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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1956 (SND Vol. IV).
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

GIRTH, n.2 Also †gerth, grith.

1. Security, protection, safety, asylum (gen. within a church) guaranteed by law, freq. in phr. girth and sanctuary: “the protection given to one who after killing without malice aforethought reached sanctuary” (A. D. Gibb Sc. Legal Terms); also the place of sanctuary. Now only in place-names. Hist.Peb. 1715 A. Pennecuik Descr. Twd. 98:
Since it is so, that thou has taen thy girth herein.
Sc. 1774 T. Pennant Tour 1772 251:
The precinct of these tombs . . . enjoyed the privileges of a Girth or Sanctuary.
Sc. 1797 D. Hume Punishment of Crimes I. 365:
It was the appointment of those laws, that the manslayer on suddenty was to have the benefit of the girth or sanctuary.
Sc. 1828 Scott F. M. Perth ix.:
Three or four men . . . came this morning before daylight to ask the privilege of girth and sanctuary.

Combs.: (1) girth-cross, a cross marking the boundary of church lands, hence a place of sanctuary; (2) girth gate, see second quot.; (3) girth-house, a house of sanctuary; (4) girth-stane, a stone marking out the boundary of a sanctuary (w.Lth. 1948).(1) Abd. 1725 W. Orem Descr. Old Abd. (1782) 24:
This cathedral had an asylum, a girth or sanctuary, and girth-cross. . . . If the manslayer came to the girth-cross he could be no further pursued, but the clergy received him into the cathedral-church.
Edb. 1779 H. Arnot Hist. Edb. 304:
A fourth [cross in the Canongate] called the Girth cross, from its being the boundary of the sanctuary.
Edb. 1895 “S. Tytler” Kincaid's Widow viii.:
She suffered at the girth-cross by the Maiden.
Sc. 1927 W. D. Simpson St Columba 99:
It [an early Christian stone at Whithorn] was probably a termon or girth cross, marking the boundaries of the monastic lands.
(2) Sc. 1820 Scott Monastery iii.:
Haud your peace! Think what ye're saying, and we hae sae muckle wild land to go over before we win to the girth gate.
m.Lth. 1845 Stat. Acc.2 I. 536:
A causeway leading from the vale of the Tweed to Soutra, . . . bore the significant name of Girth-gate, meaning the asylum or sanctuary road.
(3) Ork. 1866 A. Pope Ancient Hist. Ork. & the North 108:
The temple of Orphir or Gerth-house, was a rotunda 22 feet in diameter and 16 feet . . . above ground.

2. Fig. Sympathetic reception, comfort.Ork. 1929 Marw.:
Of some one going to lay his troubles before another — “He'll get little grith there.”

[O.Sc. has girth, (a place of) refuge or sanctuary, from 1375, met. form of O.N. grið, domicile, home, in pl. = peace, pardon, quarter, O.E. griþ, peace; protection, guarantee of safety or immunity.]

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"Girth n.2". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 21 Feb 2024 <>



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