Remembrances of Iseabail Macleod

born 27 May 1936, died 15 February 2018


1936 Born at 5 Park Road Dalmuir, 27 May
1939 Family moved to Dumbarton when father, Donald MacLeod, was appointed Police Co-ordinator for Civil Defence for the County of Dumbarton.
1941 Mother, Barbara, Iseabail and Iain evacuated to Achiltibuie. Iseabail went to school there for the first time.
1943 Returned to Dumbarton - Attended West Bridgend Primary School
1947 Family moved to Dalmuir. Iseabail went to Clydebank High School.
1951 Father promoted to Superintendent of Police in Kirkintilloch. Iseabail transferred to Lenzie Academy.
1954 Matriculated in Arts at Glasgow University
1957 Graduated MA
1958 Teaching English in Bregenz, Austria.
1959 Teacher training
1960 Teaching languages at Glasgow Schools
1965 Reference books editor with Europa Publications, London
1966 Editor, Modern language dictionaries, Collins, Glasgow
1975 Editor, Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary, Edinburgh.
1979 Freelance editor
1986 - 2002 Editorial Director of the Scottish National Dictionary Association
2001 Awarded MBE for services to Scottish dictionaries
2018 Died, 15 February of a stroke 3 weeks previously.

Publications include:

Iain Macleod


Bruce Lenman


Scottish Ski Club Obituary


Thanks for this to Helen Ross, Penny Calder and David Calder

Mairi Thornton

Iseabail was such a special person, warm, generous and with a fascinating insight to Scottish culture generally, and for me in particular, the North West.

I always enjoyed her company and shall miss her dreadfully.

She was so knowledgeable and helpful about so many subjects. I knew if I rang her she would have a good answer - or knew where to find one. There have been many fond reminiscences about her here this week.

I miss her distinctive warm voice and her regular telephone calls. And I regret so much that we will never be able to share more time together here.

Many years ago we shared a few days walking and took the old communion trail from Inverpolly to Inverkirkaig. I remember we reached my Aunt Mary’s for coffee and Norman McCaig popped in from next door. He was bearing a poem he had written about the goings- on on Mary’s bird table. He and Iseabail had a long and entertaining conversation about Scottish literature.

I have also been remembering the many happy lunches and coffees together in Edinburgh and much laughter. I still can’t believe she is gone.

Nadia, with Enrico and Andre

I am so sorry, so sorry…I loved Ish so much, a really special person…so intelligent, so deep, so close to people in her own special way…

Liz Niven

Iseabail has been an inspiration to many in the language community of Scotland as well as a friend.

Sandra and Alan Bance

I have known Ish a long time and valued her friendship highly; a very dear, talented, upright and kind soul. The world is a poorer place without her.

Entry in the SLD’s Facebook page by Pauline Speitel

Iseabail was one of Scotland’s leading lexicographers. Her work with the Scottish National Dictionary Association (SNDA) and later as a founder member of Scottish Language Dictionaries (SLD) has been an inspiration to all whose interest lies in Scots.

Iseabail’s career with SNDA began with her work on the Concise Scots Dictionary, published in 1985. She then went on to work on many ‘spin-off’ publications. However, Iseabail’s boundless energy did not confine her to her SNDA work. She published many volumes on and about Scots. These works were diverse and too many to list here but they included an Illustrated Encyclopedia of Scotland which she did in collaboration with the photographer Colin Baxter.

However, the loss of Iseabail is immeasurable to family, friends and colleagues. She was our mentor and friend, she encouraged us in all our endeavours and her advice was always considered and to the point. One of her favourite sayings was that no-one is indispensable but some are irreplaceable. Yes, Iseabail, quite right.

Also from Pauline

Iseabail was my friend and mentor. Without Ish I would not be where I am today - she taught me so very much. We worked together for over 20 years and we (nearly) always agreed on everything. Socially, we had many grand times together quite often spent round the table in Scotland Street.

Iseabail was very good at getting money to support the Scots Dictionary work.  In the past, a lady had donated money to the Dictionary.  She had  inherited squillions of money from her father who owned a uranium mine in Canada.  The original contact came when she had been visiting Edinburgh, walked past the dictionary offices, came in, spoke to Iseabail and gave her a cheque there and then.
I can't remember the year but it must have been the late eighties or early nineties but there were not enough funds to pay the staff at the Scottish National Dictionary at the end of the month.
However, Ish had not been in touch with her, apart from the annual Christmas card, for a long time but, unabashed, she phoned her up, explained the situation and she came up with the money without hesitation.
The money gave Ish the time to cast her net wider and eventually get us taken under the wing of the then Scottish Office.

Michael Montgomery

I met Iseabail thirty years ago on my first trip to Scotland, and over the years she proved to be the kindest and most generous person I've known, in Scotland or anywhere else, not to mention also her seemingly unbounded hospitality and thoughtfulness. Her gifts to me were large and small, but perhaps the one most appreciated by us all was how she bound people together through her friendship. Would that we could see her likeness again or even hear someone say "so there you are" in her manner. We'll miss you, lassie, so we will. I will remember you in my dictionary, and its readers will be grateful for your counsel.

Laura and Paul Scott

Iseabail has been a true friend to both Paul and myself for many, many years. We first met her in the late 70s in Milan when she came and visit Paul there while he was working at the British Consulate. The link with Edinburgh meant that we have been friends and like minded souls ever since sharing ideas and conversations on all things Scottish. She was also very fond of Italy.

We shall miss Iseabail very much, as a friend and as a major contributor to, and supporter of, Scottish culture.

Catherine Brown

It was so sad to hear about Iseabail. She was such a pillar of kindness, thoughtfulness and compassion throughout her life.

She had a special care for her friends. Keeping in touch with them was something she practiced with great loyalty.

She will live on in the memories of all those who valued her friendship.

I celebrate her life and wish you and all your family comfort in your sad loss.

Christine De Luca

What a loss to the cultural, linguistic, language, literary communities as well as the loss of a lovely lady.

Susan Rennie

I am so sorry to hear the sad news about Iseabail. I hadn’t seen Iseabail for over a year, but I often thought of her and was always hoping to find time for a blether and catch-up with her again. So many memories of working with her have been flooding back to me this evening. She was very good to me when I first started at SNDA, and had a young baby in tow. It must be such a great miss to the whole family as she was such a great character.

Catherine MacLeod

I felt tremendously sad when I heard Iseabail had died. She was a good friend to me in many ways. She broadened my horizons and was unfailingly kind.. She put me up, introduce to books I would hot have read without her guidance and extolled the virtues of Radio 3. Since she died I have talked to Margaret Wolfram about Iseabail, and often we ended up laughing. We shared lots of happy times and enjoyed her eccentricities like eating digestive biscuits and cream cheese, when in our opinion, there were more appetising options on offer.

The world without Iseabail is diminished.

Margaret Wolfram

Iseabail was one of my greatest friends and her departure leaves quite a hole. She was a true friend, kindness personified, constant and constantly interesting. A dinner party with Ish at your table was an evening of enlightened conversation and laughs and of course dinner at her table was always a real pleasure. I met her in 1974 when Catherine Macleod was lodging with her. A year later, when I was a young teacher being evicted from my lodgings, I tentatively asked her if I could follow suit. At the time I was pretty miserable and although I did not know her well something about her kindness shone out to me. We shared many, walks conversations and dinners over the years.

Anna Stevens

Being a neighbour and friend of Iseabail was very special. Soon after I moved to 13 Scotland Street, in 1991, directly below her flat, she welcomed me, and another new neighbour, with a drink. She was always remarkably welcoming to all who entered her home. There were many delightful times spent there: dinners, parties, drinks. And she would come to no 13 as well, sometimes bringing colleagues and friends. A friendship developed along with many Sunday hillwalks. She chatted with great affection about the family. Sometimes Bruce joined us in the earlier days.

It was a sad moment when Alasdair and I moved to the other side of town, in May 2014. This coincided with a time when we had become aware of increasing, and varying, frailty. There were still lunches, dinners- here and at other friends'- and shorter walks. And phone calls. The last one being four days before her stroke. She was pleased with help, physio etc, being offered to her at the Western General. And she said "onwards and upwards". Sadly not to be. Life without Iseabail is difficult to comprehend.

And lastly - she used to give me plants, usually dead, to dispose of in my back garden. But there was one, looking very dead, which revived and has grown enormous, twice, as it had a good cutting back a few years ago, and has produced lots and lots of new plants which I sometimes give away. And I always tell the recipients the story

Anja Amsel

When I came to Edinburgh in the late 1970s I was introduced to Iseabail who immediately included me in her generous hospitality.  Through her, I met the cream of Scottish writers and poets and she made me aware, more than anyone, of the riches of Scottish culture.

We often went walking together - One such route was when she was prospecting the Colin Baxter book, looking at hidden parts of the Old Town, but we covered many footpaths, both walking and in conversation.

I had the greatest admiration for Iseabail - she was a gentle, educated and very warm person. Dear friend, I miss you.

Caroline Macafee

I got to know Iseabail through Jack Aitken. We worked together on Jack’s Festschrift, and I learned from her how to edit a book. Later we worked together on the Scots Thesaurus, and I have many happy memories of those days in the little office in the School of Scottish Studies. Together we sorted through Jack’s papers, but it was Iseabail who arranged to deposit them in Edinburgh University library. Over the years I’ve often sought her advice on who best to contact about this or that, and we’ve often read through each other’s drafts and put our heads together on matters of editing or lexicography. But it is as a dear friend that I most remember and will miss Iseabail. I’ve often stayed in her spare room, and relaxed with other friends around her dining table. As so many others have already said, she was one of those people who always keep in touch and draw everybody together. I will miss her very much.

Peter Terrell


Marina Dossena

Last February Mrs Susan Rennie kindly informed me of Iseabail's death, which was very sad news, as I had known Iseabail for many years: since the beginning of my research on Scots vocabulary and lexicography, in fact, when I was still a young scholar and spent my summers in the Edinburgh libraries. As the news reached me while I was finalizing this article, I thought I'd take the liberty of dedicating it to Iseabail's memory and I am now attaching an offprint as a very modest tribute and a sign of deep gratitude for Iseabail's work and friendship. As Susan mentioned in her message, my last memories of her and Bruce are at a conference in Paris, in July 2013, where Susan, Iseabail and I were on a panel on Scottish lexicography. It seems a long time ago, and yet the memory of her gentle smile is still very vivid, and I am sure it will never cease to be so.

Note: The dedication is in the form of a footnote to the title of the paper and reads: 'While this paper was being finalized, I was informed that Iseabail Macleod MBE, had died in Edinbugh on 15 Februarh 2018. Dr Macleod was a leading figure in Scottish lexicography, and I was very privileged to have had the opportunity to discuss much of my work with her over the years: her friendly advice and encouragement were a constant source of inspiration. This paper is dedicated to her memory, with much gratitude.'

The paper is:
Dossena M, 'Sassenach', eh? Late mode Scottish English on the borders of time and space. In Token: A Journal of English Linguistics, Vol 7, 2019 Jan Kochanowski University Press