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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1941 (SND Vol. II). Includes material from the 1976 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

BOLL, BOW, n. In gen. use in agricultural circles. [bɔl, bʌu]

I. Boll.

1. A dry measure, varying in extent according to locality, and the article measured. A boll of oats, barley, or potatoes contains about 6 imperial bushels; a boll of meal amounts to 140 lb. avoirdupois. Boll is found in n.Eng. dial. (see E.D.D.) varying in weight from 2 to 7 bushels.Sc. 1740 Sir J. Clerk Memoirs (1892) 159:
The Magistrats of all the Towns in Scotland did all they cou'd for the support of their poor . . . we had brought from England and Holland many thousands of bolls to support them.
Sc. 1795 Stat. Acc.1 XIV. 63:
His salary is 6 bolls of meal, and 40 merks a-year.
Sc. 1855 J. C. Morton Cycl. Agric. II. 721:
Boll, a measure containing four bushels of wheat, six of oats, etc.
Sc. publ. 1922 R. L. Stevenson New Poems (Vailima) 436:
A boll o' bear's in ilka glass Ye'se drink wi' me the nicht!
Bnff. 1902 J. Grant Agric. in Bnffsh. 150 Years Ago 20:
The boll of oats sometimes weighs 14½, 15 and sometimes 16 stones.
Lnk. 1708 Minutes J.P.'s Lnk. (S.H.S. 1931) 19:
He is to have a cothouse and a kaill yeard, a boll of meall in summer and a soumes grass yearly.
Rxb. 1795 Stat. Acc.1 XXI. 20:
A hind gets what is called boll, that is, a certain number of bolls of corn, and sometimes a cow also grazed.

2. A measure of land, computed according to the quantity of bolls it produces.Sc. 1722 Alexander Fourth Lord Elibank in Earls of Cromartie (ed. Fraser 1876) II. 174:
There is another proposall by a very sufficient person to ferm your whole estate, — the victuall rent at 5l per boll, and the money rent, as it stands just now, set to the severall tennents.
Inv. 1808 J. Robertson Gen. View Agric. Inverness 75 Foot-note:
These daughs and bolls refer to an old standard of valuation of ground, not entirely forgotten. Every daugh seems to have consisted of forty-eight bolls, which comprehended a greater or smaller district of country, according to the quality of the soil.

Phr. boll of bear's sowing, the amount of land which could be sown with a boll of barley, about 1 Scots acre, used as a measure for payment of rent (Cai. 1820 Second Report Commissioners of Weights and Measures (Parl. Papers) VII. App. 10).

Combs.: (1) boat boll, form of levy imposed for the upkeep of a ferry-boat, and paid in kind (usually meal); (2) bollman, “a cottager” (Ork. 1808 Jam.).(1) Bnff. 1721 Court Bk. Regality of Grant (ed. W. Cramond 1897) 23:
It is ordained that the haill possessors of the lands of Skiradvey and Tulchine shall be lyable to the boatman of Cromdale for such quantitie of boat boll as the people of the barrowis and parish of Cromdale does and wes in use to pay.
(2)Ork. 1766 P. Fea MS. Diary (9 Dec.):
Gave bolls to my bollmen as their Acct.
Ork. 1795 Stat. Acc.1 XV. 415–416 Foot-note:
They have reaped crops . . . which they have sold . . . at such sums, as, with other wages and perquisites, received by them annually from their masters, hath arisen to, and in some instances exceeded the amount of what a cottager, or bollman, and his wife can earn annually for the support of themselves and family of young children.
Ork. 1866 Edm. Gl.:
Bollman, a cottager, pronouneed “bowman.” [See bowman s.v. II. 2. Combs. (3) below.]

II. Bow.

1. As in 1 above. Bow is found also in Nhb., esp. as a coal measure. For Sc. bow, see P.L.D. § 66.2. Phrs. to hae bows, to have an ample supply, more than enough (Fif. 1957).Sc. 1818 Scott H. Midlothian ix.:
I hae kenned ye, Davie, send a forpet o' meal to Beersheba when there was na a bow left in the meal-ark at Woodend.
Sh.(D) 1931 W. J. Tulloch in Sh. Almanac 197:
Dey wir doon at da shop ae day fur a bow o' flooer.
Abd.(D) 1929 W. Robbie Mains of Yonderton viii.:
He wis offerin' sax-an-twoonty shillin's the bow, bit I taul 'im aw widna dispose o' my crap enoo on ony conditions.
Ags.(D) 1922 J. B. Salmond Bawbee Bowden xii.; Lnk. 1779 D. Graham Writings (1883) II. 11; Kcb. 1893 S. R. Crockett Stickit Minister (1895) 274; Rxb. 1808 A. Scott Poems 222:
Sandy's bow o' tatties are sell't an' eaten.

2. “Payment in food — milk, meal, potatoes, etc. — made to a ‘bowman' in lieu of food he would have if he were maintained in the farm-house” (Ork. 1929 Marw.).Rxb. 1917 Kelso Chron. (7 Sept.) 3/2:
“Weel, Tam, my bow's — Five loads o' meal — yitt meal, four bows (bolls) o' barley, one bow o' pease, eighteen hunder yirds o' potato ground, cow's keep, coals driven and eight pound o' money, tenpence a day for the women in summer an' eightpence in winter” — which catalogue the farmer rattles off like a schoolboy at his alphabet.

Combs.: (1) auld bow, the “old boll” of meal (oats, barley) given as wages to a farm-servant; (2) bow-house, bow-woman, see quot. (3) bowman, cf. bollman, I. 2. Combs. (2) above; (4) bow-o'-meat-Gordon (see quot.).(1) Hdg. 1885 “S. Mucklebackit” Rural Rhymes, etc. 149:
A “money” wage has been substituted for the “auld bow,” and consequently tea and white bread have usurped the places, and almost driven “parritch and milk” and “souple barley scones” from the cottage board.
(2)Abd. 1882 L. Shaw Hist. Moray (Gordon) II. 405:
A "Bowhouse" was erected near the Kirk of Dunbennan, for the reception of the poor's "Mortified" meal, as it was called; and "a bow o' meal" is still annually distributed by the Duke of Richmond and Gordon to poor females of the parish, who are known as "Bow-women".
 (3) Ork. 1929 Marw.:
Bowman, a farm servant who gets his “bow” and lives not in the farm-house but in a small house or cot near the farm.
(4) Kcb. 1895 S. R. Crockett Men of the Moss-Hags vi.:
Ye are all no better than a bow-o'-meal-Gordon! (To call a man of our name “a bow-o'-meal-Gordon” is equal to saying that he has no right to the name he bears. It is said that a certain Lochinvar . . . offered a snug holding and so many bolls of meal yearly to any lusty youth who would marry on his land. A).

[O.Sc. boll, bow, boill, boall, bowl. In D.O.S.T. first quot. for boll is c.1375 (Barbour) and for bow 1488 (Acts Conc. 98/2). In Paisley Chartul. a.1246 appears “triginta bollas farine” (J.B.J.). The survival of boll is prob. due to its use in documents in the payment of teinds. Prob. from O.E. bolla, a bowl. Marw. assigns Ork. bowman to O.N. = stores and stock of a household, but remarks that change of O.N. ū to ou is odd and must be due to influence of bow = boll.]

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"Boll n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 23 Jun 2024 <>



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