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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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

WILLIE, prop.n. Also Willy, Wullie, Wully; Wally-, Walla-. In transf. usages freq. spelt with a small letter. Sc. forms and usages:

1. A nickname for a salmon-fisherman on the Tay, phs. with allusion to 2.(8) below.Fif. 1831 Fife Herald (14 July):
If a change for the better do not take place soon [in the salmon fishing], there will be for many of our Willies nothing but “thin brose and few o' them.”

2. Combs.: (1) corn willie, yellow wagtail, Motacilla flava (Ayr. 1929 Paton & Pike Birds Ayr. 41, Ayr. 1974); (2) Willy and the wisp, the will o' the wisp (orig. Will with the wisp), ignis fatuus. See also (20),(21),(33); (3) Wullie A'thing, a nickname for a general store keeper, a shopman selling a miscellany of small merchandise, orig. given to such a person in Galashiels (see quots.). The usu. expression is Johnnie aathing (see John, 7.); (4) Willie-beeb, the common and purple sandpiper, Tringa hypoleucos and Erolia maritima (Cai. 1911 John o' Groat Jnl. (26 May), Cai. 1974), of onomat. orig.; (5) Willie cock-up, the chrysalis of a butterfly, from its habit of moving its fore-part up and down, when touched (Ayr. 1955); (6) Willie Cossar, Wull o' Cossar, a long thick pin used esp. for fastening shawls or the like (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; ‡Slg., Lnk., Kcb., Rxb. 1974), so called from the name of the maker, said to have been a pack-merchant in Rxb.; also transf. of any extra large object or person (Lth. 1891 J. Strathesk Blinkbonny 296). See also Tammie, prop.n., 5.(5); (7) Willie Finnie, a fabulous personage who could stop a mill-wheel from revolving till he had been given some of the corn (Sh. 1962). Cf. Finn; (8) Willie-fisher, (i) the common tern, Sterna hirundo (Ags. 1813 J. Headrick Agric. Ags. App. B. 42); (ii) the heron, Ardea cinerea; (iii) a grebe, ? the great-crested grebe, Podiceps cristatus (Dmf. 1825 Jam.); (iv) a nickname for a brazen liar (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 210); (9) willie-goat, a billy-goat. Also in Eng. dial.; (10) willie goo, -gow, (i) the herring gull, Larus argentatus (e.Lth. 1867 W. P. Turnbull Birds E. Lth. 35; Abd. 1885 C. Swainson Brit. Birds 207, willie gow; Abd. 1920; Kcd. 1974); (ii) a lost- or stupid-looking person, a loutish fellow (Abd. 1911 Weekly Jnl. (20 Jan.), 1920 R. H. Calder Gleanings I. 13; Abd., Kcd., Ags. 1974); (11) Willie Gunn's candles, pieces of bark, gen. of birch, washed up by the sea and saturated with salt which crackle and sparkle when burned, also Willie Lickie's candles (Sh. 1974); (12) Wullie Hey's wark, a useless otiose occupation, “carrying coals to Newcastle” (Fif. 1958); (13) Willie Jack, a go-between in a love-affair (Kcd. 1825 Jam.). Cf. Black-foot; (14) willie-lang-legs, the daddy-long-legs, crane fly (I.Sc. 1974); (15) wulliemaw, the guillemot, Uria aalge (Ags. 1960). Cf. guillemot < Fr. Guillaume, William; (16) willie-ouf, the angler-fish, Lophius piscatorius (Bnff. 1921 T.S.D.C. IV.). Cf. Oof, I.; (17) willie pourit, -powret, -it, (i) a tadpole (Fif. 1825 Jam.); (ii) a seal (Ib.). Cf. Powheid, 1., 2.; (18) willie roozer, an outsize or monstrous specimen of anything (Cai. 1939). ? Cf. Rouse, v.1; (19) willie-rin (run)-hedge, goosegrass, Galium aparine (Slg. 1886 B. & H. 493; Bnff., Lnk. 1974). Cf. Robin, 1., (7); (20) Willie's lichts, = (2); (21) Willie's wisp, id.; ¶(22) willie wag, a long beard; (23) willie wagtail, -wowgtail, the pied wagtail, Motacilla alba yarrellii (Dmf. 1825 Jam.; Ork. 1885 C. Swainson Brit. Birds 43; Cai. 1887 Harvie-Brown & Buckley Fauna Cai. 116; Per. 1915 Wilson L. Strathearn 275, -waggie; Ayr. 1929 Paton & Pike Birds Ayr. 43; Cai. 1939, wowg-tail). Gen. (exc. I.) Sc. Also in n.Eng. dial.; (24) Willie Walker, a thin slice of scone cut lengthwise (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.); ¶(25) willie-wallocks, a contemptuous term for a feeble-spirited, effeminate man, prob. a nonce formation altered from Jenny Wullock s.v. Jennie, n., 2.; (26) Willie wan-beard, (a) a Jacobite nickname for William of Orange (Sc. c.1690 Hogg Jacobite Relics (1819) I. 24), called wan(t)beard in allusion to his alleged effeminacy. Hist.; (b) transf. the fifteen spined-stickleback, Spinachia spinachia (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 210); (27) Willie Wassle, -Wastell, -Wastle, a children's game, like Eng. Tom Tiddler's Ground, from the first line of the rhyme chanted in it (see quot.) (em.Sc. (b), Dmb. 1974); (28) willie wat the feet, the couch-grass, Triticum repens (Dmf. 1968); (29) Willie we(e)t-feet, the common sandpiper Tringa hypoleucos (Cai. 1887 Harvie-Brown & Buckley Fauna Cai. 222, Cai. 1967), cf. (31); (30) Willie-whip-the-wind, the kestrel, Falco tinnunculus (Ags. 1808 Jam., 1813 J. Headrick Agric. Ags. App. B. 40, Ags. 1974), from its hovering motion; (31) willy wicket, = (29) (Slg. 1885 Trans. Slg. Nat. Hist. Soc. 62), imit. of its cry; (32) Willie Winkie, a nursery character supposed to put children to sleep, the sandman. Gen.Sc., from the poem in 1844 quot. by William Miller. Cf. Wink, n.1, 2.(ii). The name Willie Winkie occurs in Orpheus Caledonius (1733) I. 99; (33) Willie wispie, -with a or the wisp, = (2); (34) willie-wogie, a short stick burning at one end and swung rapidly to and fro to make an arc of fire, a Dingle-Dousie (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 210). For wogie see wog, Wag, v., n.1(2) Lnk. a.1779 D. Graham Writings (1883) II. 236:
As for Willy and the Wisp, he is a fiery devil and leads people off their road in order to drown them.
Ayr. 1822 H. Ainslie Pilgrimage 1:
Awa' they flew, like the great Jehu, On Willie an the Wisp.
Ags. a.1823 G. Beattie Poems (1882) 174:
Aye! Willy-an'-the-Wisp was there, Shedding forth his nightly glare.
(3) Slk. 1876 W. Brockie Confessional 183:
D'ye ken Wully A'thing? D'ye ken Wully Trummel, Whae's shop stands richt opposite Galashiels Brig?
Slk. 1896 T. Dobson Innerleithen 108:
I have heard my grandfather speak of a general merchant in Galashiels, who got the name of “Wullie Authing,” from the fact that he was said to keep a stock of all sorts of goods.
(6) Sc. 1827 C. I. Johnstone Eliz. de Bruce III. i.:
Her upper quilted green silken petticoat kilted “aboon the knees,” for special preservation, with “Willie Cossars.”
Sc. 1872 in W. Harvey Sc. Chapbook Liter. (1903) 127:
Pins of all sizes, from the small ‘mannikin' to the large ‘Willie Cossar'.
Peb. 1896 T. Dobson Innerleithen 55:
I have a Wull-o'-Cossar preen.
(8) (ii) Abd. c.1890 Gregor MSS.:
When the “Willie-fisher” takes his flight towards the east stormy weather is approaching.
(iv) ne.Sc. c.1890 Gregor MSS.:
Ye're a willy-fisher, an that's nine times a leear.
(9) Edb. 1839 D. M. Moir Mansie Wauch xxiii.:
That is the head of a Willie-goat.
(10) (i) Abd. 1926 L. Coutts Lyrics 91:
I ken I'm gaun straucht te Hiven; Fan Gabriel blaws his tooteroo, I'll rise an flee like a wallygoo.
Sc. 1933 W. Soutar Seeds in Wind 33:
Flappit like a willygoo As he gaed plunkin doun.
(ii) Abd. 1889 Bon-Accord (9 Feb.) 9:
In comes the landlord, smilin' like a williegoo.
Abd. 1920 A. Ross MS.:
He jist stood like a wallygoo and never tried to strik back.
(11) Sh. 1962 New Shetlander No. 63. 4:
What Willie Gunn's Candles we gaddered — it hed sic a bonny smell whin it lowed.
(13) Ags. 1790 D. Morison Poems 138:
The Squire loves Susan, I'm made Willie Jack, Just waiting her shy tale to carry back.
(17) (i) Fif. 1875 A. Burgess Poute 38:
Wully-powrits wi' their waggon tales.
(20) Abd. 1876 R. Dinnie Songs 119:
Whaur ghaists an' witches hae been seen, An' fairies drest in grey an' green, An “Willie's lichts.”
(21) Ags. 1790 D. Morison Poems 38:
Willie's wisp wi' whirlin' cant Their blazes ca', That's nought but vapours frae a stank.
(22) Ayr. 1883 W. Aitken Lays 125:
Auld Time frae his nag swung his lang willie wag Wi' a slow steady swag.
(23) Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 412:
The tane o' them was Robbin Breestie, and the tither the Wullie Wagtail.
(25) Sc. 1937 J. Bridie Tedious & Brief (1944) 93:
To call a man a blackguard gives him such a wide range of choice that the sting is dissipated. But, if you call him a rowting sump or a wullie-wallocks and are careful in your choice of epithet, you hold, as 'twere, a mirror up to his defect; you get home.
(26) (a) Sc. c.1910 A. Lang Poet. Wks (1923) I. 47:
For lang years three that rock in the sea bade Wullie Wanbeard gae swing.
(b) Bnff. 1876 S. Smiles Sc. Naturalist 419:
They are known amongst our fishermen by the very peculiar denomination of “Willie-wan-beard.”
(27) Sc. 1825 Jam. s.v. Wastell:
A piece of ground is chosen for a den, circumscribed by certain bounds. He, who occupies this ground, bears the name of Willie Wastell; the rest who are engaged in the play, approach the limits of his domain; and his object is to get hold of one of them who sets his foot within it, and to drag him in. If successful, the person who is seized occupies his place, till he can relieve himself by laying hold of another. He who holds the castle or den, dare not go beyond the limits, else the capture goes for nothing. The assailants repeat the following rhyme: Willie, Willie Wastell, I am on your Castle. A' the dogs in the toun Winna pu' Willie doun.
Gsw. 1854 Gsw. Past and Present (1884) II. 191:
Such were the games of — “Wully, Wully, Wastle, I'm upon your Castle,” “Robbers and Rangers,” “Scotch and English,” . . .
Sc. 1903 R. Ford Children's Rhymes 70:
“Willie Wastle” is essentially a boy's game. One standing on a hillock or large boulder, from which he defies the efforts of his companions to dislodge him.
(32) Sc. 1844 Songs for Nursery 1:
Wee Willie Winkie rins through the town, Up stairs an' doon stairs in his nicht-gown, Tirlin' at the window, crying at the lock, “Are the weans in their bed, for it's now ten o' clock?”
m.Lth. 1868 A. Fairbairn Poems 111:
The wee bit whistlin' birdie Whistles them to rest And Willie winkie kens her sang.
(33) Sc. 1727 P. Walker Remark. Passages 94:
Some Willies with the Wisps, or Spunkies of Wildfire, seen mostly in boguish myrish ground.
Per. 1898 C. Spence Poems 125:
‘Willie with a wisp' shall flare, Above the mossy swamp.

3. Phrs. (1) Sir Willie's picture, a note of the banking-house of Messrs Coutts in Edinburgh (later Forbes, Hunter and Co.), bearing the portrait of its chairman, Sir William Forbes of Pitsligo (1739–1806). Also Sir William's note (Sc. 1827 C. I. Johnstone Eliz. de Bruce III. ix.), and shortened to Sir Willie; (2) if Willie be wi'im, if he really wishes (Sh. 1974), (3) to tak Willie wi ye, to put willingness and determination into a task, with a pun on Will, n.1(1) Edb. 1821 W. Liddle Poems 27, 32:
Gude Sir Willies ye had gather'd Frae folks that were to you indebted . . . They're cheaper at hame Then Sir Willie's pictures.
(3) Bnff. 1954:
Ye can dee maist things if ye jist pey attention an tak Willie wi' ye.

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"Willie prop. n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 21 Jul 2024 <>



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