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

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First published 2001 (DOST Vol. IX).
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Sterv(e, Starve, v. Also: sterf(e, sterwe, starf, strawe. [ME and e.m.E. stærfen (1154), sterue(n (c1175), starf(en (c1250), sterfe (c1450), starue (1578), OE steorfan, MDu., MLG sterven. Also in the later dial.]

1. intr. To die, perish.pres. 1460 Hay Alex. 18702.
Thus is it guide quhen ony guide men stervis To gife him guide word
c1475 Wall. vi 40.
Quhethir I leiff or sterue
a1500 Quare Jel. 91.
Quhich is to say that efter as I deserve That I may lyve or sodaynly to sterve
a1500 Quare Jel. 400.
More unto him bedith Away the sclanderouse member for to kerue Quhich dampnyth you eternaly to sterue
1513 Doug. ii iii 88.
Gif ȝour handis had violet, … This haly presand … Gret wraik suld follow that al suld ȝe sterve Priamus ryng distroyit and al ȝour pelf
1513 Doug. xi vi 76.
Quhilk causyt mony douchty man to sterve
1513 Doug. xi xii 81.
The granys men mycht heir Of thame that stervyn [L. morientum; Ruddim. steruyng] and dovn bettyn beyn
1513 Doug. xi xv 111.
And this Camylla, stervand the ilk stound
1535 Stewart 58119.
Beleif ȝe weill that he had far leuer sterue
c1552 Lynd. Mon. 4929.
And in the breist, sumtyme, the strang caterue, Quhilk causis men rycht haistellye to sterue
15.. Clar. i 290.
Ȝe salbe to me trew … Bot feinȝeing ay till the day ȝe sterve
a1570-86 Maitl. F. 426/15.
Gif thow [sc. the heart] do nocht stane Thy trewthe and honestie How can thow be in pane No suirlie thow art frie … Giff thow do nocth deserue That blot of infame Thocht captiue flesche do sterue Ȝit suirlie ȝow art fre
a1605 Montg. Ch. & Slae 64 (Wr.).
Some sweetest hony sought To stay their lives to sterve
c1590 Fowler I 366/46. a1605 Montg. Mindes Mel. vi 7.
Though I doe swerue, And so deserue That I should sterue
1609 Craig in Fugitive Poetry II i 12/32.
If succur'd once nor seeke againe I rather sterve and dye
1604-9 Grahame Anat. Hum. 37.
There must they sterue, murthred with mis-regarde
1640 Popes Conclave.
My refined nostrills doe smell a distracted hurrie though the whole artizans of Italie should sterve, truly [etc.]
(b) a1500 Lanc. 1027.
Tharfor y red hir thonk at yow disserue, Or in hir presens lyk o knycht to sterf
a1568 Kennedy in Bann. MS 268a/25.
Bettir it war ane man to serf With wirchep and honour vndir a scheild Nor hir to pleis thocht thow suld sterf
1513 Doug. xi xiv 42.
Amydwart the melle, Reddy to sterf, his hors furth sterys he
a1568 Bann. MS 22b/25.
Sall paipis bischopis and clerkis sterf Sall thay haif hell for synnis saik Ȝe thay sall haif as thay deserf
1587-99 Hume 19/80.
The blude, quhilk spilt the bodie sterfs

b. With reference to a manner of or reason for dying. Const. be, for, in, of, on, with.(a) a1500 Henr. Prayer 66.
Guberne this pestilens Preserue and serue at we nocht sterf thairin
1513 Doug. iv Prol. 51.
For luf Narsysus perysyt at the well, For luf thou stervyst most douchty Achill
1513 Doug. xii xi 103.
Amata … With hir awyn hand doith sterve
1535 Stewart 6020.
For all his strenth he stervit in that stour
c1552 Lynd. Mon. 6237.
Jesu … steruit on the rude
15.. Clar. i 955.
Gif heir I sterve be feat or destinie
15.. Clar. iii 1585.
Have mercie on ȝon fair ladie … As for the cryme scho stervit ane innocent
1572 Sat. P. xxxiv 58.
Gif no refudge ane man may win The penitent for helpe may sterue
1587-99 Hume 67/91.
Nocht I, but he, dois merit grace, For me, nought for himselfe he sterued
c1590 Fowler I 291/10.
These iudgments which thow dois for damned soules reserve And such as by thy furie … sterve
(b) c1409-1436 Kingis Q. § 139.
Be him that starf on rude
c1500-c1512 Dunb. (STS) xxxiii 22.
Vane organis he full clenely carvit, Quhen of his straik so mony starvit [: desarvit]
1513 Doug. iv xii 33.
Scho … gan the scharp sword to hir breist vphald; "Ȝa thus, thus lykis ws starve and to depart"
1513 Doug. x xiv 127.
Nowdyr I abhor the ded, to starve in fycht, Nor [etc.]
c1552 Lynd. Mon. 1874.
Habraham be God he wes preseruit, Bot Aram in the fyre he staruit

c. In poetic hyperbole: To die, perish (for love, etc.); passing into: To suffer extremely.(1) 1501 Doug. Pal. Hon. 97.
Ȝe that all mundane creatures preseruis Comfort ȝour man that in this fanton steruis, With spreit arraisit and euerie wit away, Quaiking for feir
a1568 Mersar in Bann. MS 269a/15.
Ȝit will he sich and schaw grit schouris As he wald sterfe in to that steid
a1568 Scott ix 32.
It is ane hairt that ȝour hairt servis Ane hairt for lufe of ȝour hairt stervis
a1605 Montg. Misc. P. xxxiv 42.
So strange to let me sterv, Except ȝe sie me suerv
1611-57 Mure Sonn. ii 3.
Quho with thy eyes, (least my puir lyfe sould sterue), Wouchaiffes to look with pitty on my paine
c1642 Another Deploring 20 in Fugitive Poetry I.
Thy royall robe … Is turn'd to sacke which to beholde Doth make my flesh to sterve
(2) a1568 Bann. MS 239a/15.
Quhair I wes wont for lufe to sterue

d. To die or come close to dying for lack of nourishment or cold. 1571 Bann. Memor. 181.
Our puire ministeris, … ar compelled to … sie thair wyfes, childrene, and familie, sterve for hunger
1598 James VI Basil. Doron 141/9.
The asse that carieing uittaile on her bake is lyke to sterue for hunger
1581-1623 James VI Poems I 159/419.
In contraire douf hidroppisie makkis him lyke for colde to sterue
1650 Lamont Diary 24.
The prisoners in Englande … that were sterueing for famine
1653 Binning Wks. 519.
As a bird that wandereth too long from her nest: the young starve for cold or famine
1653 Binning Wks. 559.
A man that is like to starve for hunger
1659 Misc. Hist. Soc. VII 34.
Thursday: sollitary; my horse steru'd for want of strawe

2. To die of hunger or cold, also hyperbolically, to suffer the effects of lack of food, warmth or other necessities of life, to become emaciated, etc. Also fig. c1500-c1512 Dunb. (STS) xv 14.
Sum schames to ask, … And all withowt reward he stervis
1604-31 Craig ii 162.
My flocks both starue and stray, Quit macerat
1604-31 Craig iii 8.
The shameles begger thriu's, and yet I sterue
1612 Inverness Rec. II 91.
Vho, hawing no means of thair owin for their mantinance … vill othervyis strawe and famishe befoir thei can cum to thair tryell
1632 Aberd. Council Lett. I 358.
The poore traids men and those that hes no cornes growing betyme will be forcit to sterve
1641 Baillie I 334.
That thousands starved through his oppressions
1649 Acts VI (1819) 436/2.
A great many of oure families had stervit if oure necessities had not bein suppliet by [etc.]
1659 Misc. Hist. Soc. VII 33.
Wedensday: reded the close; no strawe; my horse steru'd
1659 Misc. Hist. Soc. VII 36.
Fryday: sollitarie; my horse sterued all night
1675 Orkney Antiq. Soc. XI 32.
From the vehemence of the cold and snow wherethrow they had almost sterved
1681 Moncreiffs 231*.
The said P. L. lay all that long winter cold and stormie night in the open fields … gored in his blood and sterved … And with the verie litle spark of lyff left in him [etc.]
fig. 1649 Alyth Par. Ch. 84.
The desert state & caise of severall congregationes vhiche have bein sterved by drybrested ministers

3. tr. To cause to die, also used hyperbolically. b. To cause to die by starvation. c1475 Wall. xi 1326.
The sacrement off kyrk I sall him geiff; Syn tak thi chos, to sterwe or lat him leiff
a1649 Drummond I 29/12.
O let not Loue thee to his lawes subdue … And serue no god who doth his church-men sterue
b. 1641 Baillie I 334.
His giving over before ten thousand was sterved, maketh him not innocent of the killing of thousands
?c1675 J. Gordon Hist. III 15.
Others thought that the King did intende for to sterve them, macking them lye still till ther provisiones wer spent

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"Sterv v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 29 Nov 2022 <>



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