Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)
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First published 1960 (SND Vol. V). Includes material from the 1976 and 2005 supplements.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.
KEY, n., v. Also kee; k(e)ye (Abd. 1875 G. Macdonald Malcolm II. xxi.), keigh (Abd. 1935 Sc. N. & Q. (March) 47), kie (Mry. 1708 W. Cramond Ch. Lhanbryd 77). Sc. forms and usages. [m.Sc. ki:, n. and s.Sc. kəi]
I. n. 1. As in Eng., a door-key, the winged fruit of the ash or sycamore. Phr.: to seek for a key that is i(n) the lock, to waste one's time, to do something futile (Fif.10 1941; Ayr. 1959).Gsw. 1711 Minute Bk. Faculty of Procurators (Muirhead 1948) 120:
Payed to James Currie for a kye to the outter yeatt. . . . 14s. 6d.Rxb. 1711 J. J. Vernon Par. Hawick (1900) 86:
And the kye of the chamber was left in the door.Sc. 1727–44 J. Cockburn Letters (S.H.S.) 10:
If they will next Winter dibble in Ashen Kyes . . . they'l doe pretty well also for their present ditches of that kind.Fif. 1895 G. Setoun Sunshine and Haar 300:
Sandy Briggs kept telling them they were “seekin' for a key that was i' the lock.”
2. In pl.: a state of, or call for, truce in a children's game (Fif.17, w. and sm.Sc. 1959). Cf. Barley.
Also in dim. forms keysie, keysies (keysie ne.Sc. 1990s; keysies Edb. 1960s). Gsw. 1900–38 per Fif.17:
A call for a truce in a game added to the gesture of holding up the hand with the fingers crossed or with the thumb sticking out between the first and second fingers. Also called Key's locked!Per.4 1950:
Nae keys unless ye're hurt.Gsw. 1956 Bulletin (14 July) 4:
“You can't kill me,” he said, “I've got keys.” In the sunny days of — oh well — a while ago, so we had cunningly escaped when too closely cornered. Or sometimes it was a cry of “A baurley, a baurley,” which did the trick.
3. Fig., from key in music: mood, humour, frame of mind (Sh., n.Sc., Slg., Fif., Lnk., Kcb. 1959). Cf. Tune.Rnf. 1813 E. Picken Poems I. 64:
I carena, Frien', sin I'm in kee, To rest me in your hole a wee.Slk. 1820 Hogg Winter Ev. Tales II. 292:
I am in a proper key to go any where.Dmb. 1844 W. Cross Disruption ii.:
Whan your auntie's in an ill key, she gars folk hear that's no hearkenin'.Fif. 1864 W. D. Latto T. Bodkin vi., xii.:
No kennin' but what the craitur micht hae done some ill till himsel', . . . if he had been putten into ower heigh a key . . . Whiles when he wad get on's high keys.Arg. 1907 N. Munro Daft Days iv.:
He was in the key for fun.Gsw. 1949 C. Strathern Love at the Helm 98:
Don't put yourself out of key for it, fretting over what can't be helped.
Phr.: to be in a' the keys, to be worked up, to be in a state of great excitement (Fif.10 1941).Abd. 1928 P. Grey Making of a King 48:
Awa' ye go, noo, or the foreman'll be in a' the keys aboot ye.
4. In pl.: (1) the turret-shell, family Turritelidae (Mry.1 1928). Phr. the key of the sea, the pelican's foot shell (Mry. 1854 Zoologist XII. 4425); (2) = Badderlock, q.v. (Ork. 1886 B. and H. App. 548; Mry.1 1928).(2) Sc. 1814 Scots Mag. (May) 326:
Many newly-produced specimens of Fucus esculentus . . . were furnished with the small appendages at the base, or pinnae, which at maturity contain the seeds of the plant, and which are eaten by the country people in the north of Scotland, under the names of keys, and myrkles.
5. A strand-layer, a notched stick used in keeping the strands of rope from knotting in being twisted (Sh. 1975).
6. The treasurer of an Incorporated Trade or Craft, sc. as keeping the key of the box containing the funds, a box-master (see Box, n.1, 2. (4)), a Gowdie, q.v., specif. in Glasgow (Gsw. 1801 Incorp. Wrights (1889) 9). Combs. key-keeper, key-master, id. Chiefly hist. Gsw. 1879 J. Cruikshank Incorp. Masons 59:
The two Key-keepers, or as they are sometimes styled Key-masters, but who in 1660 first come to be termed Boxmasters. Gsw. 1924 D. Murray Early Burgh Organ. I. 359:
Every craft had a keymaster. . . . They were also known in the Wrights, craft as the "Trade's Key" or "Big Key" and the "Deacon's Key" or "Wee Key" [there being two boxes].
II. v. To lock, to fasten with a key (Uls. 1953 Traynor; Sh., Uls. 1959), to lock up, put under lock and key; to fasten or wedge in some way (Sh. 1959). Now obs. except dial. in Eng.Sh. 1898 W. F. Clark Northern Gleams 94:
He ax'd me if I'd key'd da door o' my room.Sh. 1953:
Juist key da door. Da airs (oars) are keyed.
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"Key n., v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 2 Dec 2023 <http://www.dsl.ac.uk/entry/snd/key>