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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1934 (SND Vol. I). Includes material from the 1976 and 2005 supplements.
This entry has not been updated but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

BACK, n.1, v., adj., prep. Also bak. [bɑk Sc.; bak I.Sc., n.Sc. + ɑ; bǫk em.Sc. (b), wm.Sc.]

1. n. (1) The turf placed at the back of the fire, the fire being on a flat stone.Bnff.2 1932:
Rin oot t' the stack, Jess, an' get a big truff for a back to the fire.

(2) The back of a dress.Bnff. 1872 W. M. Philip It 'ill a' come Richt 32:
Jeanie “fastened Betty's back.”

(3) The outermost boards from a sawn tree. ne.Sc.Sc. 1712 Scots Courant (12 May):
There is about 4000 Fir-Dales and 2000 Backs to be exported for Sale.
Inv. 1813 E. Grant Mem. Highl. Lady (1898) 208:
The four outsides [of a log] were cut off first; they were called "backs".
Bnff.2 1932:
Sen' Tam t' the saw-mull for a led [load] o' backs for fire-wid. [Known also to Mry.2]
Ags. 1932 (per Kcb.1):
In that district [Montrose] “backs” is the only term for the first cut off a tree-trunk at the saw-mill.
Ayr. 1932 (per Kcb.1):
“Backs” is the usual term there [Dailly] for the first cut off a tree-trunk. [Found in O.Sc. See Narrative of James Nimmo 1686 (S.H.S. 1889) 88: “in buying backs at the saw miln.”]

(4) A body of followers or supporters, a backing.[Older Sc. 1566 Knox Hist. Ref., Wks. (1846) I. 89:
Without knowledge of any back or battell to follow.]
ne.Sc. 1898 W.G. in E.D.D.:
He's sure to win throuw, for he hiz a gueede back.

(5) The endorser of a bill.Nai. 1828 W. Gordon Poems 107:
He was my cautioner and back, My credit he defended.

(6) The concluding part of anything.Ags. 1924 A. Gray Any Man's Life 49:
'Twas a cauld, cauld nicht i' the back o' the year.
Gall. 1932 (per Ayr.8):
Spoken by an old farmer in Galloway, Kirkcudbright, at the death of the last of an aged couple: “That's the back o' an auld sang.”

(7) In Mining or Quarrying: a fault or dislocation in a seam of mineral; a main joint, "vertical or nearly so, by which strata are intersected" (Sc. 1886 J. Barrowman Mining Terms 7). Also in n.Eng. mining usage. Phr. back and end, see 1843 quot. Sc. 1807 J. Headrick View of Arran 45:
Similar cracks are found in stratified sandstone, called by workmen slips, cutters, or backs.
Lnk. 1843 Trans. Highl. Soc. 81:
The cannel coal . . . is what is called a "back and end" coal, that is, coal divided into squares and pieces by fissures.

(8) Phr. backs an' fores, the tos and fros, ups and downs, vicissitudes of life. Ags. 1853 W. Blair Aberbrothock 94:
I'm rale dreigh sometimes fan I think on a, the backs an' fores I've ha'en.

2. v. tr.

(1) To carry on one's back.Ayr. 1892 H. Ainslie Pilgrimage, etc., and Poems 339:
In stoppin' at the steppin'-stanes I bode to back her o'er.

(2) To give a horse its first lesson in carrying a rider.Bnff.2 1932:
Dinna ride on the black colt; he's nae backit yet.

(3) To bank a fire.Abd.(D) 1905 W. Watson Glimpses o' Auld Lang Syne 182:
An “aise backetfu'” [of drush] . . . was used every morning for “backing the hearth.”
w.Dmf. 1915 J. L. Waugh Betty Grier iii.:
When Milligan the postman handed this yin in this mornin', an' when I thocht o' taxes an' sic fash, I was sairly tempted to back the fire wi' it.

(4) To address a letter. Gen.Sc.Sc. 1716 W. Macfarlane Geneal. Coll. (S.H.S.) I. 124:
Backing his Letters for the late Sir John Maclean.
Abd.(D) 1917 C. Murray A Sough o' War (1918) 33:
For, Jock, ye winna grudge the stamp to cheer a dweeble frien', An' dinna back it “Sandy” noo, but “Sergeant” Aberdein.
Ags. 1889 J. M. Barrie W. in Thrums ix.:
He had written a letter to David Alexander, and wanted me to “back” it.
w.Dmf. 1925 W. A. Scott Vern. of Mid-Nithsdale, Trans. Dmf. Gall. Antiq. Soc. 16:
Back, to address a letter you back it.

(5) To wager.Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B. 45:
A'll back ee echpence that [etc.].

(6) Also with out: "to throw mineral along the wall face to the road head" (Sc. 1886 J. Barrowman Mining Terms 7).

3. adj. Late, backward, falling, behindhand.Sc. 1914 R. B. Cunninghame Graham Sc. Stories 39:
“We've had a braw back end, McKerrachar,” Borland remarked. . . . “No just sae bad . . . markets are back a wee.”
Sc. 1932 (per Slg.3):
The glass is back — i.e. the barometer is going down.
Ags. 1821 D. Shaw Humorous Songs and Poems 3:
Gin back wi' your rent they will load you wi' curses.
Ags. 1872 Kirriemuir Observer (2 Aug.) 1/3:
[Sunshine] made the craps bud forth, though they're a gey bit back by fat they were this time laist year.
Ags. 1932 (per Ags.1):
He's no very far back — He's clever.

4. prep. At the back of.Per. 1915 J. Wilson L. Strathearn 105:
Baak dhe cloas: In the entry, back from the street. [O.E. bǣc, n., back.]

5. Phrases and combs.: (1) At a back, at a loss. see At, prep., B. 3. Bnff.2 1932:
Come an' gie's a han', for I'm clean at a back.

(2) At your back. Behind you.Edb. 2005:
Whit dae ye mean ye cannae find yer shin? They're at yer back.
Gsw. 1962 Bill McGhee Cut and Run 39:
...as he was about to make a confident retort, I added, 'An' have a look at your back. There's enough o' them there tae eat us an' crap us.
Gsw. 1973 Molly Weir A Toe on the Ladder (1975) 76:
It's in the corner behind you. At your back!

(3) Back and breast. Prob. deformed in back and breast — i.e. hump-backed and chicken-breasted.Sc. 1824 Scott Redgauntlet Letter v.:
Miss Dolly MacIzzard, who is both “back and breast,” as our saying goes.

(4) Back and breested, backed and breasted. Said of one who has lost heavily at cards.Sc. 1912 (per Kcb.1):
Capt. McNeil . . . was introduced to the club and though not an habitual card player he won heavily. He was told he must come back next night to give them their revenge but said that would be difficult as his ship was being moved in dock next night and would sail the following morning. One of the company, also a Scotsman, said “But you must come. A Scotsman always goes after his money, and you have us ‘baith backed and breasted'”
Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 36–37:
In that Scottish game at cards called Lent, [Lant for lanter loo, old form of loo] which is generally played at for money, when one of the gamblers stands, that is to say, will play, and is lented, which is, outplayed by those who stood and played also; then, if this happen, and the divide too at the same time, this person is said to be — back and breested.

(5) Back an edge. Completely, entirely.Sc. 1801-1850 W. Godshaw Sc. Gloss., etc., in MS.:
Back an edge. Completely, entirely. The back and the edge being nearly the whole of some instruments. [Rare in St.Eng. N.E.D. gives it as equal to everything, through everything, through thick and thin, with a quot. in a neg. sentence from Mrs Behn 1716.]

(6) Back and face. Completely.Dmf. 1820 A. McNay Poet. Works 51:
The Smuggler's beat them back and face.

(7) Back an' fore, back and forret. Arch. or dial. in Eng. Gen.Sc.

(a) Backwards and forwards.Ags.(D) 1922 J. B. Salmond Bawbee Bowden xvi.:
When they shuved doon his feet up cam' his heid, back an' fore juist like a shogin' boat.
Ags. 1993 Mary McIntosh in Joy Hendry Chapman 74-5 112:
He mynded thir faces whan he had heichted the gun, het atween his fingirs, an the tyauvin whan the bullets skelpit intae thaim. He gleyed roon the stanes, heid sweyin bak an forrit, dreid wumplin ower the bak o his haunds.
Lth. 1925 C. P. Slater Marget Pow 107–108:
We saw . . . leopards . . . sittin' in cages, or takin' a turn back and forret behind the railins.
Edb. 1773 R. Fergusson Sc. Poems (1925) 29:
Bar-keepers now, at outer door, Tak tent as fock gang back and fore.

(b) Of a sick person's health, or of an ordinary slightly varying condition of health: sometimes better, sometimes worse.Sh.(D) 1919 T. Manson Humours Peat Comm. II. 141:
Oh, shu's no sae bad; kind o back an fore.

(8) Backs an' forrits, at one time or another. The s termination is the adv. genitive.Lnk. 1893 J. Crawford Scotch Verses and Sangs 107:
Ilka ane blythe to tell what has happened himsel' Backs an' forrits sin' last time they cam'.

(9) Back-an-side. “Completely” (S.D.D. Add. 1911). Not known to our correspondents. Cf. (4). [O.Sc. has the phrase — e.g. Dunbar The Passioun of Christ (S.T.S.) ll. 57, 58: Agane thai tirvit [stripped] him bak and syde, Als brim [fierce] as ony baris woid [wild boars].]

(10) Back o' Bafuff. See Bafuff.

(11) Back o' beyont, — beyant. Somewhere remote and inaccessible.Sc. 1816 Scott Antiquary ii.:
You . . . whirl'd them to the back o' beyont to look at the auld Roman camp.
Sc. 1834 Wilson Noctes Amb. (1855) IV. 134:
Kick Lord Althropp to the back-o'-beyont.
Abd.(D) 1909 C. Murray Hamewith 33:
Fae the Back o' Beyont the carlie cam', He fittit it a' the wye.
Ags. 1932 (per Ags.1 and Ags.2):
Back o' beyont — far the gray mare foaled the fiddler.
Kcb.6 1914:
He comes frae the back o' beyont whar the coo calved the fiddler.
Uls. 1904 J. W. Byers in Victoria Coll. Mag. 52:
When a place . . . is out of the way and hard to reach, and altogether uninteresting, it is said to be “at the back of beyant” (beyond).

(12) Back o(f). Less than, under (a stated amount) (ne.Sc. 1975). Per. 1830 Perthshire Adv. (9 Sept .):
The best pair of queys in the market were purchased by a respectable flesher at a trifle back of £16.

(13) Back o' my hand to. A contemptuous term for a farewell or dismissal. Also more lit., with implication of hitting a person, esp. a child, often used as a threat. Sh. 1914 Angus Gl. 164:
Da back a my haand ta dee.
Cai. 1916 John o' Groat Jnl. (14 Jan.):
“'E back o' ma han' till ye” — I'll have nothing more to do with you.
Abd. 1768 A. Ross The Rock and the Wee Pickle Tow 131:
Syn on on a rock wi't, an' it taks a low, The back o' my hand to the spinning o't.
s.Arg. 1917 A. W. Blue Quay Head Tryst 92:
The back o' my hand tae that manœuvre!
Gsw. 1990:
Ye'll get the back o ma haun in a minute.

(14) Back or fore. More or less in degree or amount; a little before or after a point of time.Mry.(D) 1897 J. Mackinnon Braefoot Sketches 43–44:
“Wad ye tak' a pennyworth mair. It's richt fine cheese.” “Ou, A'm nae parteeklar till a bittie back or fore.
Abd.(D) 1920 G. P. Dunbar A Guff o' Peat Reek 24:
Back or fore aboot the twal'.

(15) Back o' the fire. (See quot.)Cai. 1911 John o' Groat Jnl. (13 Jan.):
Back o' the fire. That part of a Caithness farm-kitchen which was reserved for peats, etc.

(16) On (or at the) back o'. Also the back o(f). Not long after. Obs. or dial. in Mod.Eng. Gen.Sc.Sc. 1816 Scott Antiquary xl.:
Skirling at auld sangs on the back of a loss like hers.
Abd. 1996 Sheena Blackhall Wittgenstein's Web 8:
The hauns o the clasroom wag-at-the-wa creepit roon frae hauf een tae hauf twa, syne tae the back o fower, an Neil Rannoch traucled hame wi the dreich prospect o a hale evenin feedin an muckin oot chuckens an futterats afore him.
Ags. 1924 A. Gray Any Man's Life 48:
When it's nicht on the back o' four.
Edb. 1897 P. H. Hunter J. Armiger's Revenge xvi.:
I mind o' ae year when it started on the back o' the Martinmas term, an' we never saw the ground again till after the Borrowin' Days.
Edb. 1996:
It wis the back o six afore she came hame.
Gsw. 1984 James Kelman The Busconductor Hines 176:
The back of 5.
What time is it now?
Eh.
Switch on the radio.
Ayr. 1822 H. Ainslie Pilgrimage 233:
Poor body, my mither died on the back o't.
Ayr. 1842 Children in Trades Report II. i 58:
"At the back of Waterloo" lacing shoes, called "Waterloo shoes", were paid 2s. for closing.

(17) Ower the back. Sufficiently and more, enough and something over.Ags. 1893 “F. Mackenzie” Cruisie Sketches xiii.:
He wad be paid ower the back wi' twa shillin's i' week.

(18) Owre the back o' yin's hand. Unwillingly.Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B. 45 (s.v. Back):
“To do a favour, etc., owre the back o' yin's hand” (= unwillingly; with bad grace).

(19) To be the back of an old tradesman, etc. Spoken of one who has given up or changed his trade but can still show his skill at it; also used of an animal or thing that still has something left of its former excellence.Abd. 1825 Jam.2:
He's the back o' an auld farmer. [Known by Abd.2]
Per. 1898 G.W. in E.D.D.:
“Sma' thanks to him,” said a neighbour of a farmer, who had made a good job of mending a door, “he's the back of an auld joiner.”

(20) To come up one's back. To fit in with one's own inclination, to be one's good pleasure; to come into one's mind (to do something).m.Lth. 1858 Dark Night 253:
It's comed up his ain back. He's no often sae willin'.
Arg.2 1932:
A divna ken hoot's [what's] come up his back noo.
Kcb.6 1914:
He'll no steer a fit till it comes up his ain back.

(21) To go up one's back. To be beyond one's power.Abd. 1905 W. Watson Auld Lang Syne 136:
A'm thinkin' ma fadder'll gyaung up her back.
Abd. 1932 (per Abd.9):
The mole-catcher was accosted by an acquaintance: “Far hae ye been th' day, John?” “Oh, I've jist been up at the manse gairden takin' a mole 'at gie'd up the minister's back.”
Ags. 1894 J. F. Mills Jamie Donaldson 7:
Fin I cam' tae the compound it fair gaed up my back.

(22) To have (all) one's back teeth. To be wise and aware of pitfalls, be astute.Sc. 1988 J. Derrick McClure Why Scots Matters 57:
Another tendency is to metaphorical expressions: to hae aa yer back teeth is to be wise and watchful for possible deceptions...
Sc. 1999 Aberdeen Evening Express 27 Aug 15:
Those councillors and officials have all their back teeth.
Sc. 2000 Press and Journal 2 Sep 14:
However, there is a world of difference between child abuse/assault and trying to limit the damage being caused by a thug in the classroom. Anyone with all their back teeth knows how easily such classroom charges are trumped up.
Ags. 1968 William Allen Illsley ed. The Third Statistical Account of Scotland: The county of Angus (1977) 377:
THE FARFAR TONGUE...'Gey lang heided' or 'has a' 'eez back teeth' - good at looking after his own interests.
wm.Sc. 1988 Scotsman 26 Nov iv:
Hae aw yer back teeth.

(23) To take the door on one's back. To go out of the room or house, to “make oneself scarce.”Ayr. 1822 Galt Sir A. Wylie vi.:
“Ay,” said his grandmother, “tak' the door on your back, and play yoursel till me and the maister hae come to an understanding.”

(24) To the back o'. Besides, on top of, in addition to. Kcb. 1894 Crockett Raiders xviii.:
We're honest-and gentrice to the back o' that.

(25) To the back o' the day. To ruin, bankruptcy. etc. Ags. 1853 W. Blair Aberbrothock 30:
Her faither, puir stock, gaed a' to the back o' the day.

(26) With or having one's back at or to the wall. Hard-pressed, struggling against odds. More common in Sc. than Eng.Sc. 1709 Roxburghe Ball. (Ebsworth) VIII. 225:
Altho' his back be at the wa', We'll drink his health that's far awa'.
Sc. 1782 Session Papers, Petition J. Murdoch (25 Jan.) 5:
He stood there with his back at the wall to defend himself.
Bwk. 1863 A. Steel Poems 192:
When my back's at the wa', O she's aye my best friend.
Slk. 1819 Hogg Jacobite Relics II. 33–34:
O wae be mang ye, Southrons, ye traitor loons a'! Ye haud him aye down, whase back's at the wa'.

[Earl Haig's famous phrase in April 1918, “with our backs to the wall,” etc., is based upon the Scottish expression. There is only one modern example for this phrase in the N.E.D. and it is from a Sc. author (Hugh Miller). It occurs also in Older Sc., Stewart Chron. Scot. II. 73 (1535).]

Back n.1, v., adj., prep.

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