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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 but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

WIFE, n. Also wyfe, †wiffe. The pl. form wifes is occas. found (Kcb. 1901 R. Trotter Gall. Gossip 111; Gsw. 1904 H. Foulis Erchie xii.). See P.L.D. § 70. Dim. forms wifie (Rnf. a.1810 R. Tannahill Poems (1900) 223; Edb. 1843 J. Ballantine Gaberlunzie i.; Gsw. 1877 J. Young Prose & Verse 52; ne.Sc. 1974), wyfie; wifey (Gsw. 1877 A. G. Murdoch Laird's Lykewake 77), wiffie (Kcb. 1898 T. Murray Frae the Heather 36), wif(e)ock (Sc. 1813 The Scotchman 117; Kcb. 1901 R. Trotter Gall. Gossip 201; Sc. 1925 Scots Mag. (Jan.) 279), double dim. wifickie, wifockie (Bnff. 1910 Banffshire Jnl. (18 Jan.) 9), wyfockie (Abd. 1868 W. Shelley Wayside Flowers 274), wif(e)ikie, wifagie (Cai.). Sc. usages:

1. A woman in gen., whether married or not (Sc. 1787 J. Beattie Scoticisms 106, 1808 Jam.; Sh. 1897 J. Jakobsen Dial. Sh. 51; Cai. 1905 E.D.D.), now applied to a woman in or past middle age (Sc. 1802 J. Sibbald Chron. Sc. Poetry Gl.) and gen. with a slightly disparaging force in regard to social status or occupation, freq. also of a somewhat overbearing woman, a woman in some authority or charge, e.g. a female teacher (ne.Sc. 1974); also as a pet-word for a little girl, esp. in dim. forms. Gen.Sc. Also attrib., gen. in dim. form in children's usage, = female (ne.Sc. 1974).Dmf. 1746 R. Edgar Hist. Dmf. (1915) 44:
A Gypsie wife taken in the act of stealing.
Abd. c.1780 A. Watson Wee Wifeikie (1921) 6:
There was a little wifeikie Was coming frae the fair.
Ayr. 1784 Burns Poet's Welcome ii.:
An auld wife's tongue's a feckless matter To gie ane fash.
Dmf. 1823 J. Kennedy Poems 78:
Fame says his uncle sold some claith To a bit wifie, that was laith To pay the same.
Sc. 1824 Scott Redgauntlet xx.:
Here's a bra' din, indeed, about an auld wife gaun to the grave.
Ayr. 1842 Children in Mines Report (2) 372:
A “wife” keeps the night school.
Rxb. 1845 T. Aird Old Bachelor 16:
A tidy little wifikie made her appearance from the “but.”
m.Lth. 1849 M. Oliphant M. Maitland xiii.:
Puir wee wifie, she has had a sore time of it with the measles.
m.Lth. 1857 Misty Morning 157:
Was't mans, or chaps, or laddies, or lassies, or women, or leddies, or auld wifes?
Abd. 1871 W. Alexander Johnny Gibb vii.:
Did the wifie Wull [old Mrs Will] come hame wi' yer aunt?
Bnff. 1880 J. F. S. Gordon Chrons. Keith 66:
Keith was evermore well stored with initiatory Academies, presided over by “Wyvies,” i.e. Auld Maids.
Ags. 1893 Brechin Adv. (17 Jan.) 3:
Ye'll meet wi' some auld haverin' wifeock.
Edb. 1894 J. W. M'Laren Tibbie and Tam 31:
“Water! water!! water!!!” puir Tam MacCrowdie roared to the wifie o' the exhibition.
Sc. 1934 J. Buchan Free Fishers ii.:
“He is tied to the petticoat tails of a daft wife.” “A wife! He is married then? . . .” “No, no. There's no marriage. I used our vernacular term for the other sex when we would speak of it without respect.”
Gsw. 1937 F. Niven Staff at Simson's x.:
Please, mister, please, wife, can I hae yer tram-ticket?
Abd. 1946 J. C. Milne Orra Loon 22:
Gleyin at the wifie writin wi' the chack.
ne.Sc. 1970 Press and Journal (30 March):
Yon's Craig Castle far the wifie Laird bides.
m.Sc. 1986 Colin Mackay The Song of the Forest 22:
A hundred reeking fields I've fought, and it's no to play the canny old wifie with this one.
Abd. 1988 Jack Webster Another Grain of Truth (1989) 85:
On top of all that, Buchan folk possess an absolute genius for diminutives, managing to turn semantics into gymnastics with examples such as 'Little wee bit wifikie', which actually produces five diminutives in a four-word sentence!
Dundee 1990 Sheila Stephen in Joy Hendry Chapman 60 52:
"An whit did the wiffie look like, then, Ina?" Bella asked. "The een tha' took the mannie awa fir a hurl? Did she look like thoan posh wummin that us'd ti bide aloah yi, Ina? ... "
Abd. 1990:
The wifie Robinson.
Edb. 1995 Irvine Welsh Marabou Stork Nightmares (1996) 172:
Lexo turned tae the bar staff; an auld guy, a fat wifie n a younger guy, who wir just standing thair, shitein it, and went: - Six fuckin Becks then, cunt! Tae take away.
Sc. 1995 David Purves Hert's Bluid 26:
"A'm a richt auld wyfie, gittin," said his mither,
an whan Andrae gliskit, richt aneuch,
the war mair nor a bit o the kerlin about hir:
em.Sc. 2000 James Robertson in Conrad Wilson In Scotland 3 47:
And Mrs Bovie, who still had the key, popped in and out like a wifie in a weatherhouse. The chemist wifie got a fright from her but you couldn't stay frightened for long, she was harmless really.
Sc. 2000 Herald (28 Sep) 21:
We can tell you that, while in Victoria, Mr Taylor was much enamoured of the Melbourne tram system. ... Taylor tells of a Melbourne wifie replete with shopping who boards a tram...
Edb. 2004:
Wait a meenit, Ah need tae see the wifie an pey her.

Combs.: (1) auld wife, ‘an old woman', applied to a fussy gossipy somewhat effeminate man. Gen.Sc. See also Auld, adj., 9. (24); (2) wife-body, a woman: (3) wife-carle, a man who occupies himself with women's affairs or duties. Cf. (1) and hizzie-fallow s.v. Hizzie.(1) Ayr. 1901 G. Douglas Green Shutters v.:
Gourlay spoke of them as a “wheen damned auld wives.”
(2) Gsw. 1886 A. G. Murdoch Readings 112:
He had married Jean Jamieson, the biggest wife-body in the district.
(3) Sc. 1816 Scott Antiquary xiv.:
An ye will be a wife-carle, and buy fish at your ain hands.

2. As in Eng., a married woman. Comb. wife's portion, personal services due by the wife of a tenant to the wife of a landowner under the terms of a lease (see quot.). The phr. is not otherwise authenticated. Adj. wifey, like a married woman, matronly.Sc. 1815 C. I. Johnstone Clan-Albin I. v.:
Besides the stated services to the Laird, and the rent, whether paid in money or in kind, the Lady has her claim on the wife of the tenant, called “The Wife's Portion,” or due, consisting of fowls, butter, yarn, &c. and attendance at graddaning, waulking, &c.
Ayr. 1870 J. K. Hunter Life Studies 50:
Every landlady seemed to think that she had a' wifey' sort o' look aboot her.

3. The female edible crab, Cancer pagurus (ne.Sc. 1930 Fishery Board Gl., wifie).

4. Fig. A fragment of burning wick from a candle, as a presage of marriage.Ayr. 1832 Galt Stanley Buxton III. xxii.:
A wife, as the bachelors say, having fallen from the wick of the candle, burned the body [of the candle] with great precipitation.

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"Wife n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 2 Dec 2022 <http://www.dsl.ac.uk/entry/snd/wife>

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