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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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

SILLY, adj., v. Also sillie, selly (Lnk. 1910 C. Fraser Glengonnar 153); sully (m.Sc. 1919 J. Buchan Mr Standfast iv.). Sc. forms and usages:

I. adj. 1. (1) Deserving pity or compassion, freq. as an epithet expressing kindness or sympathy, = Eng. poor (Rxb. 1808 Jam.). Obs. in Eng. exc. n. dial.Sc. 1724 Ramsay T.-T. Misc. (1876) I. 80:
Goodwife, for your courtesie, Will you lodge a silly poor man?
Sc. 1764 T. Reid Inquiry 31:
Is this thy pastime, O Nature, to put such tricks upon a silly creature?

(2) Expressing commendation or approval: good, worthy (Rxb. 1825 Jam. “a sense peculiar to Liddesdale”).

2. Hapless, helpless, unable to fend for oneself (m.Sc., Rxb. 1970), esp. of women.Slk. 1818 Hogg B. of Bodsbeck xvi.:
His daughter asked how he could be frightened to go where a silly girl, his own child, led the way?
s.Sc. 1839 Wilson's Tales of the Borders V. 11:
I am a poor, silly, undone woman, in my old age.
Fif. 1896 D. S. Meldrum Grey Mantle 25:
She cam' to us a bit silly lass rising seventeen, and ower auld for schulin'.
Peb. 1964 Stat. Acc.3 53:
A herd would be a gey sillie body if he hadna a good dug.

3. Weak, feeble, frail, in poor health, delicate, sickly, of persons or animals (Sc. 1808 Jam., 1825 W. Mitchell Scotsman's Library 361; Per. 1915 Wilson L. Strathearn 269; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; Fif., Lth. 1926 Wilson Cent. Scot. 265). Gen. (exc. I.) Sc., obsol. Also in n.Eng. dial.; lean, meagre (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Per., Fif., Lth. 1915–26 Wilson).Sc. 1708 Seafield Corresp. (S.H.S.) 462:
The prisoners of the ship are sillie lyck men and ill clothed.
Lnk. 1746 D. Graham Writings (1883) I. 158:
Cold water struck the women's belly, It made them both prove faint and silly.
Bwk. 1764 Session Papers, Yules v. Others State of Process 90:
John Hog in Bedshiell carried away the straw thereof upon an old silly beast or horse.
Dmf. 1817 W. Caesar Poems 51:
But now, though fail'd, and unco silly, I scarce dow work, though right weel willy.
Sc. 1818 Scott H. Midlothian xvii.:
Is there onything you would particularly fancy, as your health seems but silly.
Ayr. 1821 Galt Annals i.:
She was but of a silly constitution, the which would have been better for her than spinning from morning to far in the night.
Ags. 1888 Barrie Auld Licht Idylls ix.:
I was silly for my age and not strong in the arms.
Slg. 1896 W. Harvey Kennethcrook 235:
There's twa times i' the year that try silly bodies.
Rxb. 1927 E. C. Smith Braid Haaick 20:
She's aye been a silly bairn; she's never thrivven sin she hed the mizzls.
Dmf. 1962 Stat. Acc.3 297:
A “silly laddie” means a frail boy, not a mentally afflicted one.

4. Weak, shaky, flimsy, unsubstantial, spindly, lacking strength, of things (Uls. 1924 Northern Whig (31 Jan.); ne. and m.Sc. 1970); in 1706 quot. = Eng. mere. For phr. a silly slump see Slump, n.1, 1.Sc. 1706 Earls Crm. (Fraser 1876) II. 11:
Shee never did, nor never intends, to apply mor of it to herr self then silly 4000 merks per annum.
Sc. 1728 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) II. 44:
Some Experiment of Nature, Whase silly Shape displeas'd her Eye, And thus unfinish'd was flung by.
Sc. 1759 Session Papers, McKenzie v. Scot (25 Jan.) 84:
The Deponent observed no other Arms with them but one silly Sword or Shabble.
Per. 1773 Fergusson Poems (Grosart 1879) 76:
A fouishenless and silly leek Nae worth a strae.
Ayr. 1786 Burns To a Mouse iv.:
Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin! Its silly was's the win's are strewin!
Sc. c.1802 Lord Thomas in Child Ballads No. 73 I. viii.:
Ye'll but sit a silly sate Wi naught but fair beauty.
Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 214:
His scythes row owre a famous swaird, and no a silly whittery.
Per. 1883 W. Cleland Inchbracken vii.:
I'm but a puir door-keeper in the house of the Lord, juist a puir silly earthen vessel.
Ags. 1889 Barrie W. in Thrums xxii.:
Twa o' them [chairs] was mended wi' glue, an' gey silly.
Ags. 1931 M. Angus Turn of the Day 10:
Ane wha gaed like thistle doon, Ane wi' silly feet.
Abd.15 1946:
Leuk for a thicker stick nor that, min; that een's ower silly. That [spindly plant] 'll never grow. It's ower silly.

5. Of soil: poor in quality, unfertile.Fif. 1896 D. S. Meldrum Grey Mantle 103:
Harvest was always late, the land being high and silly.
Lnk. 1907 Trans. Highl. Soc. XIX. 172:
It is naturally very poor, “silly” land.

6. Weak in the head, feeble-minded, mentally deficient, imbecile (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Sh., ne.Sc., Ags., Per., Ayr., Kcb. 1970). Orig. and still chiefly Sc. Comb. silly wise, id.Sc. 1721 R. Wodrow Sufferings iii. vii. s. 4:
He did not recover the Exercise of his Reason fully, but was silly, and next to an Idiot.
Sc. 1814 Scott Waverley lxiv.:
Davie's no sae silly as folk tak him for.
Sc. 1824 S. Ferrier Inheritance II. xxx.:
He's just quite silly wise . . . he just lies there snottering awa'.

Combs. (1) silly cuddies, the game of leap-frog (wm.Sc. 1970), a corruption of skin-the-cuddie. Cf. Cuddy, n.1, 5. (7); (2) silly-willy, a fool, a ninny. Cf. colloq. Eng. silly-billy.(1) Lnk. 1925 W. Queen Guide to We're a' Coortin' 39:
I played at the bools, an' sully cuddies.
(2) m.Lth. 1881 A. Wardrop J. Mathison 110:
A silly willy glarin' Called our hero back again.

II. v. refl. To make a fool of (oneself), to show lack of sense.Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 155:
He silliet himsel' in answerin' that stoopit letter i' the newspaiper.

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"Silly adj., v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 12 Jun 2024 <>



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