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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.

SPAE, v., n. Also spay, spe(e), spey; spye (Uls. 1904 E.D.D.); and I.Sc. forms spo(e). [spe:; I.Sc. spo:]

I. v. 1. (1) tr. To prophesy, foretell, predict, tell (fortunes) (Sc. 1808 Jam., spae, spay; Sh. 1866 Edm. Gl., spoe, 1914 Angus Gl., spo; Dmf. c.1920; Fif., Lth., Ayr. 1923–26 Wilson; Uls. 1953 Traynor, spae, spey). Gen.Sc., but now somewhat liter. or arch. In Ork. only the pa.p. spode. is found (Ork. 1929 Marw.).Sc. 1721 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. 160:
Does Tam the Rhymer spae oughtlins of this?
Fif. 1752 E. Henderson Dunfermline (1879) 462:
The best of the toun went to her to get their fortunes spaed.
Edb. 1773 Fergusson Poems (S.T.S.) II. 137:
Nor doctor need their weary life to spae.
Ayr. 1785 Burns Halloween xiv.:
[To] seek the foul thief onie place, For him to spae your fortune.
Sc. 1818 Scott H. Midlothian xlvii.:
Spaeing folk's fortunes wi' egg-shells, and mutton-banes.
Dmf. 1840 Letters T. Carlyle to his Brother (Marrs 1968) 478:
Bad days are coming, as I often spae.
Ags. 1880 Arbroath Guide (9 Oct.) 4:
To gar the witch at Lordburn-heid Spae out her comin' fortune.
Sc. 1893 Stevenson Catriona iii.:
Gie's your loof, hinny, and let me spae your weird to ye.
Hdg. 1908 J. Lumsden Th' Loudons 85:
Shammin' to sell broom besoms, an' to spey The fortunes o' the cottars gratis free.
Sh. 1916 J. Burgess Rasmie's Smaa Murr (Iktober 19):
It's göd 'at da corbie spoes, whin he spaeks afore da craa.
Gsw. 1933 F. Niven Mrs Barry xiv.:
Spey your fortune from the palm?
Kcb. 1941 Gallovidian 11:
Some joke, spae fortunes, gie a sang.
sm.Sc. 1979 Alan Temperley Tales of Galloway (1986) 89:
Some, being considered women beyond the normal, spaed fortunes: some were quietly placated with regular gifts of farm produce or cast-off clothing, which helped them along.

(2) tr. with hand: to read, tell one's fortunes from (one's hand) (Bnff., Abd. 1971).Fif. 1897 G. Setoun G. Malcolm xviii.:
Now will I spae your hand.
Abd. 1920 C. Murray Country Places 39:
An' ye would get the white siller Spaein' the lasses' hans.

(3) absol. or intr. with about, o: to utter prophecy, soothsay, tell the future. Vbl.n. spaein, prophecy.Sc. 1725 Ramsay Gentle Shep. III. ii.:
May your spaeing happen soon and weel.
Dmf. 1810 R. Cromek Remains 91:
Gude ale's the medicine aft spaed of.
Dmf. 1822 A. Cunningham Trad. Tales II. 327:
Spae nae mair about uncannie things.
Rxb. 1847 J. Halliday Rustic Bard 165:
What mak's ye spae o' caul' an' want?
Gall. c.1870 Bards Gall. (Harper 1889) 23:
Its spaein' cam true.
Abd. 1900 C. Murray Hamewith 10:
He kent auld spells, could trail the rape an' spae.
Sc. 1907 D. MacAlister Echoes (1923) 167:
A' the nicht I'll spae.
Uls. 1953 Traynor:
In Inis Eoghain it is believed that a dummy can spae.
Arg. 1973 Marion Campbell The Dark Twin (1998) 86:
The matter was not discussed; indeed it went out of my mind. Ailill's anger and the spaeing had sunk together through the floor of my memory and lay somewhere in the depths below, like fish in deep pools, waiting for times not known.

(4) Combs., phr. and derivs.: (i) spae-book, a book of necromancy, spae in this sense having appar. been confused with spell. See Spell, n.2, 3.; (ii) spae-craft, the art of predicting the future; ¶(iii) spaedom, prophecy, fortune-telling; (iv) spae-folk, sorcerers, wizards. Cf. (i); (v) spaeman, spee-, spey-, a fortune-teller, diviner, prophet (Uls. 1929); ¶(vi) spaer, a fortune-teller, soothsayer; (vii) spae-trade, the practice of fortune-telling, prophecy; (viii) spae-wark, prognosticating, prophesying, soothsaying; (ix) spae-wife, a female fortune-teller (Per. 1915 Wilson L. Strathearn 268; Uls. 1929). Gen.Sc. Hence nonce derivs. spae-wifery, spae-wifin, vbl.n., = (iii); (x) spae-woman, = (ix); (xi) to spae by the girdle, see Girdle, Phrs., 2.(i) Rxb. 1802 J. Leyden Remains (1819) 69:
The black spae-book from his breast he took.
s.Sc. 1838 Wilson's Tales of the Borders IV. 332:
And I hae nae black spae-book.
(ii) Sc. 1724 Ramsay Ever Green I. 135:
Suthe I forsie, if spae-craft had, Frae hether-muirs sall ryse a lad.
Ags. 1880 J. E. Watt Poet. Sk. 65:
When gangrels ca' on her, professing spae craft.
Ayr. 1896 H. Johnston Dr. Congalton xvi.:
Spae-craft might be able to forecast some glimpse of the future.
(iii) Lnk. 1862 D. Wingate Poems 13:
Never again . . . The dark, sinfu' regions o' spaedom I'll dare.
(iv) Sc. 1871 P. H. Waddell Psalms lviii. 5:
That'll hearken nane till the sugh o' the spaefolk.
(v) Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 125:
God's Will be done; but Dee'l bedrite the Spee-Man.
Bte. 1733 Session Bk. Rothesay (1931) 423:
The elders are recommended to discourage all consulting speymen.
Abd. 1824 G. Smith Douglas 18:
Like some spae man readin' weirds ye seem.
m.Lth. 1894 P. H. Hunter J. Inwick 196:
A body disna need to be a spaeman to pit twa an' twa thegither.
(vi) Sc. 1820 Blackwood's Mag. (May) 161:
A spaer o' poor folks fortunes.
(vii) Lnk. 1862 D. Wingate Poems 11:
I had better the spae trade let be.
(viii) Sc. 1815 Scott Guy M. xi.:
There was some spae-work gaed on.
(ix) Edb. 1772 Fergusson Poems (S.T.S.) II. 90:
Spae-wives fenzying to be dumb.
Rxb. 1820 Scots Mag. (June) 536:
A fortune-teller or strolling spaewife.
Sc. 1827 Scott Two Drovers i.:
If you are feared for the auld spaewife's tale.
Sc. 1854 D. Vedder Poems 79:
Deaf Janet, the spaewife, she munted her specs, An glowered like a hawk i the loof o the callan'.
Kcb. 1909 Gallovidian XI. 193:
Looked upon as a clever spaewife by the poorer classes of the town.
Mry. 1914 H. J. Warwick Tales 46:
She read teacups fae hoose to hoose, an' she aye begood her spaewifery wi' — “Good news round and round and round.”
Sc. 1924 Edb. Ev. News (5 June) 4:
The feature of the night, apart from pierrots and the “spae wife.”
Gsw. 1953 J. J. Lavin Compass of Youth i. v.:
Charrin' a' day when she can, an' spey-wifin' at night.
wm.Sc. 1984 Christine Marion Fraser Return To Rhanna (1990) 163:
'Mind you, it would have to take a miracle but Mac's sister is said to be a bit of a speywife so maybe she'll put a spell on me, make my bosoms grow so big they'll sink the boat and all in her.'
Per. 1990 Betsy Whyte Red Rowans and Wild Honey (1991) 199:
... or an orange. Such things were almost impossible to find in any shop at that time, but auld Clemmie Reid was an uncannily gifted spey-wife and shop-owners would gladly give her them, if they had them, in return for having their palm read.
Sc. 2000 Kathleen Jamie in Alec Finlay Atoms of Delight 90:
All shells and bones
the spey-wife enters,
(x) Sc. 1822 Scott Pirate xxviii.:
The habitations of the gall-dragons and spae-women.
Edb. 1828 D. M. Moir Mansie Wauch xx.:
Dumb spaewomen — keepers of wild-beast shows — dancing-dog folk.

2. tr. To anticipate, to wish or have ambitions for, to look expectantly for. Cf. Bode, v.1, 3.Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 290:
Speewell [sic], and hae well.
Edb. 1844 J. Ballantine Gaberlunzie v.:
Ilka wanton young widow she spaes a brave sodger.

II. n. Enchantment, sorcery, presumably by confusion with spell. See Combs. (4) (i) and (iv) above. Liter.Sc. 1879 P. H. Waddell Isaiah xlvii. 12:
Stan' a wee, na, wi' a' yer spays.
Sc. 1924 Gsw. Ballad Club (Ser. 4) 33:
They showed him Wraiths and Spaes.

[O.Sc. spayman, sooth-sayer, 1420, spay folk, a.1538, spae, omen, spaying, prophecy, c.1480, spay, to predict, 1513, 1596, North. Mid.Eng. spa, O.N. spá, id. The I.Sc. forms derive from Norw. spå.]

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"Spae v., n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 27 Feb 2024 <>



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