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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.

SKYBALD, n., adj. Also skaibald, skybalt, skeibult, skibbald; skybal(l), scyball, skyble, scybel(l), -il, skible, skibel, skeible, skebel; skypal, skypel, skyple, skeplet. [′skɑebəl(d), -əlt]

I. n. 1. A scamp, rascal, rogue, a worthless person, someone who is mean, contemptible or pitiable, a poor wretch (s.Sc. 1802 J. Sibbald Chron. Sc. Poetry Gl.; Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 427, 498; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; Uls. 1953 Traynor). Hence deriv. v. ¶skybaleer, to rail against, abuse, vilify (Cai. 1904 E.D.D.).Lth. 1718 News from Bathgate 5:
When Highlanders came here away, These naked Skaibalds boasted.
Sc. 1728 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) II. 122:
Poor Skybalds, curs'd with less of Wealth than Wit.
Dmf. 1760 Session Papers, Reid v. Edgar (18 July) 23:
I would not list with such a Scyball as you.
Per. 1774 Gentleman and Lady's Weekly Mag. (8 June) 235:
The skybald, by his ain ill conscience chas'd.
Slk. 1818 Hogg B. of Bodsbeck iii.:
My very bluid began to rise at being chased by twa skebels.
Lnk. a.1832 W. Watt Poems (1860) 353:
For sic outlandish skybalds now Ha'e ta'en the dicin' trade.
Fif. 1864 St Andrews Gazette (20 Feb.):
Eh! ye skibbald ye, but just come back again, an' I'll meal-box ye.
Wgt. 1912 A.O.W.B. Fables 19:
Whar is he noo, the skypal?

2. A ragged, unkempt or neglected person, a tatterdemalion, ragamuffin (Sc. 1728 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) II. Gl.; Rxb. 1970); one of uncouth or unpleasant manners or temper (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 164).Rnf. 1835 D. Webster Rhymes 43:
This skybal of late has been tied to his Kate.
Arg. c.1850 L. MacInnes Dial. S. Kintyre (1936) 29:
Nor I a claty skybal, thus To sclaffer after thee.
Uls. 1892 Ballymena Obs.:
You're a naked skibel.
ne.Sc. 1909 G. Greig Folk-Song xii. 1:
An ill faurt skyple cam' fae Crimon', . . . A perfect scunner to the women.
Rxb. 1925 E. C. Smith Mang Howes 20:
A schauchlin, husslin-shoodert skeibult wui a toozy, taaty heed.

3. A thin person (Uls. 1880 Patterson Gl., 1953 Traynor); a thin, worn-out or lazy animal, esp. a horse (Ayr. 1825 Jam.; Traynor); a gelded goat (Rnf. 1825 Jam.).

4. Something worthless, useless or discarded, as thin poor soil (Cai. 1904 E.D.D., Cai. 1970); in pl., peeled branches when the bark was stripped for tanning (Dmf. a.1920). Cf. Skibbrie.

II. adj. 1. Rascally, worthless, disreputable; tattered, ragged (Cld. 1825 Jam.). Now arch.Sc. p.1714 Jacob. Relics (Hogg 1819) 118:
A skeplet hat, and plaiden hose.
Sc. 1784 Caled. Mercury (16 Oct.):
Britain's a muckle maun Balloon, Opprest wi' mony a scybell loun.
Abd. a.1809 J. Skinner Amusements 43:
Gin I had here the skypel Kate, Sae weel's I shoud him bang!
Uls. 1901 Northern Whig:
Confined only to the riff-raff, to the street “skibel” fraternity.
Sc. 1913 H.P. Cameron Imit. Christ III. vi.:
Awa tae the back-o'-beyont wi' ye, ye skypal whilly wha.

2. Of persons or circumstances: needy, not having a sufficiency, short, causing want or destitution; scrimp, stingy.Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 164:
A'll be some scypal o' seed-corn.
Abd. 1897 Trans. Bch. Field Club IV. 81:
“Skyple” wi yer wecht.
Abd. 1955:
This is skypal times — bare times, said when small boats could not get to sea.

III. v. To work carelessly (Ayr.4 1928).

[O.Sc. schybald, = I. 1., a.1566, skybalde, = II. 1., a.1585. Orig. obscure.]

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"Skybald n., adj.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 9 Dec 2023 <>



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