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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.

CAN, Cann, Kan, Kann, n.2 Chiefly northern Sc.

1. Skill, knowledge, ability (Sh. 1866 Edm. Gl., kann; 1914 Angus Gl., kan; Cai.9, Bnff.2, Abd.9, Lnk.3 1938). Hence kanless, not having the knack or knowledge of how to do a thing (Ork. 1973 Orcadian (26 July); Sh. 1975).Sc. 1929 Q. B. Lane in Abd. Book-Lover VI. No. 3, 78:
My neibours a' said looks were weel, But can was better, day or dark.
Sh.(D) 1919 T. Manson Humours Peat Comm. II. 188:
As da man said, dey hae mair cann an less brains.
Mry.(D) 1824 J. Cock Hamespun Lays 116:
She's blam'd for blastin' o' our gear, In spite o' a' our can an' care.
Bnff. 1924 “Knoweheid” in Swatches o' Hamespun 81:
Sic maugersome billies an' sic limmers te fley Teuk a' o' my can an' my ugliest leems.
Abd. after 1768 A. Ross Fortunate Shepherd MS. 6:
No linen kind had ever toucht his skin As fow thir days had can that claith to spin.
Dmf. 1823 J. Kennedy Poems and Songs 49:
At catching fish he had the can.

Proverb:Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 78:
Can is eith carried about.

2. Supernatural power, witchcraft.Mry. 1852 A. Christie Mountain Strains 95:
They feart her can, An' watch'd her doin's late an' air, An' aften saw her in shape o' hare Scud through the Lan'.
Abd. 1768 A. Ross Rock and wee pickle Tow ix.:
But an' my new rock were anes cutted an' dry, I'll a' Maggie's can an' her cantraps defy.
Abd.(D) 1877 W. Alexander North. Rural Life in 18th Cent. xxiv.:
Belief in witchcraft generally, and in the existence and can of the fairies, held wide sway among the country population till the close of the century.

[O.Sc. can, ability, 1609, from can, v., to have knowledge of or skill in, early 15th cent. (D.O.S.T.).]

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"Can n.2". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 21 Jul 2024 <>



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