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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1956 (SND Vol. IV). Includes material from the 1976 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

FYLE, v. Also file, †foyle. [fəil]

1. (1) To make dirty, to soil, stain, defile, befoul (Sc. 1755 Johnson Dict.). Gen.(exc. Sh.)Sc. Also in Eng. dial.Sc. 1725 Ramsay T. T. Misc. (1876) I. 179:
Now Arthur-Seat shall be my bed, The sheets shall ne'er by fyl'd by me.
Sc. 1753 Trial J. Stewart App. 84:
Being interrogate for the pannel, whether a piece which is laid by foul, will not, after a month's time, file one's finger, when put in the muzzle of it.
Ayr. 1792 Burns Willie Wastle iv.:
Her face wad fyle the Logan Water.
Abd. 1828 P. Buchan Ballads II. 227:
It's seven years and some guid mair, Sin her foot did file the flear.
Rnf. 1870 J. Nicholson Idylls 79:
Big hooses, kep dams, or fyle peenies, An' come hame like navvies at e'en.
ne.Sc. 1881 W. Gregor Folk-Lore 156:
A blacksmith would on almost no consideration work on Christmas — in common language, “file his ahpron.”
Kcb. 1894 Crockett Raiders xxii.:
See and no file your claes. I hae had siccan a wark wi' them.
Sc. 1896 Stevenson W. of Hermiston v.:
Hob . . . where the blood had rin, foyled his hand wi' it and haddit it up to Heeven in the way o' the auld Border aith.
Ork. 1908 Old-Lore Misc. I. viii. 321:
'E . . . fyled da knees o' 'is bits o' guid Sunday pants, telt a lock o' lees.
m.Sc. 1917 J. Buchan Poems 49:
Your lintwhite locks a' fyled wi' glaur, And hungry — my word!
n.Sc. 1935 I. Bennet Fishermen x.:
I'm nae goin' tae cook fish on ma new clean fireside and file it a'.

(2) Specif.: tr. or refl., to soil with excrement. Gen.(exc. Sh.)Sc.; intr. to evacuate the bowels (ne.Sc., Per., Slk. 1953).Sc. 1714 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. 17:
But tak good Tent ye dinna file Ye'r Breeks for Fear.
Ayr. 1789 D. Sillar Poems 111:
For wi' this health destroyin' dose I fyl'd at a-e, een, mouth an' nose.
Sc. 1818 Scott Rob Roy xxvi.:
It's an ill bird that files its ain nest.
Gsw. 1836 Justiciary Reports (1838) 211:
He then rose, and was angry because the child had filed the bed.
Rxb. 1847 J. Halliday Rustic Bard 163:
The ae warst wish that we can wish him, Is, that the bodie may be filed, An' naething near o' weet to wash him.
Kcb. 1901 Trotter Gall. Gossip 445:
A couldna tell ye whuten a yin o' them wus maist fley'test, but they wur baith fit tae file theirsels.

2. Fig.: to defile morally, to sully, debauch, smirch, desecrate, profane (ne.Sc., Ags., m.Lth., Lnk. 1953). Hence ¶fylement, obloquy, slander, defamation.m.Lth. 1788 J. Macaulay Poems 167:
Sweet Innocence, wha's winning smile . . . Can ne'er dissemble or beguile, . . . Nor reputations e'er can fyle.
s.Sc. 1856 H. S. Riddell Matthew xv. 18:
But thae things whilk proceede out o' the mooth come furth frae the hairt; an' they file the man.
Cai. 1872 M. McLennan Peasant Life 138:
I beit tae see tae ma ain karacktar, that it wus nae 'filed through ma ain saftness o' hairt.
Lnk. 1881 D. Thomson Musings 176:
I . . . think they are tae blame Wha backbite them that tak' a dreg An' try tae fyle their name.
Sc. 1896 Stevenson W. of Hermiston iii.:
You have flung fylement in public on one of the Senators of the College of Justice.
Kcb. 1911 G. M. Gordon Clay Biggin' 31:
He wudna file the name o' the wuman he loved by livin' wi' her i' open sin.
m.Sc. 1927 J. Buchan Witch Wood 10:
Fyling the wean's mind wi' her black lees.
Sc. 1928 Scots Mag. (July) 275:
Folk cam' to kirk but no' to fyle wi' fiddle Or sinfu' ongauns, or to squeal or driddle.
Sc. 1931 J. Lorimer Red Sergeant v.:
Shame on ye! Would ye fyle the name of the Borders, ye muck-hacks?

3. Phrs.: (1) to fyle a plate, gen. used in imper. as an invitation to dinner (Rnf. a.1850 Crawfurd MSS. (N.L.S.) F. 121 "Paisley slang"). (2) to fyle the fingers (hands, †thumb) wi, to have to do with, meddle with (something supposedly debasing) (Sc. 1825 Jam.; ne.Sc., Ags., Lnk. 1953); †(3) to fyle the kirk, to attend church, “to darken a church door”; (4) to fyle the stamach, to upset, disorder the digestion, to make one sick (ne.Sc., e. and wm.Sc., Rxb. 1953).(2) Edb. 1773 R. Fergusson Poems (1925) 53:
Wi' cairds like thee I scorn to file my thumb.
Rnf. 1808 R. Tannahill Poems (1900) 268:
Tae fyle my han's wi sic as ye, — Gude feth! I'll ne'er bemean me.
Sc. 1824 Scott St Ronan's W. ii.:
As for the letters at the post-mistress's . . . I'll never file my fingers with them.
Sc. 1886 Stevenson Kidnapped xxix.:
Would ye fyle your hands wi' crime?
Edb. 1894 P. H. Hunter J. Inwick 64:
“Me!” says he; “I wadna fyle my fingers wi't! Me an elder in your kirk!”
Arg.1 1929:
I wadna fyle ma fingers wi hur.
(3) Abd. 1887 W. Carnie Waifs 20:
They never fyle the kirk bit play mischief and ill.
(4) Sc. 1818 Scott H. Midlothian viii.:
Ne'er drink brandy in the morning, it files the stamach sair.
Ayr. 1887 J. Service Dr Duguid 121:
Ane of the weans . . . had fyled its stomach eatin' owre mony grozets.
Arg. 1901 N. Munro Doom Castle xxxv.:
A new fricassee to fyle a stamach wi'.
Edb. 1916 J. Fergus The Sodger 16:
He never touches cake, But says it fyl's his stammick.
Gsw. 1936 F. Niven Old Soldier 41:
Charlie . . . had fyled his stomach somehow (maybe with eating over many sweeties) and was as sick as a dog.

4. To convict, blame, inculpate.Abd. 1768 A. Ross Helenore 76:
Jean mair nor wonder'd sick a threap to see, An' wist na fum to file or fum to free.

[O.Sc. fyle, to dirty, pollute, a.1400, to befoul, c.1470, to defecate, a.1508, to defile morally, a.1400, to convict, 1488; O.E. fȳlan, to defile.]

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"Fyle v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 30 Nov 2023 <>



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