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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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

FLYTE, v., n. [fləit]

I. v. A. Forms. Pres.t.: flyte, flite; †flyt(te); †flight. Pa.t., st. forms: flate, flait, flayt, fleyt, flet(t); fleat (Lnk. 1858 G. Roy Generalship (1862) 22); flit (Ayr. 1875 A. L. Orr Poems 20; Fif. 1926 Wilson Cent. Scot. 242); fluit (Lth. 1920 A. Dodds Songs 8); flat (Sc. a.1796 Merry Muses (1911) 69; Fif. 1882 “S. Tytler” Sc. Marriages I. 98); wk. forms: flyted; flytit (Kcb. 1901 Trotter Gall. Gossip 63). Pa.p., st. forms: flitten (Ayr. 1833 J. Kennedy Geordie Chalmers 79; Per., Fif., Lth., Ayr. 1915–1926 Wilson; Sh.10 1952); flyten (Kcb. 1814 W. Nicholson Tales 234), †fletin (Sc. 1699 Culloden Papers (ed. Warrand 1923) I. 263); wk. forms: flytit, -ed; flate, flet; flytt (Ayr. 1912 G. Cunningham Verse 153). The v. is now most commonly conjugated in the wk. forms, flyte, flytit, flytit.

B. Meanings.

1. intr. To scold, chide, rail; to altercate. Gen.Sc. Used absol. or with apo (Sh.), at (Ork., m.Lth., Bwk., Dmf., Rxb.), (up)on (m.Lth., Bwk., Ayr.), till (Per.), wi (Ork., Abd., m.Lth.). Ppl.adj., vbl.n. flytin(g), scolding, vituperating; specif., a contest between poets in mutual abuse, now only in reference to Sc. literary history; a (literary) quarrel more generally.Sc. 1713 R. Wodrow Corresp. (1842) I. 486:
They say many things of their Jurant brethren which I am unwilling to believe, and there is never a fair word in flyting.
Sc. 1725 Ramsay Gentle Shep. i. i.:
Sair, sair she flet wi' me 'tween ilka smack, But weel I kend she meant nae as she spak.
Sc. 1747 Lyon in Mourning (S.H.S.) I. 189:
The Prince, . . . humour'd the joke so well that they would have flitten together like twa kail wives.
Sc. 1770 Hailes Ancient Sc. Poems 322:
The Flyting between Dunbar and Kennedy is to be found in the Evergreen. . . . This altercation, which for scurrility is unexampled, may have been a play of illiberal fancy, without any real quarrel between the antagonists.
Edb. 1773 R. Fergusson Poems (1925) 2:
Some friend or fairy, nae sae very chancy, Has driven me . . . To wed this flytin fury of a woman.
Ayr. a.1796 Burns O Steer her up i.:
And gin she take the thing amiss, E'en let her flyte her fill, jo.
Sc. 1816 Scott O. Mortality xvii.:
Had we aught to stop a man wi' that had twa pistols and a sword? Sudna ye hae come faster up yoursells, instead of flyting at huz?
Slk. 1818 Hogg Wool-gatherer (1874) 71:
She grat an' pray'd, an' they fleeched an' flit.
Gsw. 1860 J. Young Poorhouse Lays 118:
A' this gi'ed Tibbie room for saying, When flet upon for her ill-daen.
Sh. 1888 Edmonston & Saxby Home of a Naturalist 206:
The only safeguard against the malice of witches is to “Flight wi' dem,” that is, draw them into a controversy and scold them roundly.
Kcb. 1894 Crockett Raiders xlvi.:
Ye micht hae kenned by the way she flyted on ye.
Sc. 1896 in J. M. Smith Fr. Background of Mid. Sc. Lit. (1934) 53:
Flyting goes back to two foreign sources; to the French jeux-partis and serventois on the one hand, to the wrangling of the Italian humanists on the other.
Ork. 1908 Old-Lore Misc. I. viii. 326:
Pegs waas a'fill mad aboot id an' flet wi' 'er an' telt 'er sheu soodna deu id.
Per. 1915 Wilson L. Strathearn 101:
He wis sair flitten till when he cam hame.
Rxb. 1933 Kelso Chron. (3 Nov.) 5:
Her clapper tongue gaed flytin' on at early, noon an' late.
Gsw. 1957 J. F. Hendry in Moira Burgess and Hamish Whyte Streets of Stone (1985) 64:
She was working herself up into a frenzy, starting a 'flyting', and Sawney sought for a way of escape, any way of escape.
m.Sc. 1982 Douglas MacLagan in Hamish Brown Poems of the Scottish Hills 158:
The flytin' there was loud and rough;
The Duke cam' o'er
Wi' gillies four,
To mak' a stour,
An' drive Balfour,
Frae 'yont the Hielan' hills, man.
m.Sc. 1988 William Neill Making Tracks 51:
But satire, baurs an flytin, inter alia,
in sprush, trig vairses are nae bard's disgrace ...
lauchter is gey near poetrie, eftir aw.
m.Sc. 1992 Scotsman 8 Aug 7:
[Headline] Barking mad at top volume as Scots poets fight and flyte ... The timing is terrific in the very month, nay almost in the very week of MacDiarmid's centenary, a real live literary flyting fills the letter pages of The Scotsman.
em.Sc. 1999 James Robertson The Day O Judgement 29:
"Conscience, that iver flytit at me
An ayewis did ma sins berate, ... "

Hence flyter, a scold.Sh. 1836 Gentleman's Mag. II. 591:
Du wid a geen a güde pees o gett afoar du fan twa better flyters.
Sc. 1894 S. R. Whitehead Daft Davie 171:
He was quite resolved to marry no other woman for fear of getting a “flyter” on his hands.
Ags. 1933 W. Muir Mrs Ritchie xxvii.:
She was well on the way to become a skilled Scottish flyter.

2. tr. To scold, rail at (Abd., Ags., m.Lth., Bwk., wm.Sc., Rxb. 1952); to utter in scolding. Hence phrs. ill-, weel-flitten, see 1825 quot.Sc. 1825 Jam.:
Ill-flitten, a term used, when the criminations, or reprehensions of another are supposed to come with a very bad grace from him, as being equally or more guilty in the same or a similar respect. That is weel-flitten o' you! A phrase sarcastically applied to one who reprehends or scolds, who is himself far more deserving of reprehension.
Fif. 1838 W. Tennant Anster Fair 32:
He's crying loud for sheet or sark, And flytes you, lazy spinnin'-wheel.
Lnk. 1865 J. Hamilton Poems & Sk. 36:
Wi' her nae tongue cou'd flyte a word.
Gsw. 1877 A. G. Murdoch Laird's Lykewake 120:
A mile an' mair she flate me hame, An' left my nerves gey jerkie.
s.Sc. 1897 E. Hamilton Outlaws xv.:
It's easy flyting a body for doing nothing.
Abd. 1924 Swatches o' Hamespun 63:
Syne wi' steekit niv she flyted 'im, an' banned wi' micht an' main.
Ayr. 1927 J. Carruthers A Man Beset 81:
What gart him flyte ye like that?
wm.Sc. 1989 Anna Blair The Goose Girl of Eriska 95:
Then she flyted herself for a self-sorry misery, minding that she had bed and board, her good health and the blue-grey mountains to look at while she worked.
Abd. 1991 Douglas Kynoch in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 87:
An whiles, yon haan o hers that straikit me sae croose
Made on as though tae flyte bairn cantrips nae that douce.

II. n. A scolding, a vehement reproof (Sh., Arg., Ayr. 1952); a scolding match (Sc. 1825 Jam.; Sh., m.Lth., Bwk. 1952).Abd. 1768 A. Ross Helenore 8–9:
The lamb's awa', an' it'll never be mist: We'll ablins get a flyte, an' ablins nane.
Cai. 1776 Weekly Mag. (25 Jan.) 146:
Tho' foul the flyte, 'twere better far, I trow, To kiss the dorts awa', an' mak a vow.
Ayr. 1823 Galt Entail lvi.:
She's come hame wi' a flyte proceeding out of her mouth like a two-edged sword.
s.Sc. c.1830 Hist. Bwk. Nat. Club (1916) 111:
The drunkard gets a saut herring and a flyte to supper, and parritch and sour-milk next morning to breakfast.
Lth. 1856 M. Oliphant Lilliesleaf xx.:
I'll give Cecy, that might ken better, a guid flyte, the next time she comes here.
Gsw. 1879 A. G. Murdoch Rhymes 80:
Some reckon the warst ill tae bear in this life Is a gulderin' flyte frae a peppery wife.
Ork. 1880 Dennison Sketch-Bk. 27:
Auld Aest Brough never cam' tae the kirk bit whin he wanted a flyte an' tullye wi' the laird of Nearhouse.
em.Sc. 1926 H. Hendry Poems 108:
The flyte and the fecht are noo clean oot o' fashion.

III. Combs. and phr.: 1. flytepock, -poke, a double chin (n.Sc. 1808 Jam.; Ags.18 1947), “thus denominated because it is inflated when one is in a rage” (Jam.); 2. flyting bridle, a scold's bridle, see Branks, n.1, 2.; 3. flyting free, (a) so intimate with one as to presume to scold him (Sc. 1825 Jam.); (b) “blameless, and therefore free or entitled to reprimand those who are guilty” (Cld. 1825 Jam.); 4. flyting stool, the stool of repentance, on which defaulters were rebuked.1. Fif. 1827 W. Tennant Papistry 198:
And his flyte-poke aneath his chin Priev'd he was in an angry pin.
2. Sc. 1858 Sc. Haggis 77:
The branks . . . wer things that cam' up to the chafts, wi' a piece o' iron as sharp's a chisel, which was putten in the mouth o' the ane that was to stand, and this was ca'd a flyting bridle.
3. (b) Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 219:
I am flyting free with you. I am so far out of the reach of your Tongue, that though we should scold, you have nothing to say to me.
4. Ags. 1706 Dundee Session Rec. (9 March):
To appear befor the pulpit on the flyting stooll on Sabbath nixt in sackloath.

[O.Sc. flyte, to scold, wrangle, from c.1420, flytar, a scold, c.1460, flyting, a poetic contest in abuse, c.1500, flyting-free, free from blame, 1606; O.E. flītan, to contend, to argue.]

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"Flyte v., n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 13 Apr 2024 <>



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