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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1971 (SND Vol. VIII). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

SNELL, adj., adv., v. Also snelle (Sc. 1842 D. Vedder Poems 311), snill (Jak.). [snɛl]

I. adj. †1. Quick, nimble, active, agile, keen in body or mind, clever, sharp, smart (Sc. 1808 Jam.). Also in Eng. dial. Deriv. snellness, promptness, quickness, agility. Comb. snell-nebbit, sharp-nosed, astute.Sc. 1720 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. 151:
That in ilk action, wise and snell, You may shaw manly fire.
Abd. 1768 A. Ross Helenore (S.T.S.) 16:
Fu' o' good nature, sharp an' snell with a', An' kibble grown at shaking of a fa'.
Peb. 1817 R. Brown Comic Poems 91:
The Smith, black, bardy, wee, and snell, Served round the nappy ale.
Edb. 1842 Whistle-Binkie IV. 15:
E'en the snell-nebbit priest ne'er could win bye the lowe, But he'd step in to pree wi' auld Wat o' the Howe.
Lth. 1885 J. Strathesk More Bits 114:
The snellness with which “constable” Anderson separated the combatants.
Kcb. 1911 Crockett Smugglers x.:
Anthony Crossthwaite was a Cumberland man, and spoke with something of the snell vigour of his countrymen.

2. Of persons (or animals), or their words or actions; severe in manner or speech, harsh, snappish, tart, sarcastic (Sc. 1808 Jam., a snell body; Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 430; Sh., ne.Sc., Ags. 1971); supercilious, impudent (Uls. 1880 Patterson Gl.). Adv. snelly, harshly, with severity. Combs.: snell-gabbit, -tongued, having a sharp tongue, caustic in speech.Abd. 1748 R. Forbes Ajax 13:
[Diomede] wi' snell words him sair did snib.
Abd. 1787 A. Shirrefs Jamie & Bess i. i.:
Ye chear my heart — how was the billy pleas'd; Nae well, I wad, to be so snelly us'd?
Sc. 1816 Scott Antiquary xxi.:
He's snell and dure eneugh in casting up their nonsense to them.
Ayr. 1823 Galt R. Gilhaize I. xxiii.:
Ye need na be sae snell wi' your taunts.
Lnk. 1865 J. Hamilton Poems 145:
For my mither was thrifty an' snell, An' wadna alloo me to jauk or rebel.
Gall. 1881 J. K. Scott Gall. Gleanings 88:
I last saw the snell gabbit body Wi' face like a wadge.
Lth. 1882 J. Strathesk Blinkbonny 207:
He would say the snellest sharpest things.
Kcb. 1897 Crockett Lochinvar xxxv.:
The heartsome, snell-tongued, tender woman turned away.
Kcb. 1898 T. Murray Frae the Heather 56:
Master and mistress be sure to obey, Be ready, be faithful, tho' they should be snell.
Hdg. 1908 J. Lumsden Th' Loudons 174:
A mongrel messin was he, An' only snell and saucy Wi' wild stravaigin' men!

3. Of things: (1) hard, severe; of a blow (Sc. 1808 Jam., a snell straik; wm.Sc. 1971); fig., of fortune, etc.: harsh, unfeeling, rigorous, grievous (Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 430; Abd. 1971). Also in deriv. form snelly.Sc. c.1713 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) III. 151:
In a Clock cord baith tough and snell Some others think he hangd himsell.
Sc. 1755 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) III. 273:
[They] gave the scarlet whore a box Mair snell than all the pelts of Knox.
Rnf. 1791 A. Wilson Poems 225:
This is the last, the snellest lick That I'll e'er get frae fortune's stick.
Mry. 1806 J. Cock Simple Strains 116:
Sae wi' my stick I gae'r a rout, She fan right snell.
Sc. 1824 Scott Redgauntlet xi.:
That was a snell law, I grant ye.
Rxb. 1847 J. Halliday Rustic Bard 161:
You'll find it's snell, To bear misfortune's iron mell.
Abd. 1867 A. Allardyce Goodwife xxi.:
[The rumaticks] 've been richt snell wi' me.
Lnk. 1877 A. G. Murdoch Laird's Lykewake 191:
Snelly misfortunes blaw thick i' the wind.
Lth. 1882 J. Strathesk Blinkbonny 288:
Terrible snell snabs that tak's the wind mair frae a beast than a lang steady pu'.
w.Lth. 1896 Poets Lnl. (Bisset) 141:
Yet dark and snell's the bach'lors lot.
Abd. 1923 B. R. M'Intosh Scent o' Broom 19:
But the gate it is snell As I traivel mysel'.

(2) sharp to the taste, pungent, bitter.wm.Sc. 1835 Laird of Logan 172:
Gay snell mustard he is whiles.
w.Lth. 1896 Poets Lnl. (Bisset) 187:
Snell was the kebbuck o' auld Nellie Braid.

(3) sharp to the smell, acrid (Bnff. 1971).Edb. 1773 Fergusson Poems (S.T.S.) II. 110:
Antrin fock may ken how snell Auld Reikie will at morning smell.
Kcb. 1897 Crockett Lads' Love xxi:
The snell scent of the “Back-end” of the year was rising from the ground.

(4) sharp to the ear, clear-sounding, shrill, high-pitched (Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928)). Obs. in Eng.Rxb. 1815 J. Ruickbie Poems 44:
Scauldin' wives, wi' music snell, Tune up their everlasting bell.
Ags. 1818 G. Beattie Poems (1882) 199:
Douff like drum, and snell like cymbal.

4. Of weather: biting, keen, piercing, bitter, severe (Sc. 1782 J. Sinclair Ob. Sc. Dial. 107; Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 430; Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928); Per., Fif., Lth., Ayr. 1915–26 Wilson; Uls. 1929; Rxb. 1942 Zai; Bwk. 1942 Wettstein). Gen.Sc., rare in Sh. Deriv. snelly, id., chilly. Adv. snelly, bitterly, piercingly (Sc. 1808 Jam.).Sc. 1740 Scots Mag. (Oct.) 462:
The air sae snell, and drift sae cauld.
Edb. 1773 Fergusson Poems (S.T.S.) II. 109:
Boreas, that sae snelly blows.
Ayr. 1785 Burns To a Mouse iv.:
Bleak December's winds ensuin, Baith snell an' keen!
Rxb. 1826 A. Scott Poems 72:
In winter's snell advance, we see The brown leaves whirling frae the tree.
Per. 1835 R. Nicoll Poems 90:
The warm simmer gale may blaw snelly an' keen.
Gsw. 1860 J. Young Poorhouse Lays 131:
Till my rib-furrow'd hide is soaked by thae snell-degs o' show'rs.
Abd. 1871 W. Alexander Johnny Gibb xviii.:
Awat it was a snell mornin': Benachie as fite's a washen fleece.
Lnk. 1889 A. Murdoch Readings iii. 16:
There's a snelly nicht for ye ootside doors.
Slg. 1901 R. Buchanan Works 153:
Kingly winter, stere and snell.
Sc. 1925 H. M'Diarmid Sangschaw 18:
It was a wild black nicht, But o' the snell air we Kept juist eneuch to hinder the heat Meltin' us utterly.
Sc. 1953 Scots Mag. (Feb.) 369:
Whan snell wunds are girnin', an' runkled leaves are sere.
m.Sc. 1979 George Campbell Hay in Joy Hendry Chapman 23-4 (1985) 86:
I am mair dwaibly nor dwaibly itsel,
I am mair auld nor auld;
ma neb is blae; the wund is snell.
What is't? I hae a cauld.
em.Sc. 1992 Ian Rankin Strip Jack (1993) 98:
'No sign of a car?' Rebus asked Holmes. Both men had zippered their jackets against the snell wind and the occasional smirr.
w.Lth. 2000 Davie Kerr A Puckle Poems 57:
Hie wins, gey snell, dreich rain anaa
an saun fae Africa can blaw.

II. adv. 1. Quickly, keenly, eagerly (Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928)).Abd. 1739 Caled. Mag. (1788) 498:
[They] drank till the niest day's dawing, Sae snell, that some tint baith their e'en.
Kcb. 1896 Crockett Grey Man xlii.:
Going straight and snell for my Lord Earl's house of Cassillis.

2. Harshly, unfeelingly, with acerbity.Abd. 1768 A. Ross Helenore (S.T.S.) 73:
An' our ain lads, albuist I say't my sell, But guided them right cankardly an' snell.
Edb. 1801 J. Thomson Poems 73:
They'll look at him baith sour an' snell.
Gall. 1825 J. Denniston Leg. of Gall. 70:
That gart me speak sae snell to them.
Ags. 1872 J. Kennedy Jock Craufurt 47:
“What care I?” quo' Jock, gey snell, “I'm auld aneuch to mind mysel'.”
Gall. 1888 G. G. B. Sproat Rose o' Dalma Linn 118:
It used the Hielan' nowte gay snell, Yet spared their horns.
Kcd. 1934 L. G. Gibbon Grey Granite 200:
Baillie Brown rapped out his sentences snell and smart.

3. Of sounds, shrilly: clearly.Lnk. 1904 I. F. Darling Songs 116:
Then stop thae bagpipes, blawin' snell.

4. Of winds: keenly, piercingly, with a nip, chilly. Gen.Sc.Sc. 1728 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) II. 20:
But ae rough Night the blat'ring Winds blew snell.
Abd. 1924 Swatches o' Hamespun 62:
Fin soochin win's blew snell.
wm.Sc. 1980 Anna Blair The Rowan on the Ridge 14:
They were comfortable there with the close-fitting shutters keeping the warmth of the fire from escaping into the winds which blew in snell from the sea.

5. As an intensive in combs.: snell-dry, bone-dry (Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928)); snell-white, pure white (Sh. 1866 Edm. Gl., 1914 Angus Gl., Sh. 1971).Sh. 1893 Sinclair MS. 5:
Tack dis snell quite cloot i dy pocket.

III. v. Nonce usage in pr.p., blowing fiercely.Ags. 1848 Feast of Literary Crumbs (1891) 43:
Wild was the e'enin', the wind it was howlin', And souffin' and snellin' the drift it did blaw.

[O.Sc. snell, keen, of weather, 1375, vigorously, a.1400, sharp-edged, c.1400, quick, 1596, North. Mid.Eng. snell, keen, quick-witted, grievous, painful, O.E. snel(l), swift, quick, active. In adv., 5. the orig. is prob. Norw. dial. snelt, snjall, used with somewhat sim. intensive force.]

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"Snell adj., adv., v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 24 May 2024 <>



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