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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1960 (SND Vol. V). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

HOOLET, n., v. Also hoolat, -it; houlet(te), -at, -it; howlet, -at(e), -it (Sc. 1816 Scott Antiquary xxi.); hulote, hullat (Ork. 1885 C. Swainson Brit. Birds 126). [′hulɪt]

I. n. 1. An owl (Fif. 1710 R. Sibbald Fif. & Knr. 15, howlet). Gen.Sc. See also Oolet. Obs. exc. dial. in Eng.Abd. 1768 A. Ross Helenore (S.T.S.) 25:
The howlet screekt, an' that was warst of a'.
Kcb. 1789 D. Davidson Seasons 34:
Thy tow'rs but serve the turn Of keaws an' hoolets.
Ayr. 1791 Burns Tam o' Shanter 87–8:
Kirk-Alloway was drawing nigh, Whare ghaists and houlets nightly cry.
Sc. 1824 Scott Redgauntlet Letter xi.:
Amang the auld chimnies and turrets, where the howlets have their nests.
Dmf. 1912 J. L. Waugh Robbie Doo 49:
I sat there, gantin' and sleepy, . . . wi' heavy, blinkin' een, juist like a hoolet lookin' oot a whun buss. [This expression is used in Peb. of a shaggy or tousle-headed person.]
wm.Sc. 1920 H. Foulis Vital Spark 9:
I would as soon think of keepin' a hoolet.
Sc. 1956 Scotsman (15 Dec.) 9:
I couldna sleep for the bloomin hoolets.
m.Sc. 1986 Colin Mackay The Song of the Forest 64:
" ... I stood there with my back to the kirk wall, hearing all the wee rustlings and cracklings of the night, and telling mysel, 'Yon's a howlat, woman, no a bogle; yon's the wind, no a banshee's wailin!' ... "
Ags. 1988 Raymond Vettese The Richt Noise 16:
thae winsome craturies peeplin a tune
'ill be an houlet's denner gey soon.
Abd. 1998 Sheena Blackhall The Bonsai Grower 69:
At gloamin, it didna dwine neither, fur syne tuik ower the saft croo-croo o the cushie, and the greetin keen o the whaup melled wi the eildritch skreich o the hoolit.
m.Sc. 1998 Lillias Forbes Turning a Fresh Eye 32:
Nowt but a hoolit's skreich i' the mirk
An the trummlin o' beddit kye.
Lnk. 1998 Duncan Glen Selected New Poems 26:
But see the cypresses, hear
the hoolet, as on past smashed thrones
and temples.

Combs.: (1) horned houlet, the long-eared owl, Asio otus (Bwk. 1902 A. Thomson Lauder 277); (2) houlet-blin', blind as an owl, hence blind drunk; (3) jenny hoolet, the tawny owl, Strix aluco sylvatica (Bwk. 1889 G. Muirhead Birds Bwk. I. 292); (4) white hoolet, the barn owl, Tyto alba (Ib.; Per. 1957).(2) Lnk. 1890 J. Coghill Poems 89:
'Tis ten to ane she's houlet-blin' An' a' thing tapsalteerie.

2. Applied fig. to persons exhibiting real or imagined characteristics of the owl, e.g. peevishness (Sh. 1957), short-sightedness (Cai., Rxb. 1957), stupidity (e.Lth., Peb., Rxb. 1957), furtiveness (Rxb. 1957), or unsociability (Per.4 1950). Also attrib. Comb. houlat-like, “having a meagre and feeble appearance, puny” (Sc. 1825 Jam.).e.Lth. c.1700 A. I. Ritchie Ch. St. Baldred (1880) 127:
It issued in the question of fact as to whether said schoolmaster had called an elder or fellow Christian a cur carle, or souters houlet.
Sc. c.1715 Jacobite Minstrelsy (1829) 56:
Let howlet Whigs do what they can, The Stuarts will be back again.
e.Lth. 1891 Edb. Ev. Dispatch (1 May):
There's a new ane come to the Free Kirk — a douce lad wi' a daylicht face, they say, an' nane o' the hoolit aboot him.
Abd.16 c.1924:
Far wis ye slinkin tull, ye hoolat 'at 'e are?
Per. 1990 Betsy Whyte Red Rowans and Wild Honey (1991) 21:
I scanned his face, then relaxed a bit. His howlet eyes and sticking-out ears, the general look of his face, had told me that his intelligence was rather limited.

3. A name given to the night passenger boat operating on the Forth and Clyde Canal before 1850. Now hist.wm.Sc. 1951 Scots Mag. (Jan.) 318:
Just at this very hour, had I been there a century ago, I might have seen a “hoolet” go racing past in the gloom. In this forerunner of “The Aberdonian” or “The Night Scot” the man of business, having left his office desk in Glasgow, could sleep away the night hours and find himself next morning well on his way to his appointment with his Edinburgh contemporary.

4. A variety of angling fly.Sc. 1955 Bulletin (1 Feb.):
Akin to a large edition of the Coachman, the Hoolet gets its curious name from the fact that it's winged with a piece of owl feather.

II. v. 1. tr. To hen-peck, “derived phs. from the popular fable of the owl having all its borrowed plumage plucked off” (Per. 1825 Jam., houlat; Per., Rxb. 1957); intr. to go about with a miserable or downcast expression, to be solitary or unsociable (Cld. 1880 Jam., houlat; Sc. 1911 S.D.D. Add., hoolat).Per. 1924–57:
Ye'd be an awfae hooletit craitur if ye never went oot noo and again.

2. To go about at night in a secretive or furtive manner. Also found in Hrt. dial.Per.4 1950:
Where are ye hooletin tae at this time o nicht?

[O.Sc. howlet, c.1450, an owl, in sense 2. from a.1585; Mid.Eng. howlet, c.1450; O.Fr. hulot(t)e (16th c.), id., of Teutonic orig.]

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"Hoolet n., v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 24 Sep 2023 <>



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