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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1976 (SND Vol. X). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

WHITTLE, n.1, v. Also whitle, whettle (Ayr. 1790 A. Tait Poems 101); whuttle (Ags. 1893 Mod. Sc. Poets (Edwards) XV. 171; Abd. 1918 W. Mutch Hev ye a Spunk 7); hwitel, hwetel (Sh.). For n.Sc. forms see also Futtle. [ʍɪtl, ʍʌtl]

I. n. A knife, in gen. (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Fif., Lth., Ayr. 1923–6 Wilson; Sh., m.Sc., Rxb. 1974), a carving-, clasp- or sheath-knife, a dirk. Obs. exc. dial. in Eng. Dim. whittlie, -y (Abd. 1824 G. Smith Douglas 15). Hence whitler, a cutler.Sc. 1715 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. 72:
Twa good Junts of Beef, Drew Whitles frae ilk Sheath.
Fif. 1732 E. Henderson Dunfermline (1879) 427:
This is the first named Dunfermline “cutler, or whitler,” on record.
Abd. 1754 R. Forbes Journal 23:
A whittle that lies i' the quinzie o' the maun oner the claith.
Sc. 1774 Weekly Mag. (27 Jan.) 151:
I'll gie you my whittlie that made the trout-creel.
Ayr. 1786 Burns Earnest Cry xviii.:
She'll rin her whittle to the hilt I' th' first she meets.
Slk. 1818 Hogg B. of Bodsbeck iii.:
Down fell his bit whittle to the ground.
Sc. 1822 Scott Pirate xviii.:
A land where lads are ready to draw the whittle if a lassie looks but awry.
Ags. 1861 “Robin” Rhymes 9:
Aye my hand, wi' instinctive ettle, Gangs to my pouch to seek my whittle.
Arg. 1896 N. Munro Lost Pibroch 56:
The halberts, snapped at the haft to make whittles.
Kcb. a.1902 Gallovidian XV. 109:
Nor gardener's whuttle sappy vines gar bleed.
Sc. 1934 J. Buchan Free Fishers xi.:
We've our whittles, but we're aye sweir to use them.
em.Sc. 2000 James Robertson The Fanatic 95:
They knew that many of the defeated Covenanters had been armed only with heuks and graips and whittles. The bodies were dismembered and the heads sent back to be stuck on the gates of their home towns in the west.

Phrs. and combs.: (1) Kilmaurs whittle, see Kilmaurs, 1.; (2) to cowe the wee whittle, see Cow, v.1, n.2, III. 8.; (3) to have a good whittle at one's belt, see quot.; (4) to think one's whittle i' the shaft, to imagine that one has attained one's end; (5) whittle-case, a sheath for a knife; (6) whittle-chin, a sharp pointed chin.(3) Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 387:
You had ay a good Whittle at your Belt. Spoken to them that have a ready Answer.
(4) Abd. 1801 W. Beattie Parings (1873) 25:
She sees him leeshin' up the craft An' thinks her whittle's i' the shaft.
(5) Slg. 1818 W. Muir Poems 18:
The father o' her flesher race, Wore by his side the whittle case.
(6) Ayr. 1817 D. McKillop Poems 102:
Whittle chins an' lantern chafts.

2. Specif. a harvest-hook, sickle, scythe (Sc. 1808 Jam., 1866 Edm. Gl.); a hedgebill (Lnk., Ayr. 1974). For kail-whittle see Kail, n., 5. (33).Sc. 1726 Ramsay T.-T. Misc. (1877) I. 174:
A rousty whittle to shear the kail.
Edb. 1791 J. Learmont Poems 214:
The pleugh-staff or whittle wield Mair bang than ever.
Fif. 1806 A. Douglas Poems 138:
Rise, rise, an' to the whittle, In haste this day.
Rnf. 1878 C. Fleming Poems 226:
Time's a chiel that stan's wi' eldrich whittle.

3. A whetstone, specif. one used for sharpening scythes (Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 479, whuttle; Sh. 1866 Edm. Gl.; Sh., w.Sc. 1882 Jam.; Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928), hwetel, hwitel; Sh., wm.Sc. 1974).

II. v. 1. As in Eng., to pare, shave; to cut with a knife.Mry. 1830 T. Lauder Mry. Floods 46:
I buckled wi' him [a wolf], and dirkit him, and syne whuttled his craig.
Per. 1895 R. Ford Tayside Songs 119:
He whittled her finger aff ower by the ring.

2. To sharpen, put an edge on with a whetstone. Cf. 3. above. Hence whitling stone, a whetstone.Rnf. 1805 G. McIndoe Poems 51:
Your graving tool, sae keenly whittled, Cuts every stroke.
Sh. 1877 G. Stewart Fireside Tales 152:
The sharp ring of the whitling stone on the scythe-blades.

[O.Sc. quhittil, 1570, Mid Eng. whyttel, variants of earlier O.Sc. thewtill, 1475, Mid.Eng. thwitel, deriv. of O.E. þwītan, to cut (see White, v.2). See T, letter, 9.(2)(v). In senses I. 3. and II. 2. there has been influence from whet, in Sh. poss. from O.N. hvetja, to sharpen.]

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"Whittle n.1, v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 12 Jun 2024 <>



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