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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1941 (SND Vol. II). Includes material from the 1976 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

BITTLE, BEETLE, BEATLE, BITTIL, BITEL, n.1 and v. [bɪtl, bitl]

1. n. Bittle is the most common form in m. and s.Sc. for Eng. beetle, n. and v. The form beetle is illustrated only where the meaning is exclusively Sc. [bɪtl m. and s.Sc. + bitl; bitl n.Sc.]

(1) A pestle-shaped mallet or pounder for kitchen use, for bruising barley, mashing potatoes, etc.Sc. 1737 Ramsay Proverbs 28:
He that gi'es a' his Gear to his Bairns Take up a Bittle and ding out his Harns.
Sc. 1821 Scott Pirate I. vi.:
“Aroint ye, ye limmer,” she added, — “out of an honest house, or, shame fa' me, but I'll take the bittle to you!”
Dmf. 1925 W. A. Scott Vern. of Mid-Nithsdale in Trans. Dmf. and Gall. Antiq. Soc. 17:
Bitel, wood mallet for champing potatoes.

(2) A flat or round piece of wood used by dyers or by washerwomen to beat clothes; a small round piece of wood about six inches long wedge-shaped at one end and flat-faced at the other, turned in the middle so as to be gripped in the hand and used in polishing harness, the polish being applied with the wedge and rubbed in with the smooth end (Abd. 1960).Sc. 1834 Wilson Noctes Amb. (1855) IV. 91:
You micht as weel . . . hae bate the kitchen-dresser wi' the lint-beetle.
Sc. 1861 E. B. Ramsay Reminisc. (Second Ser.) 164:
I thought, when I read the petition, that the Beetle or Bittle had been the thing that the women have when they are washing towels or napery . . . things for dadding them with.

(3) Transferred to mean a foot or leg.Lnk. 1893 J. Crawford Sc. Verses and Sangs 11:
Jist a wee kennin' boo'd in the bittles.

Phr.: riding (on) the beetle. (See quot.)Gall. 1824 Auld Sang in MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 409:
Those who are on foot, or shanks naigie, with a party on horseback, are said to be riding the beetle. “War ye at the fair, saw ye mony people, Saw ye our gude man riding on the beetle?”

(4) A beating, pounding.Edb. 1822 R. Wilson Poems 41:
An' wadna care a spittle, To gie their maister's nose a dight, An' eke his banes a bittle, For that this day.

2. v.

(1) To beat, to pound barley or corn.e.Lth. 1883 J. Martine Reminisc. Royal Burgh Haddington 353:
The ancient custom of “bittling” sheaves and singles on a hard floor or a doorstep.

(2) To beat linen, clothes, etc.Lth. 1825 Jam.2:
To Bittle, Bittil. To beat with a beetle; as, to bittle lint, to bittle singles, to beat flax, to beat it in handfuls.
Edb. 1872 J. Smith Jenny Blair's Maunderings (1881) 49:
Ane o' the warriors cloured him owre the head twa-three times wi' his baton, like a wife bittlin' claes.
Ayr. 1821 Galt Ann. Parish xxxii.:
Often could I have found it in my heart . . . to tell Mrs Balwhidder, that the married state was made for something else than to make napery, and bittle blankets.
Rxb.(D) 1927 E. C. Smith Braid Haaick 5:
A've been oot bittlin thae rugs; thay war fair stoor's sel.

Comb.: bittling-stane, beetlin' stone, the stone on which clothes were “beetled.”Sc. 1838 H. S. Riddell in Chambers's Jnl. 1st Ser. VII. 24:
He set himsel' down on our auld bittling-stane.
Abd.(D) 1871 W. Alexander Johnny Gibb iii.:
Tam . . . was seated on the big “beetlin'” stone by the door cheek.

(3) To thrash, to pound.Edb. 1876 J. Smith Archie and Bess 17:
That preached an' prayed at nicht an' beetled his wife in the mornin'.
Edb. 1915 T. W. Paterson Auld Saws 101:
See them bittlin ane anither, Birzin for a place.
central, w.Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.:
Bittle. To trounce (a person).

Hence beatlin, vbl.n., a thrashing.Kcb. 1914 W. A. Stark W.-L.:
She gied him a beatlin.

(4) (See quots.)Fif.1 1934; Dmf.8 1914:
Beetle-aff, be off.
Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.:
Bittle. Also beetle (n.). To run with speed or vigour: “An ran as hard as A could bittle.”
Clc. 1850 J. Crawford Doric Lays 65:
Wee, bonnie, dimple cheekit Jeanie, Sae proud about your braw new peenie, Beetlin' wi' thae baffie feet Till ye're in a pour o' sweet.
[See 1 (3) above. Cf. colloq. Eng. foot it, leg it.]

[The ancestor of the ĭbeetle form is O.North. *bētel (W.S. bīetel, from bēatan, to beat). In the pl. W.S. bītlas the ī was shortened to before two consonants and this explains the Eng. and Sc. dial. bittle. The corresponding short form of bētel is represented in Sc. by Bettle, a stroke.]

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"Bittle n.1, v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 21 Jul 2024 <>



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