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See also: Gillie


Etymology 1[edit]

Lord Glamis and his Staghounds (1823) by Dean Wolstenholme the Younger, from the collection of the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut, USA

From Scottish Gaelic gille (helper), from Middle Irish gilla (youth, young man; boy, male child; messenger, page, servant), possibly borrowed from Old Norse gildr (brawny, stout; of full worth). Compare Irish giolla (boy).



gillie (plural gillies)

  1. (Scotland, originally) A male attendant of a Scottish Highland chief.
    • 1847, Walter Scott, “[Notes to Canto Third.] Note XVI.”, in The Lady of the Lake, a Poem, illustrated edition, Philadelphia, Pa.: Carey and Hart, OCLC 704108731, pages 289–290:
      A Highland chief being as absolute in his patriarchal authority as any prince, had a corresponding number of officers attached to his person. [] Our officer of Engineers, so often quoted, has given us a distinct list of the domestic officers, who, [] belonged to the establishment of a Highland chief. These are, [] 4. Gillie-more, or sword-bearer, alluded to in the text. 5. Gillie-Casflue, who carried the chief, if on foot, over the fords. 6. Gillie-comstrain, who leads the chief's horse. 7. Gillie-Thrusha-narinsh, the baggage-man. 8. The Piper. 9. The piper's gillie, or attendant who carries the bagpipe.
  2. (Britain, Ireland, Scotland) A fishing and hunting guide; a man or boy who attends to a person who is fishing or hunting, especially in Scotland.
    • 1860, “Introduction. The Fairy-egg, and What Came Out of It.”, in J[ohn] F[rancis] Campbell, editor, Popular Tales of the West Highlands: Orally Collected wih a Translation, volume I, Edinburgh: Edmondston and Douglas, OCLC 902257479, page lxxxviii:
      Every deerstalker will bear witness to the eagerness of Highlanders in pursuit of their old favourite game, the dun deer; the mountaineer shews what he is when his eye kindles and his nostril dilates at the sight of a noble stag; when the gillie forgets his master in his keenness, and the southern lags behind; when it is "bellows to mend" and London dinners are remembered with regret.
    • 1894 March, George du Maurier, “Trilby”, in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, volume LXXXVIII, number DXXVI, New York, N.Y.: Harper & Brothers, publishers, 325 to 337 Pearl Street, Franklin Square, OCLC 969751422, part third, page 584, column 2:
      When dinner should be over, supper was to follow with scarcely any interval to speak of; and to partake of this other guests should be bidden—Svengali and Gecko, and perhaps one or two more. No ladies! For, as the unsusceptible Laird expressed it, in the language of a gillie he had once met at a servants' dance in a Highland country house, "Them wimmen spiles the ball!"
    • 1899, Stephen [Lucius] Gwynn, “Fishing and Golf in Donegal”, in Highways and Byways in Donegal and Antrim, London: Macmillan and Co., Limited; New York, N.Y.: The Macmillan Company, OCLC 84933409, pages 299–300:
      [T]hough the fish run small, as indeed they all do in these small rivers, the strength of the water and the broken ground along the banks must make playing them an exciting business. Over twenty have been killed by one rod in a single day, and I should say that in most seasons some lucky man gets a bag of ten. But of course this sort of thing has to be paid for. Ten shillings a day is the charge for the river, and in addition to that there is your gillie.
    • 1994, Jeremy Paxman, Fish, Fishing and the Meaning of Life, London: Michael Joseph, →ISBN:
      Courage and coolness are great qualities in a gillie, and you do not really know your man till you have been with him in a storm. [] Most gillies have cool heads and hearts of oak. They must have these qualities; to be cool and courageous is part of their job.
    • 1998, M. C. Beaton [pseudonym; Marion Chesney], chapter 1, in Death of a Scriptwriter (A Hamish Macbeth Mystery), New York, N.Y.: Mysterious Press, →ISBN:
      [H]e said, "I hae the day off tomorrow. I'll take ye out on the Anstey if ye want." This met with Patricia's ideas of what was right or fitting. Fishing on a Scottish river with a policeman as ghillie was socially acceptable to her mind.
    • 2010, John W. Stevens, “Atlantic Salmon from Hell and Back”, in Memorable Fish and Fishermen, [Bloomington, Ind.]: Xlibris, →ISBN:
      Before we knew it, we were on a Fokker, twin engine, jet aircraft out of Copenhagen bound for Stavenger, Bergen and Trondheim, Norway, where we rested up for two days before boarding a four passenger float plane in the tiny Village of Hell. The Land Rover manned by our gilly (guide) waited where the A-Elv River joined the sea at the head of the fjord.
Alternative forms[edit]
Derived terms[edit]


gillie (third-person singular simple present gillies, present participle gillying, simple past and past participle gillied)

  1. (intransitive) To be a gillie, a fishing or hunting guide, for (someone).
    • 1994, Jeremy Paxman, Fish, Fishing and the Meaning of Life, London: Michael Joseph, →ISBN:
      I had taken bigger fish on the Alta, while fishing as Tony Pulitzer's guest on the Jöraholmen farm, but never under circumstances as bizarre as the day I found myself being ghillied by a girl.
    • 1998, Phil Genova, quoting Joan Salvato Wulff, “Community Programs”, in First Cast: Teaching Kids to Fly-fish, Mechanicsburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, →ISBN, page 281:
      [I]t was distance casting that changed my life. I started by gillying for [William] Taylor, retrieving his line between long casts and laying it out in tangle-free coils on the platform at his side.
    • 2000, Declan Varley, chapter 4, in Nightmusic, Ireland: Declan Varley, →ISBN:
      Pike they were after. [] They'd sit for hours watching their echo sounder and then when the big bleep would come on it, they'd lower the big baits and wait for the mother of all battles. The first time Frank saw the gear he thought they were going to use depth charges to blow the fish out of the water and he thought this was great crack. Far better than gillying for Northern Irish or Scots who wouldn't give ya a fright. But the Germans were great and every Christmas there'd be a big box of chocolates and clothes from Berlin.

Etymology 2[edit]

From gill (drink measure for spirits) +‎ -ie; probably a nonce word coined by Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759–1796) to maintain the rhyme in a poem entitled On a Scotch Bard Gone to the West Indies, first published in 1786: see the quotation.



gillie (plural gillies)

  1. (Scotland) A gill of an alcoholic drink. [from 1786]
    • 1786 July 31, Robert Burns, “On a Scotch Bard Gone to the West Indies”, in Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, Kilmarnock, East Ayrshire: Printed by John Wilson, OCLC 922031953; reprinted Kilmarnock: James McKie, March 1867, OCLC 367976637, page 184:
      Fareweel, my rhyme-compoſing billie! / Your native ſoil was right ill-willie; / But may ye flouriſh like a lily, / Now bonilie! / I'll toaſt ye in my hindmoſt gillie, / Tho' owre the Sea!

Further reading[edit]