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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1965 (SND Vol. VI). Includes material from the 1976 and 2005 supplements.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

MEITH, n., v. Also meath(e), meeth(e); maith(e) (Ork. 1929 Marw.); mith; myth; meid, mied (Sh. 1948 New Shetlander No. 11 12), mead, meed; mid; meyde (Ags. a.1879 Forfar Poets (Fenton) 146); ¶myid; ¶meedge (Fif. 1899 Colville); mees(e) (Cai.). [Sc. mi:ð, Sh. mi:d, Cai. mi:z]

I. n. 1. A distinguishing feature by which the boundary of a piece of land is determined, a boundary mark or line (Sc. 1721 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. Gl.; Sh., Rxb. 1962). Also used fig. of any guiding or limiting mark. Freq. in phr. meiths and marches, boundary lines, limits. Now arch.Rxb. 1707 J. Wilson Hawick (1850) 120:
The said day, Robert Roucastil and Robert Brown, the two present bailies, with the town council, did ride the meiths and marches of the Common.
Lnk. 1723 Minutes J.P.s (S.H.S.) 218:
The said meath or march of his said inclosure, running from thence alongst the said march dividing betwixt his saids lands of Bonietown and . . . Boathaugh.
Abd. 1739 T. Mair Ellon Records (1898) 417:
The Presbytery set the following Meeths, to witt: The March ditch, etc.
Rs. 1776 W. MacGill Old Ross (1911) II. 117:
The tenants of Nigg and others have come over within the meiths of the burrow and cast turf and fuel.
Abd. 1801 W. Beattie Parings 40:
For mark nor meith ye wadna ken, The greenswaird how, an' seggy den, Are straiked even-o'er.
Sh. 1822 S. Hibbert Descr. Shet. 180:
Each mark of land bounded by mark-stones or meithes, naturally contained very little soil fit for tillage.
Sc. 1823 Scott St. Ronan's W. iii.:
They had been ower the neighbour's ground they had leave on up to the march, and they werena just to ken meiths when the moorfowl got up.
Abd. a.1880 W. Robbie Yonderton iii.:
The craetur seems to hae nae meaths o's stammack. Aw've seen 'im ate mair at ae doon-sittin' than wud sair twa ordinary men for a haill day.
Rxb. 1939 F. Drake-Carnell Old Sc. Custom 66:
Here the following proclamation is read: — “For as much as the Provost, Bailies and Council of the Burgh of Hawick, with the Burgesses of the said Burgh, have this day ridden the meiths and marches of the Commonty of Hawick. . . .”

2. A mark made for the purpose of taking measurements from; the measurement itself. Rare.Slg. 1726 Slg. Burgh Rec. (1889) 189:
In the whole forsaid space there shall be two foot more deepness than there is att present, after meiths taken at the beg stone of the present surface of the channell.
Fif. 1819 W. Tennant Papistry Storm'd 189:
As they look't up ilk lofty wa', Takin' their meiths for its downfa'.
Sc. 1871 P. H. Waddell Psalms xxxix. 4:
Lat me wit, O Lord, o' my en'; an' the meath o' my days, what it's a'.

3. A landmark or prominent feature of the landscape by which a traveller sets his course (Sc. 1808 Jam.); specif. a landmark used by fishermen to steer by (Sh. 1866 Edm. Gl.; Mry. 1914 Trans. Bnff. Field Club 26; Arg. 1930; Abd. 1931 Press and Jnl. (25 March)), in gen. fishing usage; a fishing ground marked out with reference to the landmarks visible from it (Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928)). Also used fig. Phr. to get (loss, tine) one's meaths, to get (lose) one's bearings, set oneself upon the right (wrong) course (Sh. 1962). Also fig.Sh. 1711 R. Sibbald Descr. Ork. & Zet. 17:
He has made a Large Map of all the Voes, i.e. Bays and Sounds and the entries to them, and has marked the meaths in them, and showen where dangers are, and how they are to be evited.
Cai. 1726 W. McFarlane Geog. Coll. (S.H.S.) I. 168:
This hill is oft remarked by seamen . . . and by it they take their meeths.
Abd. 1768 A. Ross Helenore (S.T.S.) 25:
Nae meiths she kent, ilk hillock head was new, An' a' thing unko' that was in her view.
Fif. 1795 Stat. Acc.1 I. 409:
The fishermen, who have marked out the steeple of this church for a meath or mark to direct them at sea.
Abd. 1839 A. Walker De'il at Baldarroch 12, 26:
In gaun hame she had gane will, An' tint her meaths for a' her skill . . . He gather't meaths, an' ken'd the towns.
Bwk. 1859 Proc. Bwk. Nat. Club (1863) 128:
Useful as a “Mead” or landmark for seamen.
Sh. 1877 G. Stewart Fireside Tales 13:
I tink I ken whaur ye ir by da meethes o' da subjeck, as we wid say at da haaf.
Abd. 1880 G. Webster Crim. Officer 28:
I got my meiths sae far, an' the prent o' the muckle tackettie shee sole i' the smith's yard was a help.
Sh. 1899 J. Spence Folk-Lore 130:
The fishing grounds . . . were marked by cross meiths, so as to find the exact spot.
Cai. 1932 John o' Groat Jnl. (18 Nov.):
A'll better tak' a mees or twa 'at A'll ken far til get ye in 'e dark.
Sh. 1957 Sh. Folk-Bk. III. 55:
A'll jost set it oot by da Stroandy Brough for a meed against da Clett.
Sh.10 1962:
To loss his meids, to go astray in some way, often of someone going around in a daze, losing his place in reading or speaking, etc.
Fif. 1985 Christopher Rush A Twelvemonth and a Day 112:
That was when I learned about 'meads.'
'Meads' was the word they used to describe their way of establishing their position at sea when they were not far from the land, and the commonest question I heard asked on the pier when a fisherman had just brought in a good catch, was: 'What meads were you on?'

Hence meethless, without a guiding mark, trackless, aimless. Used fig.Bnff. 1924 Swatches o' Hamespun 83:
The lave o' them haiveless like harnless deer An' meethless an' planless aye wannert aroon.
Abd. 1932 R. L. Cassie Sc. Sangs 26:
That rives the mirk o' eons bare In meetheless nicht!

4. A distinguishing feature in general, a distinctive mark or sign, an indication, guide (Sc. 1808 Jam.); specif. the outline of the foundations of a ruined house (Ayr.4 1928).Abd. p.1768 A. Ross Fortunate Shep. MS. 104:
For we have often seen him all before Altho' that from our minds the meiths be wore.
Sc. 1776 Weaver's Index 78:
Tho' they are not design'd for invariable Rules, yet they may be a Meith at any Time for Caaming, only considering, how many setts the caam that is in use.
Cai. 1776 Weekly Mag. (25 Jan.) 145:
The meiths o' sorrow down frae baith your een In muddy spraings upo' your cheeks are seen.
Wgt. 1804 R. Couper Poems I. 78:
A contrast lea'es nae meith atween His and a Nielson's toils.
Lnk. 1813 G. MacIndoe Wandering Muse 226:
“Page twalt”, quo ye, “(the ready meath to gie you)” “Line sixt, for embroy, mak it read embryo.”
Sc. 1819 J. Rennie St. Patrick I. xi.:
Whar there's no the meath o' a peth atween roke an' water.
Ork. 1880 Dennison Sketch-Bk. 15:
Seurly the shot wad hae left some mith.
Sc.(E) 1913 H. P. Cameron Imit. Christ i. ix. 14:
Tae naysay tae hearken tae ithers, whan rizzon or guid cause demand it, is a meith o' paughtiness or dourness.

5. A hint, a clue, an insinuation.n.Sc. 1808 Jam.:
One is said to give a meith or meid of a thing, when he barely insinuates it.

II. v. 1. To define the boundaries of a piece of land by listing the natural landmarks or special boundary stones which enclose it. Freq. in phr. to meith and march, id. Agent n. meither, a land-surveyor.Gsw. 1714 Records Trades Ho. (Lumsden 1934) 14:
John Craig, younger hammerman James Stevenson, taylor Thomas Cochran, glover, David Main maltman Hugh Park cordener and John Hamiltoun land meithers were ordained to be booked.
Gsw. 1718 Burgh Rec. Gsw. (1909) 47:
Fronting to the head of the street called the Candlerigg Street, as the same is now stobbed, marked and meathed.
Fif. 1722 D. Jamie Ballingry (1890) 73:
Which piece of ground so meithed and marched as before, the meeting appoint and appropriate to be for building a school and schoolhouse.
Per. 1760 A. G. M. MacGregor Hist. Clan Gregor (1901) 472:
The equal half of the Houses, biggings, Yards, Tofts, Crofts, Parts, Pendicles, and pertinents thereto belonging together with the grazing and shealling of Glencarr of Achavore according as the same is meithed and marched.
Rxb. 1768 Session Papers, Buccleugh v. Turnbull etc. (10 March) 3:
For pitting, meithing, and setting up March-stones, in the Marches of the several Divisions.

2. To navigate at sea by reference to the position of prominent landmarks (Sh. 1962).Sh. 1898 Shetland News (23 April):
“I tought ye aye set bi da compass” . . . “Say dey du, Tamy, for maist pairt, when der ony distance fram [to sea], bit when dey can meed der no sae muckle need.”
Sh. 1899 J. Spence Folk-Lore 47:
Even in it[broch]s ruined condition it is sufficiently prominent to be used by fishermen as a landmark at sea for meithing the Burgascurs.

[O.Sc. methe, = I. 1., from 1460, myth, to mark a spot, c.1470, to measure, 1513, meith, to delimit, bound, c.1575, O.N. míð, a fishing bank marked by prominences, miða, to show or mark a place, but meaning I. 2. suggests confusion with Mid.Eng. meðe, O.E. mǣð, measure.]

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"Meith n., v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 24 Jul 2024 <>



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