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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1941 (SND Vol. II). Includes material from the 1976 and 2005 supplements.

CANTRIP, CANTRAIP, Cantrap, Cantrup, n. Mostly used in pl. and sometimes attrib. Gen.Sc. [′kɑntrɪp, ′kɑntrĕp]

1. A charm, spell, incantation; magic.Sc. 1725 Ramsay Gentle Shepherd Act II. Sc. ii. in Poems (1728):
Here Mausy lives, a Witch, that for sma' Price Can cast her Cantraips, and give me Advice.
Mry. 1873 J. Brown Round Table Club 361:
An' noo begins the cantraps roond the bilin' pot.
Ags. 1866 R. Leighton Poems (1869) 294:
Now ye'll try your might on a cantrip sleight.
Edb. publ. 1779 R. Fergusson Sc. Poems (1925) 86:
Ne'er . . . deal in cantrup's kittle cunning To speir how fast your days are running.
Peb. 1805 J. Nicol Poems I. 110:
Then, by nae cantraip terrors scar'd, I'd catch th' Enchanter by the beard.
Gall.(D) 1901 Trotter Gall. Gossip 123:
There use't tae be lots o' cantraips cairry't on for curin orra bits o' troubles an complents.
Rxb. 1820 in Edb. Mag. (June) 535/1:
The career of their misfortunes was only checked by their . . . taking out, and burning the heart of one of the horses that had died through their mischievous cantrips.

Comb.: †cantrip-time, “the season for practising magical arts” (Sc. 1825 Jam.2).Sc. 1820 Blackwood Mag. (Aug.) 513:
I mauna cast thee awa on the corse o' an auld carline, but keep thee cozie against cantrip-time.

2. A trick, antic, piece of mischief. This is the more common use in present-day Sc.Mry. 1887 J. Thomson Recoll. Speyside Par. 94:
Oh, the limmer! He's nae the first ane that she's played her cantrips wi'.
Abd. 1991 Douglas Kynoch in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 87:
An whiles, yon haan o hers that straikit me sae croose
Made on as though tae flyte bairn cantrips nae that douce.
Abd. 2000 Sheena Blackhall The Singing Bird 44:
An infinity o lichts
That ding oor human cantrips intae smachrie -
A pucklie smush
Ooto the wallopin faulds
O the pooch o time.
m.Sc. 1991 William Neill in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 48:
Thay hae thair freens athin this keep
whaur traison's cantrips growe,
an while ye're liggin fast asleep
they'll sett the hoose alowe.
Arg. 1907 N. Munro Daft Days xi.:
If your Auntie Bell comes in she'll — she'll skin me alive for letting you play such cantrips with her candles.
Ayr. 1822 Galt Sir A. Wylie II. xx.:
“Come, come, lucky,” cried our hero, “none of your antic cantrips with me.”

[O.Sc. cantrip, cantrap, a harmful spell or charm, earliest quot. 1597 (D.O.S.T.). Origin obscure, but for first element cf. Cant, v.1 Despite phonological difficulties it is just poss. that the word is a corruption of Gael. canntaireachd, the system of musical notation consisting of a series of otherwise meaningless syllables memorised by pipers in learning their tunes. Hence applied to a kind of magic abracadabra.]

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"Cantrip n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 1 Jul 2022 <>



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