Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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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.

(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.

(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.
(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 15 May 2021 <>



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