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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1952 (SND Vol. III). Includes material from the 1976 and 2005 supplements.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

DIDDLE, DEEDLE, v.2, n.2 Also didle, ¶daidle-.

1. v. To sing in a rather low-pitched key without words, gen. as an accompaniment to dancing (Sh.10 1949; Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 38; Bnff.2, Abd. correspondents, Fif.10 (deedle) 1940; Edb.3, Ayr.4 1928; Kcb.10 1940, deedle). Vbl.n. diddlin(g), deedlin. Obs. since early 18th cent. in Eng. but still found in n.Eng. dial.Sc. 1997 Scotsman 21 Nov 19:
My friend Nancy Nicholson, the Caithness-born folk singer would stand by, exasperated. "It's no good," she would say. "You can't get the deedle into it."
Abd. 1873 J. Ogg Willie Waly 104:
Although I canna join the choir, I'll hooch an' diddle.
Abd. 1915 H. Beaton Back o' Benachie 52:
If no better musical instrument was to be had, “playing on the kame,” or “didlin',” was resorted to . . . for Scotch reels.
Abd. 1917 C. Murray Sough o' War 45:
A mither's diddlin' till her bairn can bring The sleep that flees fae fussle, trumpe or string.
Abd. 2002 Press and Journal 18 Mar 3:
Mr Easton ended up winning the Scots verse, bothy ballads and diddling sections, while nine-year-old Natalie Chalmers of Fraserburgh became the first winner of the junior verse and singing competitions.
Abd. 2004 Aberdeen Evening Express 9 Feb 16:
There will also be competitions in the penny whistle, diddling, instrumental groups, freestyle traditional singing, song writing and tune writing.
m.Sc. 1998 Ian Cameron The Jimmy Shand Story 28:
In the autumn of 1933, diddling (a form of mouth music), fiddling and melodeon contests were held regularly in the villages round about Dundee, and Forbes persuaded Jimmy to enter one at Alyth.
Ags.17 1940:
Diddling competitions were advertised and held throughout Angus in 1936–39.
Per. 1990 Betsy Whyte Red Rowans and Wild Honey (1991) 197:
We would have our friends and relations there with their musical instruments, their diddling, canterach and singing.
Fif. 1825 Jam.2:
Deedle denotes an intermediate key between cruning or humming, and lilting, which signifies lively singing.

Hence diddler, daidler, one who diddles; a person who can diddle an accompaniment for dancing (Bnff.2 1940; Ags. 1931 J. D. Simpson in Abd. Press and Jnl. (15 Jan.)).  Bnff. 1949 Bnffsh. Jnl. (29 Nov.):
Francie was a lusty singer, and a remarkable diddler. Diddling the “Braes o' Mar,” his head and whole body nodded, swung and swayed in unison to the uttered and stressed vocables.
Mry. 1949 Northern Scot (22 Jan.):
Burns' mother was a grand singer and 'daidler'.
Ayr.4 1928:
Accomplished “diddlers” or “doodlers” often laid one hand flat on the knees and kept smiting it with the other hand to emphasise the time for the dancers.

2. n. A tune without words in a rather low-pitched key (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 38; Dmf. 1925 W. A. Scott in Trans. Dmf. and Gall. Antiq. Soc. 23). Comb.: deedle-doodle, (1) “a meaningless lilt, rhyme, or song, run over in nurse fashion” (Sc. 1887 Jam.6); (2) “a badly-played tune on a flute, violin, or other instrument” (Ib.).

[Onomat. formations, phs. influenced by Doudle, q.v.]

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"Diddle v.2, n.2". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 12 Jun 2024 <>



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