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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1956 (SND Vol. IV). Includes material from the 1976 and 2005 supplements.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

FAIL, n.1, v.1 Also faile, faill, fayll, fale, feal(e), fe(a)ll; fael(l), feel(e), fiel (I.Sc.); †fyel. [fe:l Sc., but fɛl Abd., fæl Sh., fil Sh., Cai.]

I. n. 1. A turf, a sod; turf as a material for building or roofing. Gen.(now mostly n.)Sc.Ayr. 1707 Arch. & Hist. Coll. Ayr. & Wgt. (1884) IV. 231:
He . . . determins the said article of fayll to be one pound scottis.
Sc. 1721 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. 78:
He like a Fail, Play'd dad, and dang the Bark Aff's Shins that Day.
Nai. 1725 Thanes of Cawdor (S.C. 1859) 430:
The tennents upon the estate being numerous and generally poor, refuse to take leases at the present rent; and their houses are all of faile.
Ork. 1771 P. Fea MS. Diary (Nov.):
Got the Celler in the Closs clay'd and covered with Fiels.
Lnk. c.1779 D. Graham Writings (1883) I. 175:
They had no bed but heathry feal.
e.Lth. 1794 G. Buchan-Hepburn Agric. e.Lth. 50:
For feal, which was applied sometimes in the building of houses; and sometimes thrown into the dunghill, and mixed up with dung for manure.
Ags. 1808 Jam.:
Fail is used in building the walls of an earthen house, and divot for covering it. The fail is much thicker than the divot, and differs in shape.
s.Sc. 1847 H. S. Riddell Poems 1:
That pair who, in Glendale, Lived in a house was maistly feal.
Abd. 1879 G. Macdonald Sir Gibbie II. xi.:
Though the hoose be fun't upo' a rock, it's maist biggit o' fells.
Bnff. 1902 J. Grant Agric. in Bnffsh. 150 Years Ago 11:
Spades were of wood with iron shodding . . . used for casting feals.
Sh. 1934 W. Moffatt Shetland 91:
After the removal of the peats, these surface turves, called “faels” in the dialect, are, or should be, planted in the space vacated.
Lnk. 1997 Duncan Glen Seventeen Poems 5:
The gullion for takin oot the pownie on a halter
for special grazin when it's dried oot. The gullion
for cuttin fails.

Hence fael(l)y, faily, fealy, feali, feelie(-y), felly, made of sods; now only I.Sc. and gen. in combs. faely-dike, -d(a)ek; faely-gable (Sh. 1866 Edm. Gl.), fealy hoose, etc. Cf. 3.Sh. 1908 Old-Lore Misc. I. vi. 227:
[The boundaries] were composed of slight “roogues” (piles) of stones at first, but later were replaced by stone fences or “felly-deks.”
Ork. c.1912 J. Omond Ork. 80 Years Ago 26:
I . . . got on the back of the pownie by getting it alongside of a fealy dyke.
Ork. 1930 Orcadian (13 Feb.):
The auld faelie dikes universal in Moorland Orcadia of old when all toon dikes were built of yarpha or moor faels.
Sh. 1949 New Shetlander No. 14. 34:
He set his feet ta da felly gavel an down gud the fells apo da tap o' da Press Gang.
Ork.5 1950:
“Like slate on a fealy hoose”, said of something ill-matched.

2. In Sc. law phr. fail and divot, a servitude giving the right to cut turf for building, thatching or fuel.Sc. 1716 Faculty Decis. III. App. 39:
Though their charters do not specifically contain the faculty of feal and divot, yet that right is undoubtedly comprehended.
Sc. 1874 A. Hislop Sc. Anecdotes 262:
Your title may give you a “servitude of pasturage” upon the commonty of the ancients, but, surely, ye never gat ane of “feal and divot.”

3. Combs.: †(1) fail-broom, the milkwort vetch, Astragalus glycyphyllus; (2) fail-delf, a piece of ground from which sods have been dug (Cai. 1900 E.D.D.); (3) fail-dyke, a field wall built or covered with sods (Sc. a.1770 Hailes Gl. 10, feal-dike; Slk. 1875 Border Treasury 484, fyel-dyke). Gen.Sc. (exc. I.Sc. and Gall.). Proverbial phr.: to hae a face like a fail-dyke, to be two-faced (Abd. 1916 T.S.D.C. II., MS. add.); †(4) feal-house, a house with walls of sods; ‡(5) fail-sunk, a kind of couch of sods built beside a cottage fire-place (Abd.27 1948). See Sunk; †(6) faille-timber, slats of wood on which roofing sods were laid.(1) Abd. 1777 J. Anderson Essays II. 265:
Others, from the appearance of the blossom, and the part where the plant is found, have called it feal, or, by corruption, fell broom.
(3) Sc. 1706 Foulis Account Bk. (S.H.S.):
Mrch. 21: to Jamie Steinsone . . . at the biging the falli [sic for faill] dyke.
Sc. 1775 J. Anderson Essays 14:
Feal dikes can always be built at about one fourth of the expence that these [stone walls] would cost.
Crm. 1795 Agric. North. Highlands 27:
The following kinds of inclosures . . . 1st. The turf or sod, called here feal dykes.
Sc. 1803 Scott Minstrelsy III. 239:
In behint yon auld fail dyke, I wot there lies a new slain knight.
Sc. 1816 Scott Antiquary xx.:
Maybe auld Edie will hirsle out himsel if he can get a feal-dike to lay his gun ower.
Slk. 1818 Hogg B. of Bodsbeck I. 275:
Mending up an auld fail-dike round the corn ae night.
Abd. 1871 W. Alexander Johnny Gibb xxxv.:
The horse was . . . nibbling grass off the top of the “feal-dyke.”
Sc. 1881 A. Henderson Sc. Proverbs 7:
Like draws to like, as an auld horse to a fail dyke.
Arg. 1882 Arg. Herald (3 June):
A hail pockfu' o' sawt glashans that was left tae reest aa nicht on the fail dyke fornenst oor doorie-hoose.
Kcb. 1896 S. R. Crockett Grey Man xxiv.:
On the edge of the moss was a wall of turf, or, as the country folk call it, a “fail dyke”.
Ork. 1908 Old-Lore Misc. I. viii. 307:
Before the division of the Orkney commonties, which were separated from the infield by a strong feal dyke to protect the crops and pasture lands during the summer.
em.Sc. 1920 J. Black Airtin' Hame 170:
On a foggy day he sat in the shelter of a “fail” dyke at one side of an old drove loan.
Abd. 1950 Huntly Express (24 Nov.):
Honeysuckle in profusion grew over the moss covered fell-dyke.
Abd. 1995 Flora Garry Collected Poems 13:
Granfadder sklatit barn an byre,
Brocht water to the closs,
Pat fail-dykes ben the bare brae face
An a cairt road tull the moss.
(4) Sth. 1845 Stat. Acc.2 XV. 7:
Instead of their feal-houses, in which it was scarcely possible to maintain cleanliness, they have now generally neat cottages.
(6) Abd. 1722 Monymusk Papers (S.H.S.) 9:
For laying of faille timber and taking of rib out of the flors . . . £268.

II. v. To cover or construct with turf.Gsw. 1717 Records Trades Ho. (ed. Lumsden 1934) 45:
The House formerlie promised him . . . something for failing the dyke about the inclosure.

[O.Sc. fayle, faill, etc. turf, from c.1420, a sod, 1513, Gael. fàl, id.]

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"Fail n.1, v.1". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 22 Jun 2024 <>



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