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RAIVEL v, n tangle


We are all familiar with unravelling things, but don’t so often nowadays hear about them getting raivelled in the first place. There are various senses of raivel listed in the Dictionary of the Scots Language, the earliest being from Sir Gilbert Hay’s The Buik of King Alexander the Conquerour (c1460):


“Quhill thair battallis with schot sa maglit ware And with hurt horsis rawillit, thai my na mare”

It can be used of yarn or thread, meaning to unwind itself from a reel, as in A G Murdoch’s Lilts on the Doric Lyre (1873):


“The threed in Tammie’s shuttle Gaed raivelling aff the pirn”


and in James Stewart’s Sketches of Scottish Character (1857):


“The gudewife reavilt a’ her yarn”


The person who stripped the bobbins in weaving was called the raveller-aff (Ayr, 1951).

There are other kinds of tangles as well. In J M Barrie’s Sentimental Tommy (1896), we might feel sorry for the subject of the remark “Make a clerk of him and he would only ravel the figures”, and in the Buchan Observer (1962) another unfortunate incompetent is referred to in this quote from 1911:


“Seckie wis at the halyards, an’ got reeveled wi the sail aboot his heed, trying tae heist it”.

Raivel can also mean to ramble or be delirious, as in Caledonia (1895):


“Like the ravellin’ o’ the lass that died at dawn”.


Connected to this meaning is to confuse or render incapable of coherent thought.  In G P Dunbar’s A Guff o’ Peat Reek (1920) we read that


“He raivelt the bairns wi’ their coonts an’ sums”,


and there are times for all of us when we can identify with the speaker in this quote from Walter Gregor’s The Dialect of Banffshire (1866):


“A’m raivelt i’ the hehd; an’ a dinna ken ae word it y’re sayin”.

Scots Word of the Week is written by Ann Ferguson of Scottish Language Dictionaries. 

First published 30th March 2015.