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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1956 (SND Vol. IV). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

FELL, adj., adv. Sc. usages:

I. adj. 1. Fierce, harsh, cruel, severe, stern: (a) with reference to persons or their qualities, obsol.Abd. after 1768 A. Ross Works (S.T.S.) 193:
How it began sure nane of us can tell. So then to you, she never can be fell.
Kcb. 1789 D. Davidson Seasons 73:
Upon a blasted oak the croaking ra'en, Fell thief o' gosling brood, has his retreat.
Kcb. 1814 W. Nicholson Poems 75:
Sally's tongue's baith dreich an' fell.
Sc. 1819 Scott Bride of Lamm. xxiv.:
The fell auld lord took the whig such a swank wi' his broadsword that he made twa pieces of his head.
Lth. 1894 P. H. Hunter J. Inwick 119:
Ay, there's nae dou't he has a fell tongue in his heid!
Ags. 1915 V. Jacob Songs 37:
Aye! she'd sort him, for, dod, she's fell.
Lth. 1916 J. Fergus The Sodger 11:
On Sawbbaths in the poopit he . . . Was sair on swearin', fell on faith that didna show in works.

(b) of things, e.g. pain, misfortune, weather (Per. 1915 Wilson L. Strathearn 208; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; Abd., Fif., Bwk. 1951). Derivs. fellness, n., acuteness, keenness; felly, adj., harsh, cruel (Ayr. 1792 Burns Frae the Friends i.).Ayr. 1786 Burns Winter Night i.:
When biting Boreas, fell and doure, Sharp shivers thro' the leafless bow'r.
Wgt. 1804 R. Couper Poems I. 250:
Fell cauld and danger press your life.
Rxb. 1826 A. Scott Poems 149:
Of tooth-ach fell, wi' gnawing pang, Nae longer couldst thou bide its bang.
Ags. 1846 P. Livingston Poems (1855) 75:
A' my hopes are hurl'd To fell destruction.
n.Sc. 1891 A. Gordon Carglen 115:
It was a fell time wi' me an' I fairly shook as I lay in my bed.
Sc. 1896 Stevenson Weir of Hermiston iii.:
He glanced about the audience in a sudden fellness of terror.
Sc. 1920 D. Rorie Auld Doctor 11:
An awfu' fecht it was to see, A fecht baith fell an' dour, sirs.
Fif. 1938 St Andrews Cit. (9 July) 3:
A fell blash o' rain.

2. Spirited; energetic and capable (m.Lth., Peb., s.Sc. 1950); sturdy, hardy (Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 203; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.).Sc. a.1706 Bonny Heck in J. Watson Choice Coll. i. 68:
When I was Souple, Young and Fell But Fear or Dread.
Sc. 1815 Scott Guy M. xxii.:
A bonny terrier that, sir — and a fell chield at the vermin.
Ayr. 1845 J. Ramsay Woodnotes 218:
Yet his rigs are weel till'd, an' fu' bein his stackyard, Sic a fell chiel is Sandy, that wons in the Aird.
m.Sc. 1917 “O. Douglas” Setons xvi.:
That last nicht he lookit at the fower bairns . . . and he says, “Ye've aye been fell, Tibbie. Be fell noo.”

3. Clever, shrewd, adept (m.Lth., Peb., Kcb., Dmf., s.Sc. 1950). Adv. felly.Sc. 1725 Ramsay Gentle Shep. iii. ii.:
O father, there is an auld man on the green, The fellest fortune-teller e'er was seen.
Sc. 1776 Dundee Weekly Mag. (26 Jan.) 616:
Whereas we hae a gude claymore in ur kist . . . and thof we be something down in the vale of years, yet we can weild it felly.
Sc. 1795 Scots Mag. (Nov.) 719:
Was I like Robie Burns, sae fell At poetry.
Dmf. 1817 W. Caesar Poems 110:
I trust ye will be unco silly, Gif ye forget your coxing hizzy [muse] — O man she's fell, then keep her busy.
Hdg. 1885 “S. Mucklebackit” Rural Rhymes 89:
Fell auld wives deep read in “art.”
Kcb. 1885 A. J. Armstrong Friend and Foe 229:
I want a fell kin o' cratur' wha can look ower a farm hoose an' see that a's kept richt.
Kcb. 1890 A. J. Armstrong Ingleside Musings 140:
But faith there's no a feller loon At coontin, psalm, or carritch.
Lnk. 1928 W. C. Fraser Yelpin' Stane 46:
She admitted there was something in him after all. He was a fell yin.

4. Of books, etc.: learned, profound.Sc. 1725 Ramsay Gentle Shep. i. ii.:
Ilk Day that he's alane upon the Hill, He reads fell Books that teach him meikle skill.
Sc. 1875 A. Hislop Sc. Anecdotes 124:
A woman who hated reading, was yet so fond of Dr Chalmers, that she replied, with a serious shake of the head, “Nae doubt, but it's fell readin' thon!”

5. Of food or drink: strong-tasted, pungent (Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 203); powerful in its effects, potent.Ayr. 1786 Burns Cottar's Sat. Night xi.:
The Dame brings forth in complimental mood, To grace the lad, her weel-hain'd kebbuck, fell.
Sc. 1820 Blackwood's Mag. (July) 379:
Here's some ewe milk cheese . . . fatter or feller never kitchened an honest man's cake.
Dmf. 1822 A. Cunningham Trad. Tales II. 275:
The wine of a witch's cup is as fell liquor as ever did a kindly turn to a poor man's heart.
Gsw. 1838 A. Rodger Poems 280:
For Mirran's swats, sae brisk and fell, An' Turner's snuff, sae sharp an' snell.
Abd. 1867 Mrs Allardyce Goodwife xxx.:
Oh! say awa, an' pree the cheese; Ye winna fin't that fell.

6. In a somewhat indefinite sense, taking its more specific application from the context: remarkable or considerable of its (one's) kind, in a good or bad sense; great, fine, large, serious, strange, sinister, etc. (Sc. 1825 Jam.; ne.Sc., Dmf., Rxb. 1950).Sc. 1728 P. Walker Six Saints (1901) I. 258:
That is a fell sort of a paper, it deals the beatle among the bairns, and gives me a cuff in the by-going.
Sc. 1745 R. Mackenzie John Brown of Hdg. (1918) iv.:
That was a fell way of snapering.
Sc. 1776 Lord Ingram in Child Ballads No. 66 C xxvii.:
Was na it a fell thing for to see, Twa heads lye on a coad?
Fif. 1844 P. Chalmers Dunfermline 337:
The language of the working classes is distinguished by some peculiar pronunciations and phrases, such as . . . fell used in a good as well as a bad sense, as a fell or large meeting, a fell or fine boy, a fell or clever person, fell or very angry.
Abd. 1845 W. Thom Rhymes 152:
The glowrin', fykin' carlie, The fell auld-fashion'd carlie, Wi' a' his glamourie.
Per. 1881 R. Ford Hum. Sc. Readings 63:
The hauf o't was waur'd On Jock, his fell cronie — anither rouch card.
Ags. 1889 Barrie W. in Thrums vi.:
A bairn's no the same to him, but a fell bit o' me was buried in my laddie's grave.
Fif. 1897 “S. Tytler” Lady Jean's Son v.:
It was a fell-like thing in you, my Leddy Stair.
Fif. 1900 “S. Tytler” Logan's Loyalty xxi.:
I knew the fell odds when Sandy Hunter was gone.
Abd. 1926 Trans. Bch. Field Club XIII. 118:
A fell share o' fat we come a' throw.
m.Sc. 1979 George Campbell Hay in Joy Hendry Chapman 23-4 (1985) 86:
Jimp an' trigg an' gleg an' aa,
ilka day is gled an' braw,
dae ye think the past is fell
an' the mair nations the mair hell?

II. adv. 1. Corresp. to adj. meanings: vigorously, energetically; sternly, harshly.Ayr. 1789 J. Fisher Poems 101:
But that he was brought up right fell, His gates made clear.
Sc. 1827 Sir Roland in W. Motherwell Minstrelsy 127:
But tho' she followed him fast and fell, No nearer could she get.
Sc. 1842 Whistle-Binkie III. 114:
Our Sawnies and Maggies, as hard as the horn, At e'en blythe will dance, yet work fell the neist morn.
Edb. 1915 T. W. Paterson Auld Saws 100:
Croon a' yer neibours' kindness By yerkin at it fell.

2. Very much, exceedingly; gen. modifying an adj. or other adv., very, pretty (mn. and sn.Sc., em., s.Sc. 1951).Sc. 1706 in Sc. Antiquary XIl. 103:
We ken fell well, according to the Proverb of the Chapmen that Trade with us, that all the Winning lyes in the first buying.
Abd. 1759 F. Douglas Rural Love 17:
Troth lass I'm nae sae daft about ye, But I can live fellwell without ye.
Edb. 1773 R. Fergusson Poems (1925) 83:
Some fock . . . Craw fell crously o' their wark.
Lnk. 1862 D. Wingate Poems 68:
My head's fell sair.
Ags. 1891 Barrie Little Minister x.:
I dinna deny but what a bonny face fell takes me.
Sc. 1896 Stevenson Weir of Hermiston iv.:
He was an auld man when he married her, a fell auld man.
m.Sc. 1915 J. Buchan Thirty-nine Steps v.:
Just you speak the Surveyor fair, and ca' him Sir, and he'll be fell pleased.
Kcd. 1933 “L. G. Gibbon” Cloud Howe (1937) 86:
He was broad and big, a fell buirdly childe, and it seemed fell queer that a man like that couldn't settle down to the making of money.
Edb. 1938 Fred Urquhart Time Will Knit (1988) 56:
He had on a pair of new tacketty boots and he was fell proud of them.
Dundee 1988 Ellie McDonald in Joy Hendry Chapman 54 29:
The spectators
cheered thaim on like they wir glaudiators
about tae dee. A pucklie wir fell seik seik
lookin oniewey.
Dundee 1990 Sheila Stephen in Joy Hendry Chapman 60 51:
" ... Jist iz Eh wiz thinkin aboot comin inside (it wiz gettin fell cald oanywie), Eh heard the wee Beetle car comin back. ... "
em.Sc. 2000 James Robertson The Fanatic 96:
' ... There was a young minister, a fell guid-lookin man, that aw the women were grievin ower, that wis pit tae the boots afore he was killt ... '

[O.Sc. fell, cruel, 1375, severe, grievous, a.1400, considerable, c.1500, very, a.1400, O.Fr. fel, cruel.]

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"Fell adj., adv.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 24 May 2024 <>



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