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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1952 (SND Vol. III).
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

ELL, n. Also †eln (Lnk. 1712 Minutes J.P.s Lnk. (S.H.S.) 131); †elne (Ayr. 1704 Muniments Burgh Irvine (1891) II. 124); †ellne.

1. Used as in Eng. as a unit of linear measurement but in Sc. = 37.059 inches as against 45 inches in Eng.: in measuring Plaiden, = 38.416 inches (see plaiden-ell, s.v. Plaiden). Ell often stands for square ell in square measure. Gen.Sc. but now only hist.Rnf. 1704 W. Hector Judicial Rec. (1876) 67:
The horse dragged him for the space of two or three ellnes.
Abd. 1772 Invercauld Rec. (S.C. 1901) 436:
We find that it measures two thousand eight hundred and eighty three Scotch Ells of thirty seven Inches to the Ell including therein fifty one Ells of Pealling which is equall to two thousand seven hundred and eighty four Plaiding Ells and eight tenths at thirty eight Inches and a half to the Ell.
Sc. 1779 J. Swinton Weights and Measures 8:
By the act of 1617, the commissioners made the ell of Edinburgh the unit of lineal measure, and committed the keeping of it to the city of Edinburgh.
Ayr. 1787 Burns Death and Dr Hornbook vii.:
Its stature seem'd lang Scotch ells twa.
Lth. 1819 J. Thomson Poems 163:
Let nane the slips attemp' to draw, Till she [a hare] has sixty ells of law.
Sc. 1845 Stat. Acc.2 I. 196:
The extent of the glebe is 10 acres, 3 roods, 17 falls, 4 ells, Scotch measure.

2. †(1) Phrs.: ell and tell, dealing in cloth or other merchandise on a ready-money basis; hence applied to goods thus sold: vbl.n. phr. elling and telling; (2) like five (nine) ell(s) o' (blue) win(d), at great speed, like lightning (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; Fif.10 1943; Ags.19 1950); †(3) to measure with the lang (short) ell(wand), to take advantage of someone by taking more than one's due or giving short measure (Sc. 1825 Jam.2).(1) Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 95:
Ell and tell is good Merchandise. The best Market is to get ready Money for your Wares.
Edb. 1817 in J. Colston Guildry Edb. (1887) 63:
He told the Committee that none but the members of the Guildry could deal in articles of merchandise such as cloth, etc., — what is called in Edinburgh “elling and telling”; also that when merchants deal in articles of the description of ell and tell, they are compelled by the Guild Court to enter of the Guild.
(2) Fif. 1864 W. D. Latto T. Bodkin iv.:
He . . . spankit awa through the muir like five ell o' wind.
Per. 1904 R. Ford Hum. Sc. Stories (1st Series) 34:
Willie Kilspindie comes reeshlin' up against his door like five ell o' blue wind.
Lnk. 1910 C. Fraser Glengonnar 49:
The body got a fricht an' . . . gaed off roon the hoose en' like nine ell o' win'.
Rxb. 1925 E. C. Smith Mang Howes 24:
No that lang, aether — it was nae teime owregane or oo war birlin owre the Trow Burn leike five ell o wund.
(3) Sc. 1825 Jam.2:
To measure with the short ell or elwand, a phr. used to denote the dishonesty of a merchant or chapman, who slips back his thumb on part of the cloth he has already measured, taking perhaps an inch from every ell.

3. Combs.: (1) ell-bed, the standard rod used for measuring the ell, kept in Edinburgh; (2) ell coal, a type of coal normally found in seams averaging one ell in thickness (Lnk. 1950 (per Abd.29)), see quots.; (3) ell-lang, adj., an ell in length; (4) ell-stick, an ell measure; (5) ellwand, see Ellwan(d); (6) ell-woman, [prob. for elf-], a wise woman, a witch (e.Lth. c.1890 (per Abd.29)).(1) Sc. 1826 Scots Mag. (Feb.) 244:
We find from the Report, that in 1818 Mr Jardine carried to Aberdeen the standard of the Scotch Ell, called the Ell-bed, usually kept in the Council Chamber here.
Sc. 1892 R. W. Cochran-Patrick Med. Scot. 159:
The Corporation [of Edinburgh] has still an ancient iron measure, long popularly known as the elnwand or ellbed.
(2) Cld. 1794 J. Naismith Agric. Cld. 36:
About 16 or 17 fathoms under this, lies the ell coal, so called, because it was first found of this thickness, but it is frequently from 4 to 6 feet thick. It is composed of two kinds, called yolk and cherry coal, with sometimes a parting of splint, and sometimes not.
Ayr. 1845 Stat. Acc.2 V. 813:
Seven other workable seams, in the following ascending order, viz. the stone-coal 2¼ feet; ell coal, 2¼.
Fif. 1931 Econ. Geol. Fife I. 82:
The Ell Coal lies 1 to 7 fms. above the Upper Eight Foot. . . . Sometimes it is a single seam of 3 to 4 ft. . . . The Ell is a steam coal.
(3) Edb. 1828 D. M. Moir Mansie Wauch (1839) xviii.:
Like the Pharisees of old that keepit praying, in ell-lang faces about the corners of the streets, and gaed hame wi' hearts full of wickedness and a' manner of cheatrie.
Edb. a.1888 in Mod. Sc. Poets (ed. Edwards) XIII. 78:
Stop, stop, ye beast; twa ounce at least Ye've in yer ell-lang nose.
(4) Ayr. 1896 H. Johnston Congalton's Legacy 2:
Gingham John, the packman, paid his visits . . . with ell-stick in hand moving from door to door.
(6) m.Sc. 1950 “O. Douglas” Farewell to Priorsford 99:
That is the cottage of the Ell-woman. Be sure and stop there, and she will tell you how to go on; she is very old and wise.

[The forms el(l) and eln(e) are found in O.Sc. from early 15th cent., from O.E. eln, id.]

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"Ell n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 12 Jun 2024 <>



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