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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1974 (SND Vol. IX). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

SWEY, v., n. Also swy(e), swei(gh); swe-, swee, swie; †sway(e), suay, sweay. [Sh., Cai., em.Sc. (a), s.Sc. swəi, ne.Sc. swɑe, m.Sc. swi:]

I. v. 1. intr. To swing to one side or the other, backwards and forwards, to sway, rock (Sc. 1825 Jam., swee; Sh. 1866 Edm. Gl., 1914 Angus Gl., swy; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B., swei). Gen.Sc.; to rock on a child's swing (Sc. 1808 Jam.); also fig. to fluctuate or swerve in one's aims or opinions, to vacillate, to change sides (Sc. 1825 Jam.; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.).Fif. 1767 Session Papers, Hunter v. Robb (27 Jan.) 6:
Walter Thomson was like to swee from Mr Alexander's party.
Slk. 1824 Hogg Shepherd's Cal. (1874) xii.:
Bairns that are brought up in the fear, nurture, and admonition o' their Maker, will aye swee to the right side.
Edb. 1828 D. M. Moir Mansie Wauch iii.:
Mewing about, with her tail sweeing behind her like a ramrod.
Slg. 1841 R. M. Stupart Harp of Strila 62:
They cut the figure eight like jing, Then roun' and roun' gang sweein'.
Bwk. 1863 A. Steel Poetical Works 113:
An independent mind for me — As swees the buss I spurn to swee.
Lnk. 1883 W. Thomson Leddy May 27:
The auld white yett ahint him swees.
m.Lth. 1925 C. P. Slater Marget Pow 20:
The gasoliery used to swee like a pendulum.
Mry. 1932 E. Gilbert Spindrift 19:
Ower swyin' bracken an' curlin' fern.
Ags. 1945 Scots Mag. (Feb.) 335:
I stood there sweyin' against the seat.
Bnff. 1960 Banffshire Jnl. (23 Feb.):
Dauchlin' a file On the pailin' tae swye.
Edb. 1965 J. K. Annand Sing it Aince 8:
Big it in an elm tree, Whar the wind'll gar it swee.
Ags. 1988 Raymond Vettese The Richt Noise 40:
Syne up he sprauchles an' wauchles owre
tae the pub door an' sweys a moment
an' craiks: "Mind me noo," wi near a glowre
i the mochie een,
m.Sc. 1996 John Murray Aspen 12:
Dour sail o day
swees on heivy heenges
as the souk on moorit barges
Abd. 1996 Sheena Blackhall Wittgenstein's Web 52:
Fin I luikit ower tae the toun, a great column o rikk raisse up, swyin frae side tae side.

2. tr. (1) To make to sway or swing, to wave about, to move (an object) to one side (Sc. 1825 Jam.; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; Sh., n.Sc. 1972); also fig. to sway (one's) purpose, influence or induce in a certain direction. To swee aff, to head or stave off, to cause to swerve, to deflect, lit. and fig.Abd. 1794 Sc. N. & Q. (Ser. 2) VI. 185:
Twas only force that ever swyed me to that notion.
Slk. 1817 Hogg Tales (1874) 153:
I saw the gate as I was gawn, but I couldna swee him aff.
Sc. 1818 S. Ferrier Marriage xxxii.:
Why didn't you hinder these boys from sweein' the gate off its hinges?
Slk. 1818 Hogg B. of Bodsbeck iii.:
Instead o' sweeping aff my downcome wi' his sword.
Sc. 1907 D. MacAlister Echoes (1923) 123:
In his richt han' the nakit steel He sweys.

(2) Specif. to shift the position of a cooking pot on a fire by moving the swey or crane (see II. 5.).Slk. 1822 Hogg Perils of Man I. iv.:
Bairns, swee that bouking o' claes aff the fire.
Rnf. 1873 D. Gilmour Pen' Folk 26:
Swee aff the kail pat.

(3) To press down, bend or beat to one side. Ppl.adj. swayed, leaning to one side, of a wall (Uls. 1880 Patterson Gl.).Sc. 1808 Jam.:
Growing corn, or grass, is said to be swayed, when wind-waved.
Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 116:
Hinnie sweyd down the whiteclaver.

(4) absol. To weigh, balance. Rare.Ayr. 1790 A. Tait Poems 8:
He gave them to Solomon clever to swee.

II. n. 1. (1) A swinging semi-circular motion (Sh., ne.Sc. 1972), a sudden move to one side, a swerve, lurch, a veering of wind (Sc. 1825 Jam.). Gen.Sc. Also fig. Phrs. on the swee, swaying, rocking or reeling under the influence of drink; in the swey-swaw, fig. in a state of hesitation or uncertainty (Lth. 1825 Jam.); swee-sway, used adj., id. (w. Lth. 1825 Jam.).Edb. 1791 J. Learmont Poems 32:
An' sic is Britain's present state, A sweigh will coup her ony gate.
Wgt. 1877 W. McIlwraith Guide 126:
The vessel gave a sudden “swee” to one side.
Lnk. 1890 J. Coghill Poems 110:
Ilk ane reelin' an' clean on the swee.
Cai. 1930 John o' Groat Jnl. (7 Feb.):
'E boatie took a swee in 'e middle o' 'e firth.
Lth. 1930 J. Cockburn Country Love 116:
But before he had the time tae flee Came Geordie's left wi' siccan a swee.

(2) inclination or bias, a trend, tendency (Sc. 1825 Jam.). Obs. in Eng.Sc. 1730 T. Boston Memoirs (1776) 329:
A plain sway to the other side appearing in that committee.
Slk. 1820 Hogg Winter Ev. Tales I. 253:
It's your mind that I'm sad for; they'll gie't a wrang swee.
Slk. 1824 Hogg Confessions (1874) 515:
It is best just to let justice tak its swee.

2. A swing for children (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Sh., Cai., m.Sc. 1972); a swing-boat at a fair or the like, gen. in comb. swey-boat, swee- (Kcd., em.Sc. (a) (swey), m.Lth. (swee-) 1972).Fif. 1901 G. Setoun Skipper of Barncraig vii.:
I aye got sick in a sway-boat.
wm.Sc. 1903 S. Macplowter Mrs McCraw 51:
The lambie laucht, an' said it wis better nor the sweys.
s.Sc. 1904 W. G. Stevenson Glen Sloken iv.:
I was yince in yin o' they swee boats.
Edb. 1958 J. W. Oliver Peevers 23:
What wi' graveyerds and playgrounds, wi' see-saws an' swees.

3. A lever, crowbar: (1) used in a quarry to raise stones (Ags. 1808 Jam.; Sh. 1914 Angus Gl., Sh. 1972, swy). Also in Eng. dial.; (2) as part of a churn (see quot.).(1) Bnff. 1721 J. Grant Bnff. Roads (1905) 10:
Four pretty large swayes and eight hand gavelocks.
(2) m.Lth. 1793 G. Robertson Agric. M. Lth. 84:
A plunge churn with a swee (a lever applied to the end of the churn-staff).

4. A derrick or crane for lifting heavy objects; a steelyard. Comb. swee-tree, the beam of a crane.Gsw. 1737 Burgh Rec. Gsw. (1909) 475:
£1 13s. 2d. sterling for making a swee tree, wort trough and gantrees.
Fif. 1765 E. Henderson Dunfermline (1879) 483:
To erect a Cran or Sway . . . for weighing Goods.
Abd. 1796 Session Papers, Leslie v. Fraser (29 March 1805) 289:
The carts come under the sway and the barrel, and receive the lime into them upon the pier.
e.Lth. 1810–3 Foord Acct. Bk. MS. 102, 122:
To 18 lb. of lead for running in the foot of the suay. To Setting up the Sweay and mending the Spowt.

5. A horizontal bar or arm of iron working on a vertical pivot fixed at the side of a fire, on which chains, pot-hooks and cooking vessels can be suspended, and which can be swung to and fro over the fire, a chimney crane (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Sh. 1866 Edm. Gl., sway; Per., Fif., Lth., Ayr. 1915–26 Wilson; Bwk. 1942 Wettstein; Rxb. 1942 Zai). Gen.Sc.Rnf. 1761 W. M. Metcalfe Lordship Paisley (1912) 42:
Cutting out holes for putting in four sweys in the Dovecoat house.
Ayr. 1765 Session Papers, Howetson v. Logan (23 July) 6:
He gave a birch-stick to the defender to make a swie for Burnhead kitchen.
Ayr. 1823 Galt R. Gilhaize II. xxviii.:
There was still hanging, on the swee, a kail-pot.
Rxb. 1868 D. Anderson Musings 28:
Come haste and mak' a clean hearth-stane, Gar shine the crook and swey.
Slg. 1877 J. M. Neilson Poems 68:
She brocht the parritch-pat up frae The burn, half-filled wi' water, An' hung't tae simmer on the swee.
Abd. 1882 W. Alexander My Ain Folk 215:
The little black lamp that hung on the shoulder of the ‘swye' from which the crook depended.
Knr. 1890 H. Haliburton In Sc. Fields 130:
The pot was raised by means of the black crook-shell to a higher link of the kitchen “swey”, or crane.
Bwk. 1897 R. M. Calder Poems 160:
A warm an' cheery ingle-side, An' the kettle on the swee.
Dmf. 1913 A. Anderson Surfaceman's Later Poems 214:
Hing his stockin's owre the swey.
Sc. 1933 E. S. Haldane Scotland of Our Fathers 46:
An open fire with a ‘sweigh' or hook and chain on which to hang the ‘girdle' or flat iron on which were baked the scones.
Abd. 1960 Stat. Acc.3 397:
Low fires with “sweys” and whitewashed hearths.
wm.Sc. 1980 Anna Blair The Rowan on the Ridge 28:
... to find his mother and Annie Jack and send them to Burnside to set the water-pot on the swee for a poultice.
wm.Sc. 1986 Robert McLellan in Joy Hendry Chapman 43-4 21:
Na, nearer nor that. No faur frae the door somewhaur. I ken! It's whaur Sandy MacMillan was tryin to strauchten a crookit swee. He brocht up some coal because he said it wad saften the airn better.
Ags. 1990s:
Swey: n. pot-supporting bar over open fire.

Combs.: (1) swebar, = swey above (Sc. 1911 S.D.D.); (2) swee-chain, the chain hanging from the swey on which the pots are hooked (Cai., Ags. 1972); (3) swey-crook, the pot hook on the swey (Cai. 1972). See Cruik.(2) Arg. 1902 N. Munro Shoes of Fortune i.:
Had her griddle been higher on the swee-chain by a link or two.
w.Sc. 1929 A. A. Macgregor Summer Days 338:
The “swee-chain” and its hook.
(3) Fif. 1827 W. Tennant Papistry 38:
As to the swey-crook Vulcan rides Curlin' in smeeky majestie.

6. A bracket for a street-lamp.Edb. 1720 D. Robertson Bailies of Leith (1915) 174:
The saids lamps swyes or posts upon which they are erected.
Gsw. 1760 Burgh Rec. Gsw. (1912) 21:
Lead for lamp sways, batts and others.

7. A wooden yoke or beam placed across the shoulders from which a pail can be hung at either hand to facilitate transport (Bnff., Abd. 1900).

[O.Sc. sweye, to swing to one side, c.1460, to rock and fall, 1513, swey, control, to sway, 1570, a swinging or rocking blow, 1510, crowbar, 1535, lamp-bracket, 1688, swey tree, 1663, Mid.Eng. sweȝe, to go, move, O.E. *sweȝan, and cf. O.N. sveigja, to swing. St. Eng. sway is from L.Ger. swajen, Du. zwaaien, to swing, wave, go on a slant.]

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



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