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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1971 (SND Vol. VIII).
This entry has not been updated but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

SPREATH, n. Also spraith, spreeth, spreith(e), sprith, erron. sprooth; spraich, spraigh, spreach, spreagh, spreich, sprach-, sprech-. [spreθ, ne.Sc. spriθ; spreç]

1. Cattle, specif. a herd of cattle stolen and driven off in a raid, esp. by Highlanders from the Lowlands. Liter. or hist. Phr. to drive a spreath, to steal a herd of cattle.Arg. 1710 Arg. Justiciary Rec. (Stair Soc.) II. 251:
Their respective proportions of the forsaid spraith and spoyll.
Sc. 1817 Scott Rob Roy xxvi.:
They take pride in it, and reckon driving a spreagh (whilk is, in plain Scotch, stealing a herd of nowte) a gallant, manly action.
Mry. 1821 New Monthly Mag. I. 142:
Pursuing a hostile clan, to recover a spraith of cattle taken from Badenoch.
Sc. 1874 A. Hislop Bk. Sc. Anecdote 273:
Taking “spreaths” or herds of cattle from their hereditary enemies.
Abd. 1877 W. Alexander Rural Life 63:
The unceremonious Celts were wont to come down in force upon the Lowlands, and carry off “spreaths” of cattle and other goods.
Sc. 1893 Stevenson Catriona xi.:
A man kens little till he's driven a spreagh of neat cattle (say) ten miles through a throng lowland country .
Sc. 1928 J. Buchan Montrose 220:
Cumbered no doubt with spreaghs of cattle, the army passed to the north end of Loch Awe.

Deriv. spreacherie, spreagh-, spraigh-, spreich-, spraichrie, sprechery, sprachry, (1) cattle-raiding; (2) booty, plunder, loot; odds and ends furtively acquired (Sc. 1825 Jam.); pickings, perquisites, advantages to be got on the sly; (3) trash, junk.(1) Sc. 1817 Scott Rob Roy xxvi.:
They lay by quiet eneugh, saving some spreagherie on the Lowlands.
(2) Sc. 1785 Scots Mag. (Oct.) 504:
For whan there's sprachry gaun about it, Ilk hungry b- - -h maun hae a tout o't.
Sc. 1814 Scott Waverley xli.:
It is unspeakable the quantity of useless sprechery which they have collected on their march.
Sc. 1821 Scott Pirate vii.:
He has comed between me and as mickle spreacherie as wad hae made a man of me for the rest of my life.
(3) Fif. 1825 Jam. s.v. Maighrie:
He had a gude deal of spraichrie; the latter being used to signify what is of less value, a collection of trifling articles.
Edb. 1828 D. M. Moir Mansie Wauch vi.:
Second-hand bargains of sprachery, amongst the old-furniture warehousemen of the Cowgate.

2. A foray to steal cattle, a cattle-raid. Hist.Sc. 1771 T. Pennant Tour 1769 176:
The Highlanders at that time esteemed the open theft of cattle, or the making of a spreith (as they called it) by no means dishonorable.
Sc. 1809 Scott Letters (Cent. Ed.) II. 235:
An old follower of Rob Roy who had been at many a spreagh.
Inv. 1879 Trans. Inv. Scientific Soc. I. 270:
The last Captain, who made a “spreath” into Lochaber for arrears of rent left.

3. Booty, plunder in gen., prey (Sc. 1710 T. Ruddiman Gl. to Douglas Aeneis). Also fig. a source of profit.Kcd. 1889 Stonehaven Jnl. (14 March) 3:
That ship was thocht tae be a great spreach tae the brave salvage crew.
Per. 1899 J. A. R. Macdonald Blairgowrie 12:
We gaze upon the spreath unshorn In Autumn garb of tree and corn.

4. Driftwood, wreckage from ships, flotsam and jetsam (Abd. (sprith), Kcd. (spreeth, spreich) 1911; Abd., Ags. 1971).

5. A great many, a crowd, collection, large number (Ags. 1808 Jam., spraich; Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 179, spraith; Abd. 1913, spreith).Sc. 1746 Lyon in Mourning (S.H.S.) II. 218:
To stope our great deliverer's breath And leave us sick a sighing spreath Of whigs to groan.
Ags. 1853 W. Blair Aberbrothock 91:
Fat a queer taed he was, an' a great curren little sprooth at's tail aye.
Ags. 1891 Brechin Advert. (6 Jan.):
By-and-by they got a spreath O' lads an' lovesome lasses.
Bch. 1929:
Gey spreeth o' fowk at the mart the day noo that hairst's owre.

[O.Sc. spreithe, booty, spoil, 1420, spreicht, stolen cattle, 1513, spreacherie, household odds and ends, 1584, Gael. spreidh, Ir. spreid, cattle, a dowry consisting of cattle, ultim. from Lat. praeda, booty. The [ç] forms might be explained as an alternative development of the final aspirate in Gael. The -gh spelling appears to originate with Scott.]

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"Spreath n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 30 Sep 2023 <>



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