Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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GLEG, adj. Also glegg; glig(g) (Sh.), gleig (Sc. 1911 S.D.D.; m.Lth.1 1954); irreg. clegg (Gsw. 1877 A. G. Murdoch Laird's Lykewake 140), and gleck (Sc. 1809 T. Donaldson Poems, Gl.). [Sc. glɛg, Sh., Per. glɪg]

1. Of persons: (1) Quick, keen of perception by any of the senses, esp. the sight, freq. with o(f), i(n), with the organ or faculty specified (Sc. 1808 Jam.). Gen.Sc. Edb. 1773  R. Fergusson Poems (1925) 48:
Had na' a cadie, wi' his lanthorn, Been gleg enough to hear them bant'rin.
Sc. 1819  J. Rennie St Patrick III. iv.:
I'm no that dune gleg i' the hearin', sin I teuk a sair caul', Beltane was a twa year.
Ayr. 1834  M. Porteous Real “Souter Johnny” (1858) 11:
He was . . . As gleg's a hawk, as teuch's a wuddie.
Lnl. 1881  H. Shanks Musings 237:
And hale and hearty still is he, And glib o' gab, and gleg o' e'e.
ne.Sc. 1884  D. Grant Lays 66:
Wis far fae gleg o' sight, An' got but just a glimmer o' 's.
Dmf. 1917  J. L. Waugh Cute McCheyne 26:
I'm no sae gleg o' hearin' as I used to be.
Bnff. 1923  Bnffsh. Jnl. (27 March) 7:
Hor. It's on twal. Mar. Ay, it's chappit. Hor. Is't fegs? Ye're gleg i' lug!
Lnk. 1927  G. Rae Where Falcons Fly xx.:
Soond trevels a lang gait in water, an' a troot's a gey gleg bit beastie.
Sc. 1944  Scots Mag. (March) 469:
But gleg and all as he is, he will not find out from my serene countenance . . . that our sole household help is not likewise our stay.

(2) Quick in action or movement; nimble, adroit (Sh., Inv., m. and s.Sc. 1954). Also fig. Also in n.Eng. dial. Edb. 1773  R. Fergusson Poems (1925) 82:
I may as weel bid Arthur's Seat To Berwick-Law make gleg retreat.
Sc. 1814  Scott Waverley (1817) xlii.:
He's gleg aneuch at the broadsword and target.
Ayr. 1830  Galt Lawrie Todd ii. vi.:
Alek Preston, a spirited, clever, venturesome creature, as gleg as a trout.
Ags. 1880  J. E. Watt Poet. Sk. 81:
He is gleg i' the girn, but slaw i' the bite.
Sc. 1886  Stevenson Kidnapped xx.:
Ye're no very gleg at the jumping!
Kcb. 1894  Crockett Raiders vii.:
Gleg wi' the knife as a souter wi' his elshin.
Sc. 1922  P. Macgillivray Bog-Myrtle 111:
But wee wild things are gleg at joukin' And unco slee.

(3) With reference to mental activity: keen, smart, alert, quick-witted (Sh., ne., m. and s.Sc., Uls. 1954). Edb. 1773  R. Fergusson Poems (1925) 4:
An' ay right gleg, whan things are out o' joint, At sattlin o' a nice or kittle point.
Ayr. 1786  Burns Inventory 42–43:
Till, faith! wee Davoc's grown sae gleg, Tho' scarcely langer than your leg.
Sc. 1816  Scott Antiquary xxv.:
But I was aye gleg at my duty — naebody ever catched Edie sleeping.
wm.Sc. 1837  Laird of Logan 123:
Every one was glegger nor his neighbour in looking after the main chance.
Per. 1878  R. Ford Hame-Spun Lays 29:
But glegest rogues are aft' mista'en, An' Jock was slee as they were fain.
Bnff. 1924  Swatches o' Hamespun 83:
Though gleg for a' pleeshur, they war deef te the soon' O' the cries o' them that wid lead them.
Fif. 1929  A. Taylor Bitter Bread 123:
Ye're gey gleg wi' your commands this morning.

Phr.: gleg at (i(n), o(f), on) the uptak(e), quick of understanding, quick-witted, clever. Gen.Sc.; also in Cum. dial. Sc. 1816  Scott O. Mortality vii.:
Everybody's no sae gleg at the uptake as ye are yoursel, mither.
Slk. 1829  Hogg Cameronian Preacher's Tale (1874) 215:
It happened in the dark, when a man like me, no that gleg of the uptauk, might confound persons.
Abd. 1863  G. Macdonald D. Elginbrod I. iv.:
Ye see, Maister Sutherlan', I'm no gleg at the uptak, an' it jist taks me twise as lang as ither fowk to see to the ootside o' a thing.
Edb. 1894  P. H. Hunter J. Inwick i.:
He wasna very gleg o' the uptak, Dave, an' mony's the lauch we got oot o' him.
Ayr. 1913  J. Service Memorables viii.:
I grew glegger in the uptak.

Extended usages: †(4) Sharp, pert (in manner). Only in phr. gleg and impudent. Ayr. 1821  Galt Ayrshire Legatees x.:
Then the drivers were so gleg and impudent, that it was worse than martyrdom to come with them.
Sc. 1824  Blackwood's Mag. (July) 89:
You should neither look stupid nor gaping like the Stot — nor gleg and impudent like your friend wee Francie, but pleasant and pretty as I do.

†(5) Keen (in appetite), hungry. Also in n.Yks. dial. Sc. 1816  Scott O. Mortality viii.:
I'm gay gleg at meal time, and sae is my mither, lang may it be sae.
[For phr. as gleg as a gled = as hungry as a hunter, see Gled, n., 4. (1), first quot.]

(6) Lively, sprightly (ne.Sc., Per., 1954); merry (Sh.10 1954). Also in n.Lin. dial. Sc. 1818  Scott H. Midlothian ix.:
The “body” . . . “looking unco gleg and canty, she didna ken what he might be coming out wi' next.”
Ayr. 1822  Galt Steam-boat ii.:
He was a gleg and birky callan, no to be set down by a look or a word.
Edb. 1823  M. & M. Corbett Petticoat Tales I. 226:
How are ye, miller? Ye look as gleg as if ye had got a prize in the lottery.
Wgt. 1877  G. Fraser Sketches 209:
An' loud he leuch at the crack, I wat, An' was gleg in their revelrie.
ne.Sc. 1929  M. W. Simpson Day's End 36:
April's up an' buskit braw — Trig, an' gleg, an' unco thrang.

2. With reference to the faculties or senses, esp. that of sight: sharp, quick, keen (Ags., Per., Fif., Peb., wm.Sc., Rxb. 1954). Also ppl. form ¶gleggit. Sc. 1721  Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. 158:
Then wak'ning, looks about with glegger Glour, And learns to thrive, wha ne'er thought on't before.
Abd. 1748  R. Forbes Ajax 11:
The gods tho' look on mortal men Wi' eyn baith just an' gleg.
Ayr. 1795  Burns No my ain Lassie iii.:
But gleg as light are lover's een.
Sc. 1818  Scott H. Midlothian x.:
What brings the Laird of Dumbiedikes glowering here like a wull-cat, (only his een's greener, and no sae gleg).
Edb. 1844  J. Ballantine Miller ii.:
Keep ye a gleg look-out for Mrs Forrester, and . . . tell her that I hae gude news till her.
Kcb. 1885  A. J. Armstrong Friend & Foe xxvii.:
Women hae gleg tongues an' their methods o' communication are unken'd to the lords o' creation.
Sh. 1891  J. Burgess Rasmie's Büddie 28:
His glig aald een, baid black an blinkin.
Ags. 1894  A. Reid Sangs 124:
Syne glowered aroond wi' gleggit een.
Lnk. 1919  G. Rae Clyde & Tweed 16:
Though this thorn-hedge may bield us baith frae Rouper-Tam's gleg e'e.
m.Sc. 1927  J. Buchan Witch Wood ix.:
My lugs were as gleg as a maukin's.

3. Transferred usages. Of things: (1) Sharp-pointed, keen-edged (of instruments) (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; Per., wm.Sc., Ayr. 1954). Also fig. Sc. 1728  Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) II. 152:
There was a Sage call'd Albumazor, Whase Wit was gleg as ony Razor.
m.Lth. 1786  G. Robertson Har'st Rig (1794) 21:
Tongues sae gleg might clip a clout.
Ayr. 1786  Burns Tam Samson's Elegy xvii.:
For, yet unskaith'd by Death's gleg gullie, Tam Samson's leevin!
Peb. 1805  J. Nicol Poems I. 107:
Uncertain whan Death snaps the thread Wi' his gleg shears!
Abd. 1826  D. Anderson Poems 73:
An' by glegg gullies their guts plough'd Up like sheep.
Fif. 1841  C. Gray Lays & Lyrics 9:
Time, Ostrich-like, began his rinnin', His scythe was gleg, — his glass beginnin' To shed its sand.

(2) Smooth, slippery (of ice). Also fig. Ayr. 1833  in J. Cairnie Curling 119:
Oh! lay a guard; the ice is gleg; Come creeping up snail-speed.
Edb. 1894  P. H. Hunter J. Inwick ix.:
The way he drappit his vice an' rowed his een was sign eneuch that he was on gleg ice, an' kent it.

(3) Smooth-working, quick-acting, “of locks, etc.: moving easily” (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; Ags., Per., Bwk., Arg., Wgt., Rxb. 1954). Also in n.Eng. dial.; in Mining: easily separable (of a parting or stratum) (Sc. 1886 J. Barrowman Mining Terms 32), “now anglicised as keen parting” (Edb.6 1944). Rxb. 1807  J. Ruickbie Way-side Cottager 185:
Now oil the wheels to make her gleg.
ne.Sc. 1936  Huntly Express (1 May) 2:
A steady han', a souple wan', A reel that's gleg o' spinnin'.
Per. 1950 4 :
“See that the moose trap's gleg”, i.e. ready to snap shut on the slightest pressure.

4. Of time: sharp, prompt, imminent. Ags. 1822  A. Balfour Farmers' Three Daughters I. 103:
It was an ill time just now, sae gleg upo' the mou' o' har'st.

5. Used adv. in any of above senses. Sc. 1721  Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. 177:
The Lad wha gleggest waits upon it, Receives the Bubble on his Bonnet.
Ayr. 1789  Burns Grose's Peregr. viii.:
Forbye, he'll shape you aff fu' gleg The cut of Adam's philibeg.
Edb. 1791  J. Learmont Poems 162:
Gang busk your arrows — sharp your steel — As gleg as kuitlers.
Knr. 1891  “H. Haliburton” Ochil Idylls 116:
Glints o' sunshine glancin' gleg.
Lth. 1920  A. Dodds Songs of the Fields 25:
Hoo we chased the squirrel puir thing, Tae see hoo gleg it could spring.

6. Combs. of adj. or adv.: (1) gleg-eared, with ears cocked (wm.Sc.1 1954); (2) gleg-e'ed, sharp-sighted, keen-eyed, “quick to notice” (Ork. 1929 Marw., glegg-eyed; Sh., Abd., m.Lth., wm. and s.Sc. 1954). Also fig.; (3) gleg-faced, bright-faced; (4) gleg-gabbit, quick- or smooth-tongued, voluble (Sc. 1911 S.D.D. Add.; Bnff. 1927; wm.Sc.1 1954); (5) gleg-glancin', = (2): ¶(6) gleg-lipped, smooth-tongued, glib; (7) gleg-lug'd, sharp-eared, quick of hearing (Bnff.2 1927; Sh.10 1954); ¶(8) gleg-set, of the eye: sharp, keen; (9) gleg-sighted, = (2) (Sh.10 1954); ¶(10) gleg sure, absolutely sure, positive; (11) gleg-tongued, = (4) (Sc. 1825 Jam.; Bnff. 1927; Sh., m.Lth., Rxb. 1954); (12) gleg-witted, sharp-witted (Sh., m.Lth., wm.Sc. 1954). (1) Dmf. 1912  J. L. Waugh Robbie Doo iii.:
I wunnered what was comin' next, so I lay quate an' gleg-eared.
(2) Sc. 1721  Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. 208:
Yet Gleg-eyed Friends throw the Disguise Receiv'd it as a dainty Prize.
Dmf. 1912  J. L. Waugh Robbie Doo v.:
Yin has to be gleg e'ed when it's yin's breed and butter.
em.Sc. 1913  J. Black Gloamin' Glints 109:
The gleg-e'ed auctioneer cried — “Gone, A guinea, they are yours!”
Lnk. 1923  J. S. Martin Scot. Earth 39:
Whilst gleg-e'ed weans hing keen upon The least waff o' his hand.
Abd. 1928  J. Wight Word-Lore 147:
Bein' gleg-e'ed to idder focks' fauts, she wis mebbe files ower ootspoken tae mak' mony freens or keep them.
(3) Dmf. 1913  J. L. Waugh Cracks wi' R. Doo i.:
There was a gleg-faced, blue-e'ed son o' the smith's . . . to-day he has “Professor” in front o' his name.
(4) Fif. 1864  W. D. Latto T. Bodkin xxx.:
He tried noo an' then to slip in a word in his ain behalf, but Tibbie was ower gleg-gabbit for him.
Abd. 1868  W. Shelley Wayside Flowers 181:
Hae ye been cheated out o' gear By some gleg-gabbit, slidderie lier?
(5) Rnf. 1870  J. Nicholson Idylls 38:
The gleg-glancin' een o' maraudin' schule weans.
(6) wm.Sc. 1937  W. Hutcheson Chota Chants 5:
He snooved in ben as gleglipped as a gipsy, He thigged some dinner and a cup of tea.
(7) Bch. 1804  W. Tarras Poems 2:
Fou he tunes his lay! Till gleg-lug'd echo tak her dinsome rout.
ne.Sc. 1928  J. Wilson Hamespun 64:
I' faith! he is a gleg-lugg't birk, My towsey, trusty doggie.
(8) Per. 1857  J. Stewart Sketches 127:
A teuch auld carlie, wi' a gleg-set e'e.
(9) Mry. 1806  J. Cock Simple Strains 22:
And gin detraction chance to see Its fau'ts, wi' his gleg-sighted ee, Nae doubt, he'll try to smore it.
Abd. 1824  G. Smith Douglas, etc. 114:
There is gleg-sighted lads bear my banners, Tho' ane wants a bit o' an e'e.
(10) Sc. 1843  N. Macleod Crack aboot the Kirk 10:
Some o' the lassocks and lads are sae gleg sure aboot it.
(11) Sc. 1818  Scott H. Midlothian xii.:
I haud a' your gleg-tongued advocates . . . as legalists and formalists.
Sc. 1897  “L. Keith” My Bonnie Lady xiii.:
There's nothing a meddlesome, gleg-tongued old-woman likes better to give [than advice].
(12) Hdg. 1892  J. Lumsden Sheep-Head 205:
The sharp-featured and gleg-witted spinster sister of my Lord Glum of Bleakanbare.

[O.Sc. has gleg, quick in movement or perception, from a.1447; Mid.Eng. gleg, a.1300; O.N. gleggr, clear-sighted; clever; clear, distinct.]

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"Gleg adj.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 26 May 2019 <>



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