Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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SKEAN, n. Also skene, skeen, skein, skian, -en; sgian. A short-bladed black-hilted sheath-knife or dagger, specif. one used by a Highlander, for stabbing or carving (Sc. 1825 Jam.). Gen.Sc., obs. exc. in comb. skean-dhu below. In E.M.E. usage referring chiefly to Ireland. Deriv. adj. skeenach, used fig., thin, lean, like a knife, shrivelled (Arg. 1936 L. McInnes S. Kintyre 12). Cf. Skunie. [′ski(ə)n] Sc. 1708 Observator (24 April):
In one side of their Girdle sticks a Durk or Skean, about a Foot or half a Yard long.
Lnk. a.1779 D. Graham Writings (1893) I. 135:
With durks and skians they fell a sticking.
Sc. 1822 Scott F. Nigel xxvii.:
Put up your swords, dirks, and skenes.
Bwk. 1876 W. Brockie Leaderside Leg. 29:
But on their skenes, like hurchen jags, They nobly keppit them.
Abd. 1909 J. Tennant Jeannie Jaffray iii.:
The sport they got learnt them to use the pike, the dairt, an' skeen.

Combs.: 1. skean-dhu, id., now commonly worn in the stocking with the haft protruding as part of the Highland dress. Gen.Sc. [′ski(ə)n′du]; †2. skene-ochil, -oc(c)le(s), id., specif. one concealed in the upper part of the sleeve under the armpit. 1. Sc. 1811 Scott Letters (Cent. Ed.) III. 37:
A very formidable knife which when opened becomes a sort of Skene-dhu or dagger.
Sc. 1828 Wilson Noctes Amb. (1855) II. 146:
You're a desperate sateerical auld chiel, and plant your skein-dhu —.
Sc. 1831 J. Logan Sc. Gael (1876) I. 339:
The Highlanders carried the skean dhu, or black knife, which was stuck between the hose and the skin of their right leg.
Abd. 1872 J. G. Michie Deeside Tales 138:
His Claymore, Skeandhu, an' a' his graith.
Arg. 1896 N. Munro Lost Pibroch 44:
A man who has gralloched deer with a keen sgian-dubh.
Sc. 1950 Highland Dress (Stewart, Christie & Co.) 7:
Sgiandubh is worn either inside or outside garter on outer part of right leg.
2. n.Sc. c.1730 E. Burt Letters (1815) II. 201:
Some of them carry a sort of knife which they call a skeen-ocles, from its being concealed in the sleeve near the arm pit.
Sc. 1814 Scott Waverley xxix.:
“Skene-occle! what's that?” Callum unbuttoned his coat, raised his left arm, and, with an emphatic nod, pointed to the hilt of a small dirk, snugly deposited under it, in the lining of his jacket.
Slk. 1828 Hogg Shep. Cal. (1874) xiii.:
The beldam plunged a skeinochil into my breast.

[O.Sc., skane, 1611, Gael., Ir. sgian, a knife, sgian dubh, a black knife, sgian-achlais, an armpit- or oxter-knife; sgianach, like a knife.]

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"Skean n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 8 Jul 2020 <>



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