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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1960 (SND Vol. V).
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

HANDFAST, v. Also haan-; handfist. Obs. exc. hist.

1. To make a contract by a symbolic joining of hands.Ags. 1699 A. J. Warden Burgh Laws Dundee (1872) 353:
The great animosityes and heartburnings that doe arise amongst us, by reason of our long continued custome of handfasting with those that are joyne with us in our beak-houses so early and long befor they enter them to other work and serviees.

2. Specif. of marriage: to be betrothed, esp. to agree to a probationary period of cohabitation before marriage (n.Sc., w.Sc. 1808 Jam.), a freq. condition being that the woman should bear a male child within a year and a day of the contract. Hence ppl.adj. handfasted, betrothed; vbl.n. hand-fasting, betrothal, trial marriage.Ork. 1706 A. W. Johnston Church in Ork. (1940) 68:
From Magnus Ame handfasted with Margaret Wairds June 23rd 1705 . . . £200.
Dmf. 1774 T. Pennant Tour 1772 80–81:
In the upper part of Eskdale, . . . was held an annual fair, where multitudes of each sex repaired. The unmarried looked out for mates, made their engagements by joining hands, or by handfisting, went off in pairs, cohabited till the next annual return of the fair, appeared there again, and then were at liberty to declare their approbation or dislike of each other. If each party continued constant, the handfisting was renewed for life.
Sc. 1820 Scott Monastery xxv.:
When we are handfasted, as we term it, we are man and wife for a year and a day.
Slk. 1829 Hogg Shep. Cal. (1874) xii.:
We hae comed far and foul gate for a preevat but honest handfasting.
Sc. 1849 J. Grant Kirkcaldy of Grange ix.:
Margaret, daughter of Lord Crichton, to whom he had been betrothed, or hand-fasted.
Sc. 1896 W. K. Morton Law Scot. 32:
Prior to 1855 the rights of parties differed according as the marriage had, or had not, subsisted for year and day, and a child had, or had not, been born of it, — a relic of the old custom of “handfasting.”
Kcb. 1911 G. M. Gordon Clay Biggin' 30:
John, hooever, had eneuch tae sober him noo, being hand fasted til Esther Faa.
Abd. 1926 L. Coutts Lyrics 30:
I hinna nae freens te wish ye weel An grudge the giein o presents, Haan-fast me, an I'll feast ye weel On ane o my lairdie's pheasants.

[O.Sc. han(d)fast, to betroth by joining of hands, a.1400, to become engaged to marry, 1498, to enter into an engagement of service, 1699, vbl.n., 1482; mid.Eng. handfast, O.N. handfesta, id.]

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"Handfast v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 24 Apr 2024 <>



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