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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1971 (SND Vol. VIII). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

SAIN, v., n. Also saine, sayne, sane, sein, sin; shane. In 1704 quot. since = “sain us”. Sc. forms and usages, now dial. or arch. in Eng. [′se(ə)n]

I. v. 1. Of God, etc.: to bless. Freq. in exclam. phr. (God) sain —!, in 1704 quot. quasi-imprecatively and ironically in 1932 quot. Now arch. or liter.Wgt. 1704 Session Bk. Wgt. (1934) 66:
Baillie James's wife said, God since he had neither seen her nor her land.
n.Sc. 1710 T. Ruddiman Gl. to Douglas Aeneis:
God safe you and sane you.
Sc. 1818 Scott Rob Roy xvii., xxx.:
God sain them! that I suld even the puir things to the like o' papists. . . . In a country where men's wordly gear was keepit from infang and outfang thief, as well as their immortal souls from the claws of the deil and his cummers, — sain and save us!
Sc. 1832 A. Henderson Proverbs 111:
God sain your ee, man.
Sh. 1886 G. Temple Britta 45:
The auld meenister — God sain his sowl! — had aye to pit his mooth to my lug.
Abd. 1893 G. MacDonald Songs 53:
Noo Christ me sain an' see!
Kcb. 1896 Crockett Grey Man xi.:
Sain me, this may be a queer, uncanny world.
Cai. 1904 E.D.D.:
Sain the bairn, a phr. used when a child sneezes.
Sc. 1924 Scots Mag. (June) 171:
Now I rest my han's on his cross, and pray Sanct Andrew to sain the mill.
Sc. 1932 J. Bridie Anatomist 35:
Eh! Deevil sain us! What's this, now, the wind's blown in?

2. To protect from harm or evil by a ritual sign or act, esp. by making the sign of the cross, to consecrate, hallow, bless: (1) with a living or immaterial obj. For saining at childbirth see W. Gregor Folk-Lore (1881) 5.Ork. 1701 J. Brand Descr. Ork. 94:
Especially at Hallow-Even, they use to sein or sign their Boats and put a Cross of Tar upon them. . . . Their Houses also some use then to sein.
Abd. 1768 A. Ross Helenore (S.T.S.) 12:
The jizzen-bed wi' rantree leaves was sain'd.
Sc. 1802 Scott Minstrelsy II. 179:
Many of the vulgar account it extremely dangerous to touch any thing which they may happen to find without saining it, the snares of the enemy being notorious and well-attested.
Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 210, 427:
If she [elfshot cow] first walks quietly over the peat, she remains uncured; but if she first smells, then lets a spang over it with a billy, she is then shaned or cured. . . . Red hot irons are sometimes thrown into the churn, so that it may get, or that the cream therein may become butter; this is termed shaning.
Sc. 1827 Scott Highland Widow v.:
Cursed be he that would sain your bones, or add a stone to your cairn.
s.Sc. c.1830 Hist. Bwk. Nat. Club XXIII. 55:
Then one of the oldest women from among the attendants is made choice of, to perform the ceremony of sainin' the body.
Sc. 1831 J. Logan Sc. Gael (1876) II. 67:
It is common to the Highlanders and Irish to keep a large oval-shaped crystal, the virtue of which is, that water being poured on it and administered to the animals, they are sained or preserved from many evils that would otherwise befal them.
Sh. 1846 Fraser's Mag. (Oct.) 492:
Like the Catholic priests, the religious charmer of Shetland would mutter some words over water, and the element thus sained was named forespoken water.
Ork. 1848 Old-Lore Misc. I. v. 163:
A lying-in woman was “sained” to keep the fairies off, by having a smouldering rag circled three times over her.
Ork. 1893 Sc. Antiquary VII. 175:
In olden times mothers used to sin, that is, to paint the sign of the cross on the breasts of their daughters before going by sea to the Lammas Fair.
Abd. 1899 W. D. Geddes J. Geddes 35:
He “sained” his byres regularly at certain seasons, lining them with rowan tree sprays, in order to keep witches away.
Cai. 1921 Old-Lore Misc. IX. i. 18:
Oatmeal and salt was also used for “saining”, i.e., to secure a blessing.
Sc. 1927 W. D. Simpson Hist. St Columba 77:
A burial enclosure — the old Lagan Stone Circle, as it were, sained with the emblem of the new faith.
Sh. 1932 J. M. E. Saxby Trad. Lore 156:
I never minded upon what should be done at Yule time to sain the bairns.

(2) refl. To cross oneself, to exorcise bad luck from oneself, to protect one's self from harm by prayer, incantation or the like (Slk. 1825 Jam.).Sc. 1710 R. Wodrow Analecta (M.C.) I. 356:
Shee felt him grou cold like lead, and began to be in a dreadful terrour, and to sain herself.
Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 288:
Sain your self from the Dee'l, and the Laird's Bairns.
Abd. 1768 A. Ross Helenore (S.T.S.) 69:
She frae the ill o't sain'd her o'er and o'er.
Ayr. 1790 J. Fisher Poems 80:
Ilk ane did sane themsel, An' said this is gude Fursday's night.
Dmf. 1810 R. Cromek Remains 60:
Come sain ye, come cross ye, an' Gude be near ye!
Rxb. 1826 A. Scott Poems 97:
Scarce had he time to sayne himsel'.
Mry. 1852 A. Christie Mountain Strains 13:
Mysel' I saind; my horse I saind An' then he cross'd an saind himsel'.
Ork. 1884 R. M. Fergusson Rambles 201:
When the old woman heard this she immediately sained, i.e. blessed herself.
Sh. 1899 J. Spence Folk-Lore 167:
The woman now had power to “sain hersel'”.
sm.Sc. 1979 Alan Temperley Tales of Galloway (1986) 166:
They were frightened until the youngest, a boy of nine or ten, saw that the blanket was his. Saining themselves, the children advanced into the room.

(3) intr., with aboot, o(n), ower.Sc. 1827 C. I. Johnston Eliz. de Bruce III. v.:
“Keep a thing seven years, and ye'll get use for it;” and so sains o' her bit tocher, for which I never could see great call till this night.
Bte. 1853 W. Bannatyne Poems 61:
She sanes on the laird, but the laird disna see.
Sh. 1893 Sinclair MS. 17:
The grateful Trows filled his peerie briggie with choice silver coins, but unfortunately the coins were “never sained aboot”.
Sh. 1959 New Shetlander No. 52. 29:
Aunty Betty hed a coo' an she was trow-shot. So shu got twa weemin at kent aboot daelin wi dis an dey trivelled ower da animal an sained ower her a while.

(4) by extension: to inaugurate with some act or ceremony, to give a send-off to, wish well symbolically (Bnff. 1969).Edb. 1773 Fergusson Poems (S.T.S.) II. 176:
The brawest 'mang the whistling choir, Wi' glib notes sane the simmer's green.
Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 210:
A broom or cow is thrown after curlers when they leave a house; this is shaning them good luck.
Abd. 1960 Huntly Express (22 July):
The people of the Glens decided to “sain” the new school with a concert.

(5) with o: to absolve, forgive (for), shrive.Kcb. 1895 Crockett Moss-Haggs vii.:
I hae to ride to Edinburgh toon, there to tell mair lees than I am likely to be sained o'.

3. To call down blessings on, to exclaim or pray for the welfare or prosperity of, esp. as a sign of gratitude. In 1746 and 1813 quots. used ironically = to curse, rail against, hence sainins, a scolding (Abd. 1930).Sc. 1746 Lyon in Mourning (S.H.S.) I. 168:
Donald saned these blades, the informers, very heartily, and spared not to give them their proper epithets in strong terms.
Abd. 1768 A. Ross Helenore (S.T.S.) 100:
Blyth was the wife her foster-son to see, An' sain'd him o'er an' o'er right cheerfullie.
Edb. 1773 Fergusson Poems (S.T.S.) II. 144:
But gif some mortal grien for pious fame. And leave the poor man's pray'r to sane his name.
Abd. 1813 D. Anderson Poems 84:
[He] damned the deils and witches, . . . And seint the infernal b — s, Sae vile that night.
Ayr. 1822 H. Ainslie Pilgrimage 124:
I luckit on her bonny brow, And sain'd her wi' my blessing.
Sh. 1922 J. Inkster Mansie's Röd 131:
Girzzie cam' efter me sichin', an' sain'd me shurely a dizzn o' times.
Abd. 1925 Greig and Keith Last Leaves 159:
Else your master will be slain, An' ye sanna sain the day.

4. To heal, cure, give ease to. This usage is also found in liter. Eng. of the 19th c. and is due to confusion with obs. Eng. sane, Lat. sanare, to heal.Sc. 1920 A. Gray Songs from Heine 18:
They wad greet wi' me their dewdraps To sane me o' my pein.
Dmf. 1926 Scots Mag. (March) 437:
Led awa' by cliver fowk that weel ken hoo to sain their ain skins.
Abd. 1929 J. Milne Dreams o' Buchan 22:
Honest labour has nae marrow, Body, he'rt an' soul tae sain.
Ags. 1934 H. B. Cruickshank Noran Water 10:
Neither sang nor sunshine My wound o' love can sain.
Abd. 1995 Sheena Blackhall Lament for the Raj 7:
I anely hid ae notion, sae serene
It sained ma sairs, an gleddened aa ma waes ...

II. n. A blessing, a gesture or invocation of good-will and good-fortune (n.Sc. 1825 Jam.); a ritual act which breaks witchcraft (Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 427, shane).Sc. 1812 The Scotchman 42:
He presentit our fashonable minister without eer considering whether he was like to be a sain or a cross to the parish.
Sc. 1936 J. G. Horne Flooer o' Ling 51:
The halie sain O' canny, kin'ly, simmer rain.

[O.Sc. sane, to make the sign of the cross, a.1400, to bless, 1500, O.E. segnian, id., ult. ad. Lat. signum. a sign.]

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"Sain v., n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 24 May 2024 <>



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