. 475.
In caice I faill haue me not at disdenȝe
1529 Edinb. B. Rec. II. 11.
Scho oblices hir to obsarf and keip the statutis of the toune and nocht to faill thairintill
1531 Ib. 45.
Gif thai keip the statutis and falis nocht
1551 Hamilton Cat. 29.
Quhasaevir sall keip the hail law, and yeit fail in ane point, he is giltie in al
(1584) Melvill 203.
If we haiff fellit, it is of ignorance
1591 Reg. Morton I. 177.
I pray ȝow fell nocht nor this berair be abak agane at me on Tvysday at ewein
1662 Soc. Ant. XXII. 258.
If any of the judges feale in keiping of the dyets

b. To default in duty or service (to or aganis a person). 1535 Stewart 20477.
Wa wirth the wicht in quhome that tressoun grew, That causit me so sone to faill to thame
1545 Thanes of Cawdor 168.
In keis … , that athir of the saidis parteis … happyn to faill to utheris
1567 Sat. P. v. 118.
Thocht sum aganis yow fail, … With Godis grace it sall preuaill
a1578 Pitsc. II. 47/8.
The cardinall allegeit that he had faillit to the Quens grace and to him
a1570-86 Maitl. F. lxxxix. 12.
Quhair ane is fund ane freind in deid A scoir thair be that failis at neid

c. To act wrongly; to err or commit a fault. a1500 Bk. Chess 1584.
He falis nocht quhat euer a man deny Wnto a wreche
1535 Stewart 26941.
With … Drinking, dyis, and allsic wrang abusioun, … Tha faill richt far
Ib. 55649.
At hym desyrand … To mak redres als far as tha had faillit
a1578 Pitsc. II. 208/19.
The quein … granted that scho had failled and was contentit to suffer quhat puneisment thay pleisit

d. To miss, escape, or avoid. 1492 Myll Spect. 276/21.
Socratis sais he that traistis a woman sall nocht faill to be dissauit

5. To fall short of; to be disappointed or deprived of. 1375 Barb. xix. 476.
Quhen thai saw thai had falit then Of thar purpos
a1400 Leg. S. xxiv. 280.
Of his purpos faylit he
1456 Hay I. 37/3.
He failit nocht mekle of his purpos
Ib. 74/1.
Gif I faile of my pruf … , the juge may assoliȝe my party
1513 Doug. ii. ii. 13.
To bryng hys slycht to gude assay, Or faillyng tharof, dowtles reddy to de

6. tr. a. To lack or lose, be deprived of (something). 1375 Barb. iv. 255.
The king … sall fale honor of erding
Ib. xviii. 269.
Thai of the host that falit met
?1438 Alex. ii. 3431.
And his cheualry may betyde To faill ane party of thare pryde
c1420 Ratis R. 1017.
Gif thow may one this vys thé led, Thow sal nocht fail a gud revard
1535 Stewart 53361.
Throw the abundance of that bitter blast Richt mony schip that da faillit the mast
c1650 Spalding II. 206.
Ane schip cuming fra Norroway with tymber, faillit her mast, and wes drevin on schoir

b. To fall short, or break down, in. 1456 Hay I. 73/34.
And gif a man failis his pruf, the defendour is quyte
1531 Bell. Boece I. p. xliii.
Quhen the salmondis faillis thair loup

c. To omit or cease to serve or aid (a person). c1500-c1512 Dunb. lxxiv. 44.
Quhone that my tovng sall faile me to speik
a1578 Pitsc. I. 39/15.
Sa freindlie confiderat that ather of them appeirit never to faill the other agane
a1585 Maitl. Q. xlvi. 34.
My fingeris failleth me To wryte or dyte of mirrines to mein
1607 Crim. Trials II. 525.
Hir spreit faillit hir, that scho continewit ane lang space asound
1614 Ib. III. 291.
I … maid Patrik Halcro to faill thame that was thair in the Castell

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"Fail v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 24 May 2024 <>



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