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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.

SYBOW, n. Also sybo (Abd. 1871 J. Milne Songs 49), sybou, syboe (Sc. 1844 G. Outram Lyrics (1874) 14; Bnff., Ags., Fif., Gsw., Ayr., Dmf.); seybo (Rnf. 1895 R. Ford Thistledown 3), seybow (Wgt. 1702 G. Fraser Lowland Lore (1880) 26), s(e)ibow (Sc. 1825 Jam.), sybaw (Edb. 1703 Foulis Acct. Bk. (S.H.S.) 327), sybae, siba (Kcb. 1897 A. J. Armstrong Robbie Rankine at Exhibition 43), sibba (Lnk. 1881 D. Thomson Musings 61), sebow (Fif. 1827 W. Tennant Papistry 39), and quasi-dim. forms sybie (Sc. 1869 Gardener's Chron. 8; Edb., Ayr. 2000s); seybie (e.Lth. 1892 J. Lumsden Sheep-Head 6), sybbie (e.Lth. 1887 P. McNeill Blawearie 138), sibbie (Sc. 1914 N. & Q. (21 Nov.)), saiby, seabie. Dim. form sybuck (Lnl. 1771 J. Finlayson Marches Day (1814) 22). [′səibə, ′səibi]

1. The young or spring onion, orig. and specif. a scallion (Sc. 1825 Jam.; Fif., Lth., Ayr. 1923–6 Wilson; Bwk. 1942 Wettstein; Rxb. 1942 Zai;  Gen. (exc. I.) Sc.Sc. 1701 Foulis Acct. Bk. (S.H.S.) 294:
To Jamie Gray that he gave for ane unce of sybaes seed . . . 0 2 0.
Sc. 1722 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. 221:
Feavers . . . which Fowk like Sybous hought.
Sc. 1816 Scott O. Mortality xxxii.:
The head's taen aff them, as clean as I wad bite it aff a sybo!
Slk. 1821 Hogg Poems (1865) 363:
How the seybos an' the leeks Are brairding through the snaw.
Ags. 1833 J. Sands Poems 70:
To dine, On salmon fresh and syboes fine.
Fif. 1894 A. S. Robertson Provost 28:
If mair sybies were eaten there would be fewer doctors.
Gsw. 1904 H. Foulis Erchie viii.:
Plantin' syboes roond his cottage home.
Kcb. 1911 G. M. Gordon Auld Clay Biggin' 5:
Tatties, syboes, greens.
Sc. 1935 Scotsman (10 June) 7:
A salad of tomatoes and chopped syboes.
wm.Sc. 1941 Bulletin (19 June):
Onions which should be left for autumn harvesting are being disposed of as syboes.
Sc. 1994 Scotsman (10 Feb):
"How do you make it?" "Well, ma'am," responded the cottar in housewifely pride, "I put leeks intil't, an turnip intil't, an carrots intil't, an barley intil't, an syboes intil't, an ..."
Sc. 1996 Herald (14 Sep) 23:
Weekend lunch is a huge salad with feta cheese and black olives from a Byres Road deli, syboes, lettuce, cucumber - and more tomatoes.
Sc. 1997 Sunday Times (1 Jun):
A couple of starters proved what the place was capable of - a really good roast quail, for example, which had been marinaded in sesame oil and soy sauce then roasted before receiving a garnish of intensely grilled syboes.
Sc. 1999 Herald (11 Oct) 4:
Salad cream, therefore, was the only thing with which to enliven what was then known in Scotland as a salad. Comprising a leaf of very limp lettuce, a quarter of a tomato, a syboe, and perhaps a radish or two ...
Sc. 2000 Herald (8 Apr) 26:
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 fine sliced syboe
1 chilli, sliced fine
2 tbsp fresh lime juice ...
Sc. 2001 Business a.m. (31 Oct):
The meltingly pink meat, spicy black pudding and robust gravy were a carnivore's delight. My partner reported his Arbroath pale smoked haddie and syboe tartlet was only slightly less successful.

Combs.: (1) sybow-head, the bulb of the onion used for planting, an onion set; (2) syboe short, brusque or short in temper or manner, snappish; (3) sybow-tail, the foliage or green shoots of the young onion.(1) Abd. 1735 Abd. Estate (S.C.) 21:
Whitings and Sybowheads from Farquarson . . . 7d.
Mry. 1752 Records of Elgin (S.C.) I. 462:
Ilk firkin of onions or sybowheads . . . 9d.
(2) Dmb. 1868 J. Salmon Gowodean 26:
Hoots, kimmer, but your syboe short today.
(3) Ayr. 1786 Burns Ep. to J. M'Adam v.:
A lee dyke-side, a sybow-tail, An' barley-scone shall cheer me.
Ags. 1853 W. Blair Aberbrothock 23:
Barley, ingins, leeks, saiby-tails.
Fif. 1875 A. Burgess Poute 36:
I'm like a Seabie-Tail — I'm dowd an Feeble.

2. Given as a savoy cabbage, phs. due to a misunderstanding or to assimilation of the names (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.).

3. transf. A nickname for an inhabitant of Girvan in Ayrshire where the growing of spring onions was a speciality (Ayr. 1972).

[O.Sc. sybbow, id., 1574, Cent. Fr. ciboule, North. Fr. chiboule, which appears in Eng., now obs. or dial., as chibol, all ad. Lat. cepula, a little onion. For -ow see P.L.D. §§ 55, 78.2.]

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



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