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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1956 (SND Vol. IV). Includes material from the 1976 and 2005 supplements.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

GALLOWS, n., adj. Also gallus, gal(l)ous; galloos (Ork.), †gallowes; ¶gallace (Knr. 1895 “H. Haliburton” Dunbar in Mod. Sc. 22). Sc. forms and usages. [′gɑləs, -z]

I. n. 1. As in Eng., an apparatus for hanging criminals. Sc. phr. and combs. (sometimes with sing., esp. in place-names, e.g. Gallowhill, -gate, -lee, -muir): †(1) gallows-face, one who has the appearance of a gallows-bird, a villain; †(2) gallows-knowe, a hillock on which a gallows stood; †(3) gallow-lee, a piece of grassland where a gallows was erected; †(4) gallows-pin, the projecting beam of a gallows upon which the hangman's rope was fastened; †(5) gallow(s)-stane, see second quot.; (6) pit (pot) and gallows, see Pit, n., v.2I. 1. (1), Pot, n.1, v.1, I. 7.(1) Sc. 1725 Ramsay Gentle Shepherd iv. i.:
I crave your Pardon! Gallows-face, gae greet, And own your Faut to her that ye wad cheat.
(2) Ayr. 1880 A. M'Kay Hist. Kilmarnock 372:
Witches were led from the town to suffer punishment at the gallows-knowe.
(3) Edb. 1754 Scots Mag. (Jan.) 46:
A young gentleman was attacked on the foot-walk between Edinburgh and Leith, by three fellows, who carried him to the fields near the gallowlee, and there robbed and abused him.
Sc. 1828 Scott F. M. Perth iii.:
Bear thyself not as if thou wert going to the gallow-lee, but like a gay young fellow.
(4) Sc. c.1750 Mary Hamilton in Motherwell Minstrelsy (1827) 320:
To see the face of his Molly fair Hanging on the gallows pin.
Sc. 1827 Cruel Brother in Child Ballads No. 11 B. xxv.:
“What will ye leave to your brither John?” “The gallows pin to hang him on.”
(5) Sc. 1826 Wilson Noctes Amb. (1855) I. 91:
That day when I first entered the Grassmarket, wi' a' my flock afore me, and Hector youf-youfin round the Gallow-Stane.
Edb. 1869 R. Chambers Trad. of Edb. 64:
The Gallows Stone. In a central situation at the east end of the Grassmarket, there remained till very lately a massive block of sandstone, having a quadrangular hole in the middle, being the stone which served as a socket for the gallows. . . . This became the regular scene of executions after the Restoration, and so continued till the year 1784.

2. A band or strap of iron used in the framework of a door, a brace.Sc. 1705 Foulis Acc. Bk. (S.H.S.):
Mrch. 28: to the wrights for altering the door in williams chamber, lock, barr, cruiks, bands and gallowes at woodhall.

3. An erection (1) used by salmon fishermen for watching the movements of fish, “an elevated station for a view” (Lth. 1808 Jam.); (2) used for weighing hay: “three beams erected in a triangular form” (Ib.).(1) Twd. 1757 Faculty Decisions II. 69:
To remove a gallows and ladder erected . . . for the purpose of viewing fish in the river.

4. “The crane from which depend the crooks to hold pots over the peat fire” (Uls. 1931 North. Whig (16 Dec.) 9), a Sway. Also in 16th cent. Eng.

5. Fig.: a rascal, “one deserving the gallows” (Ork. 1912 Old-Lore Misc. V. ii. 71, Gl., gallows). Also in Eng. dial.Ork. 1908 Ib. I. viii. 317:
Da common galloos wadna leed tae me, bit jeust pat me doon for id.

II. adj. Also in Eng. dial.

1. Villainous, rascally (Lnk.11 1953).Ayr. 1786 Burns Earnest Cry ix.:
An' plunder'd o' her hindmost groat, By gallows knaves.
Sc. 1815 Scots Mag. (Jan.) 29:
He remarked to Payne the two men were gallows-looking fellows.
wm.Sc. 1835 Laird of Logan 214:
I've been to an attorney . . . to see if I can't make the gallows old Scotchman . . . cash up.

2. With weakened meaning and somewhat wide application: wild, unmanageable, “tough,” bold, daring, high-spirited; perky, impish, mischievous, impudent (Inv.1, Mearns3, Ags.18, m.Sc., Rxb.4 1953.w.Dmf. 1917 J. L. Waugh Cute McCheyne 65:
We should often ha'e been in the jile thegither, for he was a gallows falla was “Crafts,” an' aye made ithers galravitch wi' 'm.
Sc. 1921 G. Woden Money's the Thing 68:
An awfu' thing, sic a gallous lad he was — an' me knowin' him from a bairn almost.
Mearns 1934 “L. G. Gibbon” Grey Granite ii. 113:
She'll be able to sin as she likes and go free, with no need to marry the gallus childe.
Kcb.1 1934:
My little nephew, talking of the school prizes to be given in his class, said he was glad M. B. was not to get the first prize, adding “She's just a gallus thing.”
Rnf. 1935 L. Kerr Woman of Glenshiels 90:
“Fancy liking that crowd of gallus hooligans,” (she cried).
wm.Sc. 1937 W. Hutcheson Chota Chants 31:
Next morning they werena sae gallus and frisky On finding the barrel was empty and light.
Gsw. 1937 F. Niven Staff at Simson's xxi.:
He desisted from that gallus manner.
Sc. 1941 Scots Mag. (April) 56:
“But I was gallus then,” continued Tarn; “you know, game for anything.”
Per.4 1950:
She's a gallus lassie, aye fleein aroond wi the sodgers.
Gsw. 1950 Sc. Daily Mail (17 Feb.) 3:
“Gallus,” that indeterminate but much-used expression in Glasgow, means hair-brained in a gay and flippant way.

[O.Sc. has gallow = n. 1., from c.1420, Gallow-, in place-names, from c.1250, gallows, gall(o)us, etc., as in Eng., from early 15th cent., = n. 4., from 1542.]

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"Gallows n., adj.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 12 Jul 2024 <>



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