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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1952 (SND Vol. III). Includes material from the 1976 and 2005 supplements.

ETTLE, v., n.1 Also †etle; eitle; ettel; (e)attle; ittle. P.t. also ettlet. [ɛtl, ɑtl Sc.: ɪ̢tl Bnff.]

I. v.

1. tr. To intend, purpose, plan (to do) a thing (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Per. 1915 Wilson L. Strathearn 202; Ags., Fif., Clc., Knr., m.Lth., Bwk., Ayr., Lnk., Arg., Kcb., Rxb. 1944); of weather: to promise, have the appearance of (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.).Sc. 1728 Ramsay Poems II. 301:
She threw the Stane, and ettled Death.
Ags. 1776 C. Keith Farmer's Ha' 19:
And they wad think it a braw scheme, Whan our men's far awa' frae hame, Mischief to ettle.
Sc. 1818 Scott Rob Roy xxxiv.:
He drees the doom he ettled for me.
Ayr. 1887 J. Service Dr Duguid 46:
What we had ettled and hoped for came to pass.
Kcb. 1897 T. Murray Frae the Heather 117:
For a' the neebour herds aroun' Are ettled there to be.
m.Sc. 1898 J. Buchan John Burnet iii. iv.:
I dinna think he ettled it, for when he began I think he didna mean mair than to punish him for his words.
Uls. 1901 Ulsterisms in North. Whig:
As the mornin' was lookin' to be saft, and I wasn't very throng, I ettled to get there early afore the hurry begun.
Dmf. 1925 J. L. Waugh in Cadger's Creel 83:
Weel, there was a dancin' cless ball, ye see, at Swanston schule, an' Rob an' me were baith ettlin' to tak' Mary.
wm.Sc. 1986 Robert McLellan in Joy Hendry Chapman 43-4 28:
Ye're no for usin on Jamie what she ettlet for the coo?

Hence vbl.n. ettlin, intention, meaning.Slg. 1880 J. Blair Masonic Songs 160:
The ettlin's o' fate around us were tethered.
Edb. 1916 T. W. Paterson Wyse-Sayin's ii. 6:
To ken for yer ainsel a wyse-sayin, An' to grup what may be the ettlin o't.

2. tr. To attempt, essay, venture; intr., with at, to try, make an attempt at, strive (Abd.9, Ags.19, Fif.10, Knr.1, Slg.3, m.Lth.1 1944).Sc. 1725 Ramsay Gentle Shepherd Act I. Sc. i. in Poems (1728):
If I but ettle at a Sang, or speak, They dit their Lugs, syne up their Leglens cleek.
Sc. 1757 T. Smollett The Reprisal (1777) Act I. Sc. ii.:
He's a gowk, and a gauky, to ettle at diverting the poor lassy with the pupet-shew of her ain misfortune.
Ayr. 1822 Galt Sir A. Wylie II. xxi.:
Though we can ettle a guess at the substance of your raving, we maun have something more to the purpose.
Abd. 1871 W. Alexander Johnny Gibb xxxviii.:
He ettl't sair to get some o's awa'. But aw'm seer I wuss 'im weel.
e.Lth. 1885 J. Lumsden Rhymes and Sk. 176:
His plan had been to ettle an' clean the turnip bit as weel's he could, an' let the rest o' the farm gang.
Sc. 1922 P. Macgillivray Bog-Myrtle 105:
An' aye we ettle't the ither dram, Wi' dry oatcakes for a foond.
Slg. 1929 W. D. Cocker in Sc. Readings (ed. T. W. Paterson) 2:
Lassies noo-a-days a' want to dae something oot o' the or'nar. They ettle to dae a' things that men can dae.
Gsw. 1935 “J. Bridie” Tragic Muse in Sc. One Act Plays (ed. J. M. Reid) 84:
It's like ettling tae sleep on the big drum of a jazz orchestry.
wm.Sc. 1980 Anna Blair The Rowan on the Ridge 117:
"The Wilsons of Plewlands are saying Matt Hay's ettling to get his sister wed on to Sir William Cunningham at Caprintoun," she began.
wm.Sc. 1985 Liz Lochhead Tartuffe 22:
Naw naw, A biddable good-lassie must obey
Her faither if he'd wad her tae a puggy-ape!
Yir future's rosy, dinna ettle tae escape.
Dundee 1991 Ellie McDonald The Gangan Fuit 26:
They maun be ettlan
tae be hame nou,
my puir wee hurtit bairnies.
Wad ye ken them whan they spak?
Abd. 1996 Sheena Blackhall Wittgenstein's Web iii:
I sterted life as an artist at Gray's Schule o Art in Aiberdeen. Bit I niver cud catch the essence o the ferlies I ettled tae draw, sae the warld o the Artist wis steekit tae me.

Hence vbl.n. ettling, effort, industry, endeavour, striving.Sc. 1824 Blackwood's Mag. (Nov.) 597:
Oh, Mullion, man, it's a great pity you and Byron hadna been acquaint; there would hae been a brave ettling to see wha could say the wildest or the dreadfu'est things.
Ayr. a.1839 Galt Howdie (1923) 14:
With all their ettling they could scarcely make the two ends of the year to meet.
Sc. 1874 A. Hislop Sc. Anecdotes 223:
In a toun like ours, where we live by our ettling, trade maks us a' sib.
m.Sc. 1986 Tony McManus in Joy Hendry Chapman 43-4 169:
An they hae nae need o kisses fu on wine-reid lips,
And, adreigh o ettlins vain and o plichts wid gar them fear,
Hae, insteed o a hert, an organ teuch an gleidless,
A regular gowkie nock, guaranteed ten year.

3. (1) tr. To aim, direct (a blow or missile) (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Abd.2, Ags.19, Kcb.9 1944).Abd. after 1768 A. Ross Fortunate Shepherd (S.T.S.) ll. 597–600:
A gallant squire of freely gentle cast, Of sweet address, an' skill'd in courting art, That well coud ettle Cupid's winning dart.
Kcb. 1789 D. Davidson Seasons 167:
A leal shot ettled at the cock.
Ags. 1823 A. Balfour Foundling IV. ii.:
I had been doin' my best wi' the beganet, an' was just ettlin a push at a chap.

(2) intr. With at, for, or absol.: to (take) aim, lit. and fig.; to take as, make, one's objective, try to reach (Ags.2, wm.Sc.1 1944).Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 269:
Oft Etle, whiles hit. People who have made many Tryals to do a Thing, may hit right at last.
Abd. 1742 R. Forbes Ajax (1748) 5:
I'm sure I hae nae neef To get fat cou'd be ettl'd at By sic a mensless thief.
Peb. 1805 J. Nicol Poems I. 36:
Mang them twa auld maids, wha before War' at ae birkie ettlin, Wish'd ilk to get him in her clutch.
Ayr. 1822 Galt Provost ii.:
Ye're ettling at the magistracy . . . and I'll no let ye rest if ye dinna mak' me a bailie's wife or a' be done.
Lth. 1855 “J. Strathesk” Blinkbonny 274:
Yet bunkers aften send aglee, Altho' they weel did ettle.
Gsw. 1884 H. Johnston Martha Spreull 18:
Wha wud say he did wrang if he picked the bonniest young thing wi' siller he could get to fill the place in the manse he noo offered, but never ettled for me?
Fif. 1896 D. S. Meldrum Grey Mantle 256:
“A rich man ettling at heaven,” says he. “I read my Bible literally.”
em.Sc. 1926 H. Hendry Poems 99:
When bowls rin straught, a bonnie sicht, To whare I ettled.

Hence (a) ettlin(g), (i) vbl.n., ambition; (ii) ppl.adj., ambitious, pushing; (b) ettler, n., one who aims at (something) (Rxb.4 1944).(a) (i) Ayr. 1822 Galt Steam-Boat vi.:
But there was an ettling beyond discretion perhaps in this.
Arg. 1947 N. Mitchison Bull Calves i. vi.:
An unsanctified ettling and lust for the fleshpots.
(ii) Ayr. 1822 Galt Provost xxxi.:
Geordie will be to us what James Watt is to the ettling town of Greenock.
Abd. 1916 G. Abel Wylins 91:
But East an' Wast was less than fun To ettlin Weelum.
(b) Ayr. 1823 Galt R. Gilhaize II. xxx.:
His father . . . an eydent ettler for preferment.

4. tr. To guide, to direct the course (of); intr. with refl. force followed by to, at, etc.: to make for, direct one's course towards (Ags.19 1950).Sc. 1820 Scott Monastery xvii.:
And wherefore should he not keep a high head? They that ettle to the top of the ladder will at least get up some rounds.
Sc. 1827 Wilson Noctes Amb. (1855) I. 376:
Sae he taks to the soomin . . . ettles at an island a quarter o' a mile aff.
Lnk. 1838 M'Ilwham Papers (ed. J. Morrison) Letter i. 7:
I aye had a respec' for genius — an' ye war aye above me. I ettled after ye as hard as I might, but someway I never could get alang side wi' ye.
Edb. 1916 T. W. Patersonn Wyse-Sayin's ii. 2:
Gin ye'll gie tentie lug to the ca' o' wisdom, An' ettle yer hairt to guid understaun'in.
Abd. 1917 D. G. Mitchell Clachan Kirk 10:
Ye can kin'le the richt lowe in us, an' ettle us forrit to daur the Deil.

Hence ettler, a guide, inspirer.Dmf. 1910 J. L. Waugh Robbie Doo i.:
Hope! ay, it's the ettler o' youth and the solace o' age: lose it, and the first's a failure and the last a burden.

5. intr. With at, after: to try to express, “get” at (m.Lth.1 1950).Ayr. 1821 Galt Ann. Parish xxxvii.:
He, guessing something of what I was ettling at, was very mirthful with me.
Rnf. 1876 D. Gilmour Paisley Weavers xiv.:
It wasna aboot what thoo's lea'in I was ettlin' at, but what thoo's gawn ayont tae.
Sc. 1887 Stevenson Merry Men 17:
The spentacle o' God riding on the tempest . . . would be what Dauvit was likely ettling at.
em.Sc. 1896 “I. Maclaren” Kate Carnegie 384:
“You mean that though he's a first-rate young fellow for a clergyman, he does not belong to your world . . . is, in fact, an outsider.” “That's it — just what I was ‘ettling' after.”
Abd. 1903 W. Watson Auld Lang Syne 38:
“Did he gesticulate in the pulpit?” . . . “I dinna oonerstan' fat ye're ettlin' at ava, noo.”

6. tr. and intr. With inf. or followed by aifter, for: to desire very much, be eager (for), “itch” (for) (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 8, †attle, †ittle; Sh.10, Bnff.2, Ags.19 1944). Vbl.n. attlan, eagerness (Gregor). Found mostly in n.Sc.Ags. 1896 J. M. Barrie Margaret Ogilvy 2:
My mother's feet were ettling to be ben long before they could be trusted.
Ags. 1924 A. Gray Any Man's Life 38:
Ilka flower and buss and tree Ettles sair to crack wi' me.
Abd. 1928 N. Shepherd Quarry Wood xvi.:
She's been ettlin' aifter a shift this whilie back.
Arg. 1931 I. Burnett Ravens Enter the House 57:
It will be all over the place by now, and thir MacDonalds are ettling for a quarrel.

7. With inf.: to be about to, to be on the verge of (Abd.9, Ags.19, Fif.10 1944).Fif. 1894 J. W. M'Laren Tibbie and Tam 117:
Ance or twice he ettled to resort to physical power.

8. tr. To expect, anticipate, guess (Cld. 1825 Jam.2; m.Lth.1, Gall. (per Fif.17) 1950), sometimes with at; to conjecture, imagine, suppose, think. Vbl.n. ettling, expectation (Lnk. Ib.). Mostly wm. and s.Sc.Rnf. a.1810 R. Tannahill Poems (1876) 361:
Wi his beard he was ne'er owre particular, Et'lin, if Ann gaed him a squeeze or a smirk, The jags o his bristles woud tickle her.
m.Lth. 1857 Misty Morning 242, 261:
My cart's gaun awa this mornin' tae bring hame some dead carcage which was ettled tae belang tae you! . . . Ye'll see the crucks and thraws o' the cunnin' wilyart vagabon noo as weel's me, I'm ettlin'.
Lnk. 1881 A. Wardrop J. Mathison's Courtship, etc. 107:
Hoo wad ye propose tae settle? — Gi'e the Irish first redress, Deil kens what the bodies ettle Frae a House in sic a mess.
Kcb. 1894 S. R. Crockett Raiders xxxii.:
'Deed, sirs, ye favour him but little aboot the moo; but I ettle that'll no be the way ye kiss a bonny lass. Na, an auld cleckin' wife canna look for ocht else at this time o' day.
Ayr. 1901 “G. Douglas” Green Shutters viii.:
But what can a body ettle?
Rxb. 1918 Kelso Chron. (12 April) 4:
Everybody said they were gaunna be marriet. Bella ettled naething else.
wm.Sc. 1936 R. MacLellan Toom Byres 23:
Ye shairly dinna ettle her no to mak some show o bein affrontit.

II. n. Obs. or obsol. in all senses.

1. Aim (lit. and fig.), purpose, design, object. Mostly poet.Ayr. 1791 Burns Tam o' Shanter ll.211–13:
For Nannie, far before the rest, Hard upon noble Maggie prest, And flew at Tam wi' furious ettle.
Kcb. 1806 J. Train Poet. Reveries 65:
A' his ettle was the pickle Siller, lay in Susy's kist.
Ags. 1820 A. Balfour Poems 262:
Wi' unco bangs, to shaw her mettle, Right feared that she wad miss her ettle.
Edb. 1822 R. Wilson Poems 41:
The maisters sey wi' a' their might To fesh things to their ettle.
Per. 1857 J. Stewart Sketches 149:
An' I winna be put frae my ettle, Not e'en by auld Hornie himsel.
Lnk. 1893 J. Crawford Sc. Verses 68:
Was't 'prentice loon wi' deidly ettle Designed yer life wi' peel or pettle?
Ags. 1988 Raymond Vettese The Richt Noise 30:
The tide's aye grindin
and the roots o the sea's ettle gang deep
and silence maun coor us, and we sleep.

Phr.: in ettle earnest, in dead earnest (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.). Cf. Nettle-earnest.Rxb. a.1860 J. Younger Autobiog. (1881) 339, Note:
A race in ettle earnest commenced.

2. Effort, attempt, “shot”; a trial of strength (Gregor).Rnf. 1815 W. Finlayson Rhymes 85:
Sae here at last, wi' tim'rous ettle, I write in measure.
Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 8:
A wid like t' hae an attle at it. A dinna think it wid beast ma.

3. Chance, opportunity.Abd. after 1768 A. Ross Fortunate Shepherd in MS. Wks. III. 116:
I found an ettle, and on easy terms I soon agreed to go and carry arms.
Slk. 1822 Hogg Perils of Man I. iv.:
There's nae track; ye maun just take an ettle.

4. Ambition, desire (Per. a.1945 J. D. Roberton W.-L.).Per. c.1900:
'He's got his ettle out', said about a child who has succeeded in doing something forbidden, in spite of attempts to stop him.
Arg. 1947 N. Mitchison Bull Calves i. ii.:
My father had a kind of ettle that I should marry into England.

5. Expectation (Upp. Lnk. 1825 Jam.2).Rxb. 1821 A. Scott Poems 124:
Soon in the nuptial knot to meet, Wi' warmest ettle.

[O.Sc. ettle, ettill, etc. = to intend, from c.1400, = to direct one's course, from c.1450, = to direct one's efforts, from 1581, = to aim, from c.1470; vbl.n. etlyng = intention, from 1375. O.N. ætla. purpose, intend. The n. is a late formation from the v.]

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"Ettle v., n.1". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 6 Oct 2022 <>



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