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A Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue (up to 1700)

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First published 1983 (DOST Vol. V).
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

Pit(t, Pyt(t, n.1 Also: pitte; pite, pyte; pet; and peat- (in comb.). [ME. and e.m.E. pite, pitt(e (Cursor M.), pytt, pit, also early ME. and ME. put(te, put(e, ME. and obs. e.m.E. (–1599) pet(te, pet, OE. pytt, whence also ON. pyttr. (Cf. Pot(t n.2).] A pit, in various usual senses and applications.

1. A hole or cavity in the ground, usu. one made by digging; a hollow.(1) 1375 Barb. xiii. 666.
The laiff syne that ded war thar In-to gret pittes erdit war
a1400 Leg. S. xviii. 1426.
The lyone mad the grawe in hy … In-to that pyt he lad hyre done
Ib. xlviii. 132.
Scho … in a depe gausk kist hym done, That ves a ful foule pyt [: it]
?1438 Alex. ii. 10689. 1616 M. Works Acc. (ed.) II. 22.
For sawing and pittis making to them
16.. Soc. Ant. XI. 194.
Cause a four squarre pitt to be digd
(2) 1673 Kirkcudbr. Sheriff Ct. Deeds I. 406.
[The lands called the] pit and hill [of Balmallo, with the pertinents]

b. spec. One of a series of pits dug to mark a land-boundary. — 1568 Prot. Bk. James Foulis 61 b.
Fra the ovirgait … vp the heildis endis as the pittis ar cassin
Ib. (see March n. 3 d (2) and Pot(t n.2 (i)).

c. As the second element of a compound, the first element indicating the special function served by the pit. — 1531 Haddington B. Rec. in Soc. Ant. II. 403.
The sys ratifies the act maid anent the wynning of the coilpet
1587 Carmichael Etym. 34.
Salt pits or pannis
1664 Wemyss in Sc. Diaries 128.
The colle pitte

d. = Cole-pit n. 1531 Soc. Ant. II. 403.
At the bailȝes put the act to execution of the wynning of the pet in all gudly haist
1676 Sheriffhall Coal Accompt 19 Aug.
Beiring moorment to big wal at the pitt

2. A deep hole or chamber in which persons were confined by way of punishment; a dungeon. c1420 Wynt. vii. 2363.
The kyng … till a presoun gert men hym harle Thare in a pyt gert hald hym fast
a1500 Henr. III. 99/103.
The pit [is like] to hell, with panis fell
c1515 Asl. MS. I. 215/24.
He … put tham in pittis & bollit thaim
1571–2 Reg. Privy C. II. . 1588 Ib. IV. 284.
[They] tuke him … to the said schireffis Castle of Fores, putt him in the pitt thairof [etc.]
1629 Kirkintilloch B. Ct. lxvi.
[Duns and Greenlaw each had its tolbooth, Eyemouth had only] the pitt [for the warding of accused persons]
1643 E. Loth. Antiq. Soc. II. 147.
And … to be put in the lairds pit or joks during the laird's pleasure
1669 Sc. Ch. Hist. Soc. Rec. IX. 115.
Ordained … to put them in the pitt in the castle of Dalhousie
1672 M. P. Brown Suppl. Decis. II. 159.
He … put them in his pit, in prison, three days

b. spec. Applied to hell, or some part of it.(1) a1400 Leg. S. xxxii. 708.
Thai … sal fore thare seruice gere duell With thame in the pyte of hell
1456 Hay I. 27/26.
A mysty smoke of hidous reik lyke as it war out of the pitt of hell
c1500-c1512 Dunb. xxvi. 119 (M).
In the deipast pit off hell He smorit thame
1600 Hamilton Facile Tr. 390.
[They] ar worthie … to be castin in the deip and dark pit of hel
(2) 1513 Doug. vi. ix. 97.
Tartarus … Quhilk is of hell the dirk dungeon and pyt [: wyt = know]
Ib. vii. i. 151.
In Achyron, the depest pyt of hell
(3) a1500 Henr. Orph. 312 (Ch. & M.).
O … grondles depe dungeon … Pit [Asl. pite] of dispair wythout remission
c1500-c1512 Dunb. xxi. 68.
Quhen na hous is bot hell and hevin, Palice of licht, or pitt obscure
1513 Doug. vi. ii. 118.
Blak hellis pyt of wraik
Ib. ix. 161.
Thai beyn alsso within ȝon pyt turment Quhilk [etc.]
c1552 Lynd. Mon. 6020.
1566-70 Buch. Comm. on Virgil Æn. vi. 577.
Tartarus, how, pitt

3. The hollow interior of a pot.But perh. erron. for Pot(t n.1 a1400 Leg. S. xxv. 534.
The gold til hyme thane tuk he sone, & askis in the pyt has done

4. In pit and gallows (also, once, gallows and pit).Orig. a rendering of furca et fossa, a right of jurisdiction, conferred in grants of baronial rights, over criminals taken in the barony.In early use, fossa was probably as in England an ‘ordeal pit’ (see Early Chart. p. 299 n.), but later perh. = a pond or ditch in which a criminal might be executed by being drowned (see Carnwath Baron Ct. Introd. xxvii. n.1). Latterly, ? also taken as 2 above. 1124 Early Chart. 43.
[In ferro in fossa et in omnibus aliis libertatibus ad curiam pertinentibus
1173 Regesta II. 223.
Quod non habeat furcam neque fossam nisi in duobis locis
1172–3 Ib. 210, etc.
Cum furca et fossa
14.. Acts I. 7/1 (for transl. see the first quot. below).
Omnes barones qui habent furcam et fossam de latrocinio
1512 in Exch. R. XV. 32 n.]
Cum furca, fossa [etc.]
14.. Acts I. 7/2.
Al barounis the quhilkis hes galowys and pyt of thyft alsua sal haf galowys of slachter of men
14.. Reg. Maj. c. 2.
With sok & sak, pyt & galows [etc.]
1488 Burnett of Leys 166. 1541 Frasers of Philorth Chart. 243. c1575 Balfour Pract. 39.
All baronis havand power of pit and gallows for thift and slauchter, sould have pit and gallows [etc.]
Ib. 503. 1620 Reg. Great S. 784/2.
To hald and have … prissounhousis, pitt and gallous
1624 Melrose P. 557.
Baronis infeft with priuilege of pitt and gallous
1622-6 Bisset I. 64/31.
Frie baronis sall caus mak jebettis, pittis and wellis viz. pottis and gallowes
1632 Lanark B. Rec. 327. 1635 Dickson Hebrews 32.
Satan hath power of death, as the burrio hath power over pitt and gallowes
1676 Lauder Notices Affairs I. 99.
For … barons are infeft in pit and gallows, and, by the old laws of Regiam Majestatem, might judge slaughter tane reid hand within 3 suns
1678 Mackenzie Laws & C. ii. xiii. 1 (1699) 209.
But a barron properly, is he who is infeft with power of pit and gallows
1681 Stair Inst. ii. iii. § 62 (1832) 241. 16.. Macfarlane's Geog. Coll. III. 78.
Every heretour may hold courts … and, if he have power of pit and gallows, he may hang or drown in the same maner as the sherif can

5. ? A cavity in the deck of a ship. Cf. 18th c. Eng. cockpit (of a man of war; 1706).Only comb., in peathede. 1641-8 Skipper's Acc. (Smettone) 11b.
2000 neiles to the smeith in the peathied

6. fig. 1490 Irland Mir. II. 141/34.
In the law fos and pyt of syn
1603 E. Melville Godlie Dreame 63.
O save us, Lord, out of this pit profound

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"Pit n.1". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 16 Jun 2024 <>



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