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

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First published 1963 (DOST Vol. III).
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

Key, , n.1 Also: keye, kei; kee; kie, ky(e; kea, keay. [ME. key (a 1300), keye, keiȝe (1290) (also kay, kai, etc.), north. kee (15th c.), early ME. kæie, OE. cǽᵹ (pl. cǽᵹa) and cǽᵹe (pl. cǽᵹan). Cf. also Kay.Normally rhyming with words in -ee, as see (sea), thee, thrie (in some cases earlier -ey, as ee (eye), fey).]

1. A key, the instrument for operating a lock; also, a representation of a key. Also attrib. with band.To turn the key, a method of divining the committer of a theft.(1) a1500 Henr. Fab. 292.
The spenser come with keyis in his hand
1488 Treas. Acc. I. 88.
For the mendin of the lokkis and keyis to the boxis
1507 Ib. III. 382.
Ane key to his colehous dur
1537 Glasgow Prot. IV. 115.
Jhon Law rasavit the keiis of his … bwtht
1583 Edinb. D. Guild Acc. 179.
For putting of ane new boull to the key of the ile dure
1590 Moysie 83.
The Quenis grace … efter … delyverie of the keyisse as vse is … wes conuoyed … to Halyroudhouse
1599 Edinb. B. Rec. V. 244.
The string of the keyis of the said boxe
c1650 Spalding I. 213.
The tounes keyis
1682 Elgin Rec. II. 313.
They gave him possession of the said church by delivering him the key of the church door [etc.]
(b) a1400 Leg. S. xlvii. 73.
Tho he had the keys brocht Vith hyme, duris opyn he [ne] mocht
1525 Acta Conc. MS. XXXV. 212.
That Schir Johne Gurlay keip the prenting irnis and punsionis under twa keis
1536 Dumfries & Galloway Antiq. Soc. XVII. 211.
The kee of the tolbucht dure to be reidhett … and laid apone the saidis peitbeiraris cheikis
1538 M. Works Acc. V. 38 b.
For ane new ke with brig & platis thairtill
1577 St. A. Baxter Bks. 25.
Dauid Myllis, kepar the commoun kist kee
1580 Inverness Rec. I. 280.
The gude wyff beris the keis in hir awin keiping
1629 Misc. Maitl. C. II. 206.
Ony maid wark sick as kees
(c) 1494 Halyb. 7.
ii kyis to his schryn
1539 Ex. Processes No. 1.
He … tuke furtht of his purs … ane kye
1580 Inverness Rec. I. 279.
[They] hes ane fals kye and opnit his sellar durris
1688 Carmyllie Kirk S. MS.
For helping … kyes and locks belonging to the church
1689 Brechin Test. VII. 212.
The high room wanting ane kye and ane lock
(d) 1560 Rolland Seven S. 4521.
The gude wife ane bonie lytil kie, Hang at hir belt, scho knit
1564 Perth B. Ct. MS. 49 b.
To deliver him the kie of his said clois
a1605 Montg. Flyt. 97 (T).
With the poynt of ane kie weill brunt on thy browis
1655 Glasgow B. Rec. II. 323.
The charge of the keiping of the kie of the wall at the Barrasyet
attrib. 1597 Edinb. Test. XXX. 290 b.
Four dusson of kie bandis
(e) 1636 S. Leith Rec. 25.
The skipers to have the keay of the gramer scoole
c 1656 Irvine Mun. II. 260.
Horses put in the celler … and they had the kea
(2) proverbs. a1598 Ferg. Prov. (1641) No. 63.
All the keys of the country hangs not at ane belt
a1628 Carmichael Prov. No. 967.
It is evill keiping the lok quhairof ilk man caries the key about with him
(3) 1501 Doug. Pal. Hon. i. 548.
With quaikand voce and and hart cald as a key [: fey, pley, obey]
a1605 Montg. Son. xli. 6.
[Life] from my body fled, And left my corps as cold as ony kie … [: thee, ee, thrie]
(4) c1450-2 Howlat 345.
Twa keyis our croce, … In a feild of aswre
15.. Sym & Bruder 23.
[They] clampit vp sanct Peteris keis [: leis, weis, slevis]
c1552 Lynd. Mon. 2285.
Sanct Peter, carvit with his keyis, Sanct Michaell, with his wingis and weyis
(5) 1646 Kirkcaldy Presb. 293.
David Wood sailor, confessed he turned the key in Kirkcaldie, and that he learned it in ane English shipp where some of the companie wanting something they took the Byble and enclosed ane key into it and read the 50 psalm, at the 18 verse and named all the names in the shipp and when they lighted upon the man whome they suspected the key turned about
1646 Ib. 295.
Ane new emergent breakeing forth aganest hir of turning the key … upon occasioun that James Kininmonth wanted some money

b. To make (use) the Kingis (his hienes, his maiesties, our) keyis, to force entry by virtue of a legal warrant.Cf. OF. faire la clef le roi, in the same use. — 1577 Kirkcudbr. B. Rec. 36.
Ane act to be made anent oppoyn durrs and command to be gewyn be the baillies to caus the saids Elizabeth … do the samyn or faillieand thairof to maike the Kingis keyes
1584 Reg. Privy C. III. 674.
[Order given to officers of arms to seize escheat goods, with power] to mak oppin durris and lokfast lumes patent, and use his hienes keyis thairto als oft as neid beis
1628 Aberd. Council Lett. I. 292.
With power … to convocat the inhabitants … in armes to make opin doores and use his maiesties keyes whairanent thir presents sall be … due warrand
1665 Old Ross-shire I. 39.
We charge ȝou [etc.] … and … iff neid beis ȝe mak sicker and lockfast doors [patent] and use our keis therto
1674 Highland P. I. 262.
Because we could not get patent entrie to the said howse, we made use of his majestie's kies, by stricking at the yeatts and doors thereof with hammers

c. Key silver, appar., the first payment for a completed building job, lit. key-money. 1517 Treas. Acc. V. 122.
For the key silver of the said chymnay or the syntreis war strikin iij s.

2. In various fig. uses.(1) a1400 Leg. S. i. 16.
Thu art Petir … To thé I gyff the keys of hewyne
a1538 Abell Chron. 114 b.
Sa ma the Paip abus his keis baith of power and science
1551 Hamilton Cat. 221.
A preist hes the keis, that is to say, the auctoritie of lowsing and binding gevin to him be our salviour Christ
1562-3 Winȝet I. 80/12.
Quhy vse ȝe nocht the samin [sacraments] … as … the keis for absolutioun?
(2) a1605 Montg. Ch. & Slae 392 (L).
Euir currage keippis the keyis [: seyis, = sees] Of knawledge be his belt
c1616 Hume Orthog. vii. 18.
The keie of orthographie … that is the congruence of the symbol and sound symbolized
(3) 1543 Corr. M. Lorraine 41.
Monesyone to the hous of Dyngwel that it may be the better keipit fore it is the key of the cuntreth
a1605 Montg. Misc. P. xlviii. 115.
For these tua castells ar the only kees Of all Turkie, and do divyde the sees
1683 Lauder Notices Affairs I. 441.
[Dumbarton Castle,] a strong passe and key betuen the Lowlands and the Hylands
(4) 1581 Sempill Sat. P. xliii. 118.
Marke James of Dowglas, present Erle of Morton, … Danter of theuis … Key of this countrie that kepit vs from skaith
(5) 1516 Wigtown B. Ct. 53 b.
The said balȝeis askit the said forspeikaris to schaw the king kes or ony wthir relouand caus that thai had to obiect aganis the breif
1532 Ib. 270.
It is fovnd be congnvtione [sic] of ovre sovuerrane lordis keis deliuerit be Jon Ahannaye to the alderman & balȝeis ... & the connotione fand that euerie nechbovre sovuld flag & gutter to vdir eftir the tennovre of ovre soverain lordis keis

b. Keyis of (the) court. 14.. Quon. Attach. l.
Of the consuetude of the court. In the first a wise iustice knawand al the lawys of the contre Item the secund a leill scherray & a wise, the thride crounaris & seriandis keys of the court wise leil & scharp the clerk til wryt the rolment [etc.]
c1575 Balfour Pract. 273.
The keyis of court are thir, viz., 1. Ane justice that is wyse, and hes knawlege of the lawis. 2. Ane schiref that is wyse and faithful [etc.]
1597 Skene Verb. S. s.v. Curia.
Al courts … suld haue certane vther persons & members, quhilks ar called claues curiae, the keies of the court, that is, ane lauchful official or seriand [etc.]

3. A key in music. 1587-99 Hume 58/204.
The … heauenly harmony Of instruments accorded in a kie

4. a. Some piece of tackle on a boat. b. A part of a hoist in a weigh-house; perh. some form of cotter-pin.a. 1595 Skipper's Acc. (Morton) 6 b.
For making of our blend and mesene and keyes to it
Ib. 53 a.
For iiii peses of small takell to be keyes to our sallis
Ib. 56 b, 62 b. 1614 Soc. Ant. X. 224.
The haill furnishing to the bark … for fyve stane wecht of takle … , Item, for tailyie stringis to be vlyeitis and keis iij li.
b. 1645 Aberd. B. Rec. IV. 46.
In the first four great staffs within the great barrowes, with four nets, four keyes, and thumb key, with four round sheiths that goes on befoir the nets
Ib. 47.
A pair of litle barrowes with sex staffis and aucht nets, without aither towes, bloks, keyes, or cleiks

c. An accessory part of a wool-comb.? The metal piece which fitted into the handle of the stock-comb and secured it to the stock (see Kaming-stok and Kame n. 2 b). — 1586 Edinb. Test. XVII. 100 b.
xiij gros and ane half of cambes of the greit key, middell key and litell key
1589 Ib. XXI. 88.
Ane brokin buist of kambes of the key price xij s … .Item, tua do. and four cambes of key price xiiij s.
1624 Edinb. B. Rec. VI. 259.
Thrie fynning stuiles, thrie wooll barrellis, tua pair fynning kaymes, thrie yrne keyis for the keames

5. a. The seed-pod of an elm. b. The seed of certain fruit trees.Appar. the same as Eng. (1523– ) key, ash-key, the seed-pod of the ash or the sycamore which hangs in bunches like keys. 1636 Black Bk. Taymouth 424.
The said Andro obliges himself to entertain the said garden and … to set keyes of cherries, geans, apples and pears
1654 Lamont Diary 79.
I planted some elme kies in the garden yeard … and before 1 Oct. 1654 they were hygher then any ordinar man

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"Key n.1". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 24 Feb 2024 <>



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