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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1965 (SND Vol. VI). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

MURTHER, v.1, n.1 Also muther (Abd. 1915 H. Beaton Benachie 134, Abd.4 1933). Sc. forms of Eng. murder (Ayr. 1787 Burns On Elphinstone's Martial, Wgt. 1845 Stat. Acc.2 IV. 4; s.Sc. 1857 H. S. Riddell Psalms x. 8; Cai. 1872 M. MacLennan Peasant Life 133; Abd. 1876 R. Dinnie Poems 119; Kcb. 1911 G. M. Gordon Clay Biggin 25; Sc. 1931 J. Lorimer Red Sergeant xix.). Hence murtherer, a murderer (Ayr. 1790 Burns Election Ballad, xx.; Sc. 1928 Scots Mag. (July) 272).

I. v. (1) As in Eng. Deriv. murderer, a device for catching deep-sea fish (see quot.) (Sh., Cai., Ags., Arg., Ayr., Kcb. 1963). (2) murtherer, Sc. form of Eng. murderer. (1)Ork. 1884 R. Fergusson Rambles 137:
There is a method of catching deep-sea cod . . . by means of an instrument called a "murderer " . . . consisting of a long bar of lead measuring about eighteen inches, with numerous hooks attached, and suspended at the end of a long strong line. This instrument is towed at the stern of the fishing boat.
(2)Fif. 1991 Tom Hubbard in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 141:
Kneel doun, she says, upon the public square,
An kiss the causey-stanes that aa fowk crosses,
Then tell thae fowk: 'I am a murtherer'.

Sc. usages:

To harass, torment, distress (Sh., Per., Uls. 1963); to set upon, "beat up ".Rxb. 1808 A. Scott Poems 31:
Our ancestors were never . . . Murder'd wi' sic horrid ills As thae horse-jading threshing mills.
Mry. 1865 W. Tester Poems 145:
This weather's sae droothy, I'm murthered, ye ken, drinkin' caul' water noo.
Uls. 1884 Cruck-a-Leaghan and Slieve Gallion Lays & Leg. 7:
The ghost . . . murthered them clean wi' the right.
Sh.10 1963:
“Ah'm da man at wis murdered ”, said by an old man who had been attacked some time before.

II. n. In phr. to mak murther, to make a great outcry or lamentation. Cf. Eng. slang to cry blue murder.Abd. 1768 A. Ross Helenore (S.T.S.) 77:
An' Betty's heart is even like to brak, An' for her does gryt dool, an' murther mak.

Comb.: murder polis, (i) Expression of alarm, irritation or disgust (Edb., Gsw., Ayr. 2000s).Gsw. 1985 Anna Blair Tea at Miss Cranston's 97:
Well, murder-polis, whit a thing!
Gsw. 1987 James Kelman Greyhound for Breakfast (1988) 133:
Then the ghettos for christ sake you got all them mothers lining the streets man they're rugging at your sleeves, hey you, gies a bite of your cheeseburger, Murder polis.
Edb. 1992:
Murder polis! Whit a price these aipples are.
Sc. 1998 Herald 7 Mar 6:
This is just as well since Britannia, which is posh-speak for Britain, encompasses not only the restrained English but several other races, including the Celts, who are much more likely to press the panic button and shout "murder, polis" at the slightest hint of trouble than to attempt to keep their upper lip under control.
Sc. 2005 Daily Record 26 Feb 8:
There's a time to cry: 'Murder, polis.' Being hit by a snowball is not that time. But the good people of Edinburgh were ringing the police every 10 minutes as schoolchildren made the most of this week's snow.

(ii) Bad, dreadful (Edb., Gsw., Ayr. 2000s).Gsw. 1983 James Kelman Not not while the giro 149:
That coffee was murder polis.
Gsw. 1987 James Kelman Greyhound for Breakfast (1988) 98:
And walking home was like that when it was the middle of winter, fucking murder polis so it was.
Gsw. 1990 John and Willy Maley From the Calton to Catalonia 23:
He can be a right bad bastard, ma Billy. Murder polis wae a drink in him. He could start a fight in an empty hoose.
Gsw. 1998 Herald 12 Sep 26:
Faced with this depth of knowledge, Shields decided to keep it simple. The wines, he opined, were "no bad really" or "berry nice'' or, in the case of the one truly disappointing sample, "a bit painful, in fact murder polis".
Edb. 2004:
It's murder polis in the shops afore Christmas.

[O.Sc. murthir, murder, 1423. See D, 4.]

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"Murther v.1, n.1". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 30 Nov 2023 <>



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