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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1965 (SND Vol. VI). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

NIEVE, n., v. Also neive, ni(e)v, neave (Uls. 1910 C. C. Russell Ulster 36), neeve (Dmf. 1808 J. Mayne Siller Gun 28; Ayr. 1811 W. Aiton Agric. Ayr. 693); naev(e) (Ork. 1880 Dennison Sketch-Bk. 54), nave (Ork. 1908 Old-Lore Misc. I. vi. 223), nev(v) (Sh. 1914 Angus Gl.); nivv (Abd. 1882 T. Mair John o' Arnha's Latter-Day Exploits 17), nive (Mry. 1810 J. Cock Simple Strains 137); nief, neif (Cai. 1872 M. Maclennan Peasant Life 203; Dmf. 1889 Trans. Dmf. & Gall. Antiq. Soc. 152); nefe; kneeve (Rnf. 1815 W. Finlayson Rhymes 57); kna(e)ve, knev (Sh. 1949 New Shetlander No. 14. 15); and dim. forms nievie (Bnff. 1866 Banffshire Jnl. (2 Jan.) 2), neavy (Lnk. 1884 T. McLachlan Thoughts 41); kneevelick (Sc. 1912 Scotsman (19 Jan.)). [m. and s.Sc. ni:v, nɛv; ne.Sc. nɪv; I.Sc. nev]

I. n. 1. A fist, clenched hand (Sc. 1755 Johnson Dict. s.v. neaf; Sc. 1808 Jam.). Gen.Sc., obs. in Eng. exc. in n.dial.; a handful, fistful (Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928)). Gen.Sc. Also fig. Ork. 1700 W. Mackintosh Curious Incidents (1892) 98:
Ye . . . did shaft your first or nive att his face, threatening to have beat him.
Sc. 1730 Ramsay Poems (1877) II. 345:
A greedy callan, half a sot, Shot his wee nive into the pot.
Abd. 1777 R. Forbes Ulysses 36:
Your heavy neives Guid muckle dunts can deal.
Ayr. 1787 Burns To a Haggis vii.:
Clap in his walie nieve a blade, He'll make it whissle.
Slk. 1820 Hogg Tales (1874) 276:
I wad hae stickit a' the rebel crew, an' their papish prince, the same way, if I could hae laid my neeves on him.
Fif. 1827 W. Tennant Papistry Storm'd 190:
The wives, as rampant in their mettle, With idle foolitch neifs did ettle.
Bwk. 1863 A. Steel Poems 48:
In very wrath my nieve is shaken.
Abd. 1887 J. Cowe Jeems Sim 14:
Betty digs her niv i' my ribs.
Ags. 1891 Barrie Little Minister xxx.:
“He holds the rain in the hollow of His hand.” “And He's closing His nieve ticht on't again,” said the precentor solemnly.
Sh. 1899 Shetland News (14 Jan.):
Ye wid get a nev o' lozengers.
Gsw. 1904 H. Foulis Erchie xxii.:
It's hung a' roond wi' hunners o' big gless bools, the size o' yer nief.
Rxb. 1925 E. C. Smith Mang Howes 21:
An auld herd wui a maud on, an a nibbie in eis neeve.
Ork. 1949 “Lex” But-end Ballans 23:
[He] pulled twa knaeves o' girse.
Sc. 1983 John McDonald in Joy Hendry Chapman 37 46:
Breengin at corrie and cleuch
nae mair;
tint nou in a snell neive
o snaw.
Ags. 1988 Raymond Vettese The Richt Noise 26:
My nieves are sair wi chappin
but nocht as sair as my dunched hairt.
m.Sc. 1991 Tom Scott in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 39:
Closed abuin his heid, he'd got baith neives
Ticht on the stentit rope, and free'd his haus.
ne.Sc. 1991 Ken Morrice in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 59:
Sae dabbit wi floor and stew,
wi guff o yeast, a duntin nieve
and sweaty broo,
I wroch and wrastle ...
Abd. 1992 David Toulmin Collected Short Stories 15:
He's been giein me the coordie lick for a lang time, and stickin his nieve in my face every day.
Arg. 1998 Angus Martin The Song of the Quern 54:
But, och, we'll thole it a, boys, an scowrie weather tae,
for we ken that Setterday's aye drawin near.
Wi a dirty sheaf o nots in yer nefe
ye'll droon the Banks o Ballantrae in beer.
em.Sc. 2000 James Robertson The Fanatic 182:
Aye, and they say noo that he couldna pray at aw if he didna hae it in his nieve. Did ye niver see the wee deevilock face in the wuid o't, ...

Hence nieve(a)fu, neeve-, n(e)iv(e)-, (k)nev-, knave-, ne(i)f(f)-, ni(ef)-, nee-, neffow, naffie, -y, neafful, neave-, nivvil, neifell, nimfu, a handful, fistful. Gen.Sc.; a small quantity, something small and of little value, a small person (Cld. 1808 Jam.). Also used as a v. = to deal or take in handfuls (Lth., Cld. 1825 Jam., neffow); ‡to handle an animal too much (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.). Cf. Nevel, v., 2. Phr. a nievefu o' Da'keith meal, a blow from the clenched fist (m.Lth. 1964). See also Da'keith.Ayr. 1785 Burns 2nd Ep. to J. Lapraik xvii.:
Their worthless nievefu' of a soul, May in some future carcase howl.
Sc. 1821 Scott Pirate xi.:
Ilka body grinds their ain nievefu' of meal in this country.
Rxb. 1825 Jam.:
Sandie, callant, lay down the kitlin; ye baggit, ye'll neffow'd a' away, that will ye.
Slk. 1828 Hogg Poems (1874) 311:
He neifuit in, and he neifuit in, And never could refrain.
Bwk. 1831 Border Mag. I. 9:
[She] harled a neifu' o' glaur thegither, an' clash'd it i' my face.
Dmb. 1844 W. Cross Disruption xxxviii.:
A nievefu' or twa o, gey coorse common sense.
Abd. 1871 W. Alexander Johnny Gibb xi.:
Awat ye may tak' a nievefu' on-been miss't.
Ags. 1894 J. B. Salmond B. Bowden (1922) vii.:
I hiv . . . a nivfu' o' hair, but I think it's tow.
Ork. 1956 C. M. Costie Benjie's Bodle 178:
Whit is Jessie deuan wae a knevfu' of girse on the middle o' the teeble?
m.Sc. 1987 Scotsman 21 Feb 4:
... I had gathered a neif-fu, he took off towards the shrubbery spinking what would have been owl-talk had the time been darkening.

2. Combs. and Phrs.: (1) ha(u)n for nieve, han(d) to ni(e)v(e), see Hand, n., 8.; (2) niveband, the cuff of a shirt (Kcb. 1964). Cf. Hand, n., 9.; (3) nevgrip, a fistful, handful (Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928), Sh. 1964); (4) nivlok, n(j)evlok, (i) id. (Ib.); (ii) a wooden handle or grip at the end of a hair tether (n.Sc. 1825 Jam.); (5) nieve-shakin, a handshake of farewell, fig. in quot. indicating that a gift has been made to accompany it, a “golden handshake”; also a shaking of the fist as a threatening gesture, a quarrel, scolding-match accompanied by such (w.Sc. 1880 Jam.); (6) neave-shearing, a method of cutting grain with a sickle and gathering it in small handfuls (Ork. 1922 J.Firth Reminisc. 48); †(7) n(j)evatag, a firm grip with the hands, a fistful, handful (Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928)); (8) staffy-neived, see Staff; (9) strang-nieved, having strong hands; (10) to sit hand and neive wi', to sit next to, cheek by jowl with.(2) Abd. 1701 Abd. Jnl. N. & Q. VI. 178:
Ane ellne of Holland to be nivebands to my cuyfes.
(5) Sc. 1820 Blackwood's Mag. (Aug.) 508:
Sic a braw nieve-shaking's no to be got when the warld's wind leaves the carcase of ilka uncannie carlin.
(9) Ags. 1921 V. Jacob Bonnie Joann 26:
Bauld-he'rted, strang-nieved, bred an' born In this auld toon o' mine.
(10) Slk. 1822 Hogg Siege of Rxb. (1874) xi.:
He has sitten at his supper hand and neive wi' the deil.

3. The handgrip of an oar (Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928); Ork. 1929 Marw.; I.Sc. 1964).Sh. 1886 J. Burgess Sk. and Poems 93:
Sometimes da foremist een wid tak' his warp ower süne, an' bung da puir eftmist sowl i' da back wi' da nevs o' da aers.
Ork. 1893 W. R. Mackintosh Peat-fires 254:
One heroine, seeing a soldier seizing the boat's gunwale, laid hold of the broken “nave” of an oar.

4. In pl.: fighting with bare fists, sparring, fisticuffs (I.Sc. 1964).Edb. 1791 J. Learmont Poems 61:
Whan sic as us chance to fa' out, At nieves we tak a bangin' about.
Sh. 1934:
Dey wir at da nevs.

5. A measure of length or height, a hand's-breadth. For phr. horned nive, see Horn.Sc. 1701 J. Brand Descr. Zetland 117:
They are of a less Size then the Orkney Horses, for some will be but 9 others 10 Nives of Hand-breadths high, and they will be thought big Horses there if eleven.
Sc. 1725 Ramsay Gentle Shep. IV. i.:
Sir William, like a Warlock, wi' a Beard Five Nives in Length, and white as driven Snaw.

6. In children's games: (1) in marbles: a method of cheating in delivering the shot by advancing the hand too far. Dim. nievie (Lnk. 1927). Cf. Sheevie. Comb.: falling nieve, id.; (2) in dim. pl. form: a game in which children lay their hands alternately, one's on top of the other's, and withdraw and replace them in turns with increasing speed (Ags. 1948 J. C. Rodger Lang Strang 8, neivies). Cf. Dishaloof and het hands s.v. Het, adj., 1.; (3) in comb. nievie-nievie nicknack (Sc. 1847 R. Chambers Pop. Rhymes 256), n(e)iv(i)e-n(e)iv(i)e-, neevie-neevie- (Per. 1895 R. Ford Tayside Songs 45), nievy-navy-(Uls. 1880 Patterson Gl.), ne(i)vy-ne(i)vy-, neevy- (Lnl. 1868 A. Dawson Rambling Recoll. 23), -knack (Ayr. 1839 Ayrshire Inspirer (2 Nov.) 43), nivey-nivey- (w.Sc. 1854 Laird of Logan 364), nivie-, y-, neivie, neiveie-, nivvie nivvie neek nack, nivey neecknack (ne.Sc. 1881 W. Gregor Folk-Lore 163), nivvi nivvi nak nak (Fif. 1899 J. Colville Vernacular 13), kneevie, kneevie, nick knack (Ayr. 1880 Jam. s.v. Knack), neevieneevie-nack (Abd. 1962), a guessing game or method of casting lots, in which one child hides an object in one of his clenched fists, gen. behind his back, and the other or others must guess which (Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 363; Ags. 1893 J. Inglis Oor Ain Folk vii.; Lnk. 1895 W. C. Fraser Whaups of Durley iii.; Abd. 1903 E.D.D.; Sc. 1950 F. D. Gullen Trad. Number Rhymes 128; Uls. 1953 Traynor). Gen.Sc. Used fig. in 1806 quot. Also in Eng. dials.(1) Abd. 1904 Abd. Wkly. Free Press (9 April):
The “funk” was considered much less objectionable than the “nieve”, which crept gradually forward till well over the stroke, and was thus a mode of cheating other players. . . . The summit of dishonesty, however, was reached by that player who employed the “falling neive”. This style resulted from a lad taking aim and then rising on his toes till he lost balance and almost fell half-way towards the ring before he delivered his marble.
(3) Sc. 1735 Groan from a True Blue Presbyterian 16:
They never mind that quick-sighted People see them playing Keek bo and Nive, nive, nick nack.
Sc. 1824 Scott St. Ronan's W. xxx.:
I played it awa at neevie-neevie-nick-nack.
Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 364:
If the guesser is so fortunate as to guess the hand the prize is in, it becomes his property; the whirling of the fists is attended with the following rhyme: “Neiveie, Neiveie, nick, nack, What ane will ye take? The right or the wrang; Guess or it be lang, Plot awa and plan, I'll cheat you gif I can.”
Rxb. 1833 A. Hall Sc. Borderer (1874) 24:
Others . . . playing at nevy-nevy-nick-nack, or other profane games.
Edb. 1844 J. Ballantine Miller vi.:
Neevie, neevie, nick-nack, Stands at the door back.
Bnff. 1894 A. B. Gomme Trad. Games I. 410:
At Keith this game is played at Christmas, and by two. The stakes are commonly pins. One player conceals a pin, or more if agreed on, in one of his hands. He then closes both hands and twirls them over each other, in front of the other player, and repeats the words — Nivvie, nivvie-neek-nack, Filk (or filk han') 'ill ye tack? Tack the richt, tack the left, An' a'll deceave ye gehn I can.
Abd. 1924 Swatches o' Hamespun 61:
Noo gang an' stan anent yer mam An' play at nivie-nick-nack.

II. v. 1. Of fish: to catch in the hand, to guddle (Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 328; Dmf. a.1838 Jam. MSS. X. 213).Dmf. 1805 Scots Mag. (May) 354:
When you and I appointed the glen for our rendezvous, or met on the banks of the burn to neive trouts.
Kcb. 1815 J. Gerrond Poems 114:
Minnons, pars, and eels he stabbit, Nieved aneth brow and stane.

2. To open and shut (the hand), to clench (the fist) spasmodically.Sc. 1928 Scots Mag. (July) 273:
He saw that ane o' them neived somwhat in the clutch o' the deidthraw.

3. In marbles: to cheat as in n., 6. (1).Abd. 1904 Abd. Wkly. Free Press (9 April):
The strictly honest boy would neither “neive”, or “funk” , fall on the ring, nor squabble over a marble being in or out.

[O.Sc. newe, nave, fist(s), 1375, neful, a handful, a.1400, nevie nevie nak, a guessing game, a.1585, neiff, to strike with the fist, 1606; Mid.Eng. neve, O.N. hnefi, a fist, hnefa, to clasp with the fist.]

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"Nieve n., v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 21 Jul 2024 <>



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