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

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First published 1937 (DOST Vol. I).
This entry has not been updated but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

Can, v. Also: cane, kan(e; p.t. cuth(e, cutht, cwth; couth (couyth), coutht (cought), cowth(e, kouth, kowth, qwoth; cwde, cuid, kuid, cud, coud(e, cowd, coit; culd (cwld), cuild, cowld, could, cold. [ME. can (kan, canne), con, OE. can, con; p.t. ME. (northern) cuth, couth, (midl. and southern) couthe, cowthe, early ME. and OE. cúðe; ME. coude (14th c.), e.m.E. could, cold.]

1. Can, is (etc.) able; p.t. could, was (etc.) able.(a) 1375 Barb. ii. 492.
Othyr ma, That I thair namys can nocht say
a1400 Leg. S. iii. 1079.
Gywe he can vndo that worde
Ib. xxx. 154.
Consele kane I kene [= teach] thé
1456 Hay II. 54/27.
A man can … eschewe perilis … be vertynasse
c1450-2 Howlat 120.
I can nocht say sudanelye
Ib. 235.
Confes cleir can I nocht
c1420 Ratis R. 568.
Hop[e] … can weill mak blycht
a1500 Prestis of Peblis 492.
The wyser man the better can he bourd
1513 Doug. iv. Prol. 240.
Syne … [lust] kan not hym selvyn hyde
1528 Lynd. Dreme 801.
I sall declare the suith … As I best can
1533 Gau 25/15.
Al the buikis … qvhilk thow cane ymagine or oders cane writ
a1570-86 Maitl. F. lxxvi. 1.
God, as thow weill can, Help the selie court man
Ib. xcv. 4.
That nane can keip hors, nolt, nor scheip
1604 Glasgow B. Rec. I. 272.
Sa that laidis … can nocht pas by vthiris
1616 Misc. Hist. Soc. II. 172.
I kan nevir find that he gevis any apparant reason
(b) 1375 Barb. i. 568.
He couth set tharfor na rede
c1400 Troy-bk. i. 408.
Scho couth turn in-to myrknes light
c1420 Wynt. ii. 95.
Scho … kowth weylle se for hyr mystyre
Ib. 475.
Thai couth fynd na lyvand man
Ib. v. 5331.
He cowthe noucht … Ourecum Saynct Serff
c1420 Ratis R. 668.
Of ilkane couth I tell a takyne
c1475 Wall. i. 252.
Mar witt of him … get couth thai nocht
1498 Halyb. 161.
The schout lay in Zelland or he coutht be lossit
c1500-c1512 Dunb. Tua Mar. W. 281.
This cought I do without dule
1513 Doug. ii. x. 135.
To suffir exile he said that he ne couth
Ib. ix. vi. 45.
The trake of deth ne cowth he not put by
1515 Douglas Corr. 68.
And gif ȝe kouth do so mekyll as caus the Kyng mak a post therfore, I war bedyttit to his grace
Ib. 69.
And kouth the Kyng solyst hys brothyre of Frans to haf that byschep rendyrryt to hymm ... that he mycht thereftyr be demanyt as efferis
Ib. 72.
As I kouth thynk eftyr my lytill wyt
1537 Crim. Trials I. 180.
All that we had, and couth get to borrow
c1550 Rolland C. Venus Prol. 268.
I couth nocht but dude
(b) a1400 Leg. S. xviii. 1.
It ware spedfule, quha-sa cuthe, To put in wryt
Ib. xxvii. 295.
Fra he cuth spek grathly
1453 Misc. Spald. C. V. 50.
Becaus he cuth nocht get it fra the bailȝeis
1489 Acta Conc. 102/2.
He haid charter … and cuthe nocht get the sammyn [etc.]
1505 Crim. Trials I. 46.
Because I cuth nocht apprehende him personaly
1543 Reg. Morton II. 289.
The said Erle … cuth nawise obtene relaxatioun of the said command
1546 Corr. M. Lorraine 172.
He cutht mell with na persoun [etc.]
(c) 1456 Hay I. 57/20.
Nane coud nombre the grete multitude
1497 Acta Conc. II. 59.
To mak procuratouris in the haistehest wise … that he coud
1500 Buccleuch Mun. II. 101.
Becaus I cwde fynde na mar mowabile gudis
1506 Treas. Acc. III. 139.
Ane … quhilk said he cowd mak gunnis
c1500-c1512 Dunb. G. Targe 224.
I coud eschew hir presence be no wyle
1655 Hibbert P. No. 16.
15.. King Berdok 11.
Weill cowd he play in clarschocht & on lute
a1578 Pitsc. II. 120/33.
To haist the mariaige als schone as he cuid
(d) a1568 Bann. MS. 141 b/9.
Ȝe … wrett on as ȝe culd
1570 Leslie 251.
As thay culd on no wayis do
1578 Events Q. Mary 41.
I haif send … cheis of the best I cwld get
a1578 Pitsc. I. 117/26.
He wald lat the king sie that he cuild break thame
1591-2 Rob Stene 8.
Sche cold nivir spy the richt
1645 Aberd. B. Rec. IV. 39.
If present payment culd not be hade
1660 Ib. 185.
Vseing all the diligence … they culd

b. With ellipse of verb = can do, have, etc. a1500 Henr. Test. Cress. 601.
Siching full sadlie, [he] said, ‘I can no moir’
a1500 Gol. & Gaw. 443.
All that I can to yone king … , I sall preif [etc.]
1535 Stewart 18679.
With all the power … that he can, He movit weir
c1550 Lynd. Meldrum 525.
With all the force they can, Thay richt rudelie at vther ran
1603 Philotus lxxvi.
Thus I … may … vnkend pas out, For ocht my keipars can

2. In poetry used to form a past tense: Did.Originally a substitution for Gan p.t. Both can and couth are used with the same preterite meaning.(a) 1375 Barb. i. 330.
Sone to Parys can he ga
Ib. xii. 66.
Sic hardyment than can thai tak
a1400 Leg. S. vii. 113.
A gret menȝe com swdanly … & lud canne ȝele
Ib. xvi. 683.
In armis vpe he can hym brad
c1420 Wynt. i. 102.
Thai … lewis of the treis can pull
Ib. viii. 4352.
To thame in hy he can hym speyd
a1500 Henr. Fab. 257.
On nicht thay ran, and on the day can sleip
c1475 Wall. vii. 267.
This woman than apon him loud can call
1513 Doug. i. viii. 116.
Thus said Ilioneus, and sa can he ces
Ib. iv. x. 63.
Syk gret complayntis from hir breist bryst kan
15.. Clar. i. 478.
Ane litill dwerff fast efter them can gone
1604-31 Craig ii. 27/6.
Sad Venus wep't, and thus to mee can say [etc.]
(b) 1375 Barb. iii. 460.
The croune, that Ihesu couth ber
Ib. v. 97.
Thai … pitwisly couth rair and cry
a1400 Leg. S. i. 54.
Ay he grate, quhen he cuth mene Of his master swet spekinge
Ib. 60. c1450-2 Howlat 811.
The barde worth brane wod, and bitterly couth ban
a1500 Henr. Fab. 254 (B).
Full preuely cwth thay creip
c1475 Wall. vii. 1181.
The horn he hyntyt and couth blaw Sa asprely
a1500 Seven S. 219.
Than by the hand scho couth him tak
c1500-c1512 Dunb. v. 29.
Out of hevin … cought the wif gang
Ib. xxxiv. 39 (B).
The Dyvill … on him qwoth nod
Ib. xl. 4.
The tane cowth to the tother complene; Graneand … cowd scho say [etc.]
a1568 Scott ii. 115.
Sym to haif bargan cowld nocht blin
1560 Rolland Seven S. 414.
As it best culd effeir
1590 Burel Pilgr. i. xxiii.
The alcions … to the schore richt fast culd flee
1604-31 Craig v. 34.
And so … Through the wood could they hye

3. tr. To know, have knowledge of or skill in. 14.. Acts I. 336/2.
Thai mak thame maisteris and can nocht the craft
c1420 Wynt. iv. 1978.
He may be callyd a gentill man That wertu and fayr hawyng can
Ib. vi. 936.
Bot the schypemen trowyd noucht Off that twng that he cowth [C. couyth] owcht
1456 Hay II. 9/7.
Nane … bot he … that coud the poyntis … that to the said ordre appertenis
Ib. 12.
Bot first he himself coud thai poyntis
a1500 Henr. Fab. 144.
This cok … may till ane fule be peir, Quhilk … na gude can
c1475 Wall. ii. 292.
The peple demyt of witt mekill he can
Ib. ix. 127.
Thow can sumpart off schipman fair
a1500 Bk. Chess 633.
A king but letteris lykynnit is … Vnto a crovnit as that no gud can
c1500-c1512 Dunb. xliii. 6.
For any craft thay can
a1570-86 Maitl. F. lx. 51.
Thocht ane man all science can
1596 Dalr. II. 441/18.
Throw vse and experience scho could meikle of our effairis and was verie expert

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"Can v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 2 Dec 2022 <>



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