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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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

MERK, n. Also merck(e) (Bte. 1715 Rothesay T.C. Rec. (1935) II. 622). Sc. forms and usages of Eng. mark, a unit of weight or of money. See P.L.D. § 48.1. (2). [mɛrk]

1. Orig. a certain weight of gold and silver estimated in monetary terms and used as a money of account from early times with the value of two thirds of the pound Scots or 13 shillings and 4 pence Scots which by the 18th c. was equivalent to 131/3d. sterling. A silver coin of this denomination was coined at intervals from the reign of James VI in 1578 to that of Charles II. As a money of account the name persisted into the 18th c., freq. as a collective pl., and still exists in some archaic legal usages, otherwise only hist. See also Half-Merk. In I.Sc. the merk referred to was orig. the slightly lighter Norwegian mark and the calculations of land-values under 3. were on that basis.Sc. 1704 Discourse of Present Importance 23:
The calling in, or crying down of the old Merks and other Fractions, might be profitable to the Nation; since there is a great Diminution in the Value and Weight.
Sc. 1704 Proposals for Reformation of Schools 10:
Our Bursaries, as we call them, are commonly but 100 Merks or 100 Pounds, which cannot maintain any Person.
Lnk. 1708 Minutes J.P.s (S.H.S.) 19:
A mason is to have a merk Scots, without meat or drink, and half a merk, with meat and drink, for a dayes service.
Sc. 1728 Elchies Letters (McWilliam) 48:
The Caithnes Lairds wont sell under eight merk.
Abd. 1760 A. Grant Dissertation 54:
Such farms in Aberdeen-shire pay commonly about 300 merks, or 17 l. sterling of yearly rent.
Sc. 1762 Caled. Mercury (10 May):
A great quantity of silver merks, and fourteen pence pieces were discovered among the rubbish, rolled up in old stockings.
Edb. 1773 Fergusson Poems (S.T.S.) II. 157:
Tell owr their turners, Mark by Mark.
Sc. 1814 Scott Waverley xxxvi.:
My sma' means whilk are not aboon twenty thousand merk.
Ayr. 1826 Galt Last of Lairds ii.:
For on that day [Union of 1707] the pound sterling came in among our natural coin, and, like Moses' rod, swallow't up at ae gawpe, plack, bodle, mark, and bawbie.
Slk. 1828 Hogg Shepherd's Cal. viii.:
There is twenty hunder merks offered to the first that can find her.
Sc. 1838 W. Bell Dict. Law Scot. 886:
Within three months after 11th June 1803, the salaries of the schoolmasters were to be fixed at from 300 to 400 merks Scots.
Kcb. 1893 Crockett Raiders xliv.:
Here's a silver merk for the King's arles.
I.Sc. 1921 Old-Lore Misc. IX. i. 55:
The sub-division of the Norse mark into 8 aurar was maintained in Shetland for similar sub-divisions of the land of the value of an eyrir; whereas, in Orkney, the sub-division of the Scottish mark into 13s. 4d., has been used to express fractions, e.g., 10s. for ¾ mark, etc.
Sc. 1929 Encycl. Law Scot. VII. 523:
Where a juror fails to answer his citation in a criminal cause, and no sufficient excuse is offered, he is fined one hundred merks Scots (£5. 11. 11/3d).

Combs.: (1) merk-marriage, a clandestine marriage. Abbrev. form of half-merk marriage s.v. Half-merk, q.v.; (2) Ten Merk Court, a municipal court in Edinburgh dealing with small debts up to the value of ten merks, or for the recovery of servants' wages (see quots.).(1) Fif. 1826 G. Gourlay Old Neighbours (1887) 26:
It was a merk or clandestine marriage by one of the non-jurors in Edinburgh, so prevalent by the way, at this time, as to be little else than the rule of the coast.
(2) Edb. 1735 Process Wright v. Din 87:
He had produced several Hundreds of Instances of Warrants of the Ten Merk Court.
Edb. 1816 H. Arnot Hist. Edb. 386:
The intention of this Court is, that justice should be distributed with dispatch to poor persons, and in trifling causes. It is called the Ten Mark Court; because that, or eleven shillings one penny two thirds, is the highest sum for which any action can be brought before it, except those for servants' wages, which may be tried to any amount. This Court, in which one of the bailies is judge, meets once a week.

2. A unit of land assessment, being the area which orig. had the annual value of one merk, varying in extent according to the productivity of the soil in question. Usu. in comb. merkland, markland. Now only hist. except in place-names.Sc. a.1714 Earls Crm. (Fraser 1876) II. 490:
In this charter all his lands, viz., the 40 merks land of Kintaill, 4 merk of Killin, 4 merk of Garrive . . . are all united to the barrony of Kintaill, and designed the barrony of Illandonan.
Bte. 1721 Session Bk. Rothesay (1931) 365:
A proportionable number of shaves should be laid on all the towns of the parish by the merk lands.
Kcd. 1724 Urie Court Bk. (S.H.S.) 124:
It is statute . . . that ilk tennent . . . betwixt a pleugh and fiftie merks shall pay two pecks yearely.
Sc. 1745 Chrons. Atholl and Tullibardine Families (1908) III. 65:
My Lord Tulliebardine expected, seing the harvest was over, to raise 2 men out of each merk land.
Wgt. 1762 Session Papers, Stewart v. Dalrymple (5 Jan.) 33:
In so far as concerns this Shire of Wigton, every one of the Kirk Lands . . . is described by the designation of Pound or Merk Lands.
Hebr. 1774 T. Pennant Tour 1772 197:
The island is divided into thirty marklands, each of which ought to maintain fourteen cows and four horses; besides producing a certain quantity of corn.
Arg. 1795 Stat. Acc.1 XII. 477:
There are 94 merk-lands in the parish. A merk-land is supposed to be as much as one plough can manage . . . It is now of little consequence, being neither uniform nor universal. I know nothing regulated by it except perhaps cess, teinds, and some other public burdens.
Sc. 1831 J. Logan Sc. Gael (1876) II. 81:
In Lochaber the land is reckoned by pence, farthings, and octos, but in Badenoch, and I believe in Strathspey, &c., it is reckoned in marks.
Sc. 1873 Trans. Highl. Soc. 301:
Upon the Menzies estates, in Perthshire, the arable ground of a certain district was known by the name of the “eight mark land;” other two farms, contiguous to each other, were called “Meikle-mark” and “Little-mark”.
Sc. 1944 P.S.A.S. LXXVIII. 71:
At a very early stage (as early as the sixteenth century) the merkland ceased to be an absolute measure of the value of land and . . . owing to discrepancies between the production of different holdings, it later ceased to have any value even as a relative measure. After the middle of the eighteenth century it began to be abandoned when estates were surveyed and measured in acres.

3. An I.Sc. division of land, being the area of land orig. having the capital value of one mark on its arable part, and sub-divided into 8 Ures. The exact extent of the area involved varied considerably according to the district and quality of the soil (see quots.). Comb. merkland, markland (I.Sc. 1866 Edm. Gl.), id.Ork. 1774 G. Low Orkney (1879) 145:
The term Pennyland . . . in Schetland . . . marks the quality, and according to the value of the land, every Mark contains more or fewer Pennies.
Ork. 1795 Stat. Acc.1 VII. 393:
The lands are reckoned by a peculiar measurement, by what are called merks-land. Each merk-land ought to contain 1600 square fathoms. To each one cow is allotted; and the parish contains 2000 of these merk-lands, and consequently as many cows.
Sh. Ib. V. 195:
The lands are understood to be divided into merks. A merk of land, however, does not consist uniformly of a certain area. In some instances, a merk may be less than an acre; in others, perhaps, equal to two acres. Every merk again consists of so much arable ground, and of another part which is only fit for pasturage, but the arable part alone varies in extent from less than one to two acres.
Sh. 1821 Scott Pirate i.:
How probable it was, that in another century scarce a merk — scarce even an ure of land, would be in the possession of the Norse inhabitants.
Sh. 1884 Crofters' Comm. Evidence II. 1403:
The unit of extent is the merk or mark, which . . . is now, owing to variation in the quality of the soil, of uncertain extent, comprising any amount of land from three-quarters of an acre to fourteen acres. Two or three acres may be considered a fair average. Each merk is divided into eight ures or ounces.
Ork. 1929 Marw.:
Markland, merkland: in fourteenth and fifteenth centuries = land having a capital value of one mark sterling (13s. 4d.), which was presumably the origin of the term. In almost all tounships, merklands came to have a stereotyped relation to the pennylands (so many marks going to the pennyland — without any odd fraction over), despite all fluctuations in the value of land. As the usual number of merks per pennyland was four (outside the North Isles), merklands frequently became confused with farthing lands.
Ork. 1952 H. Marwick Farm-Names 200:
The Scottish markland was a unit of which the annual value was reckoned to be a mark (13/4d.), whereas the old Orkney markland represented land which had the capital value or purchase price of a mark.

4. An I.Sc. measure for dry ingredients, butter or oil = 1/24th. of a Lispund or Setten, q.v. The exact measure, given in 1779 as approx. = 1.3596 lbs. avoirdupois, varied considerably from place to place and was subject to increase during the 18th c. due to the pressure of landlords who demanded increased weight in the rents paid in kind.Ork. 1701 J. Brand Descr. Ork. (1883) 42:
The least quantity is called a Merk, which is 18 Ounces; 24 Merks make a Leispound or Setten, which with the Danes is that which we call a Stone.
Ork. 1748 in Session Papers, Galloway v. Morton (12 Nov. 1757) 14:
That the least Denomination of their Weights in “Orkney, for Grain, is that called a Mark, and that twenty-four of these Marks make a Setteen; also that the lowest Denomination of their Weights, for Butter and Oil, is likewise the Mark, twenty-four of which Marks make a Lispund”.
Ork. 1765 P. Fea MS. Diary (3 Dec.):
Proof Cast to Jo. Swanay by Jo. Fea 53 Threefs Otts proof thereof was 1 meil 1 Settin the barrel thereof weighing 3 Settins 18 marks.
Ork. 1808 G. Barry Descr. Ork. 219:
The smallest of these weights, or the one of the lowest denomination, is the mark. Twenty-four marks make a setteen or lispund, or pund bysmer or span.
Ork. 1884 R. M. Ferguson Rambles 171:
Gudewife, gae to your butter-ark — An' fetch us here ten bismar mark.
Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928):
A mark thus really = 2/3rd Da. “skålpund”; has doubtless originally been half a pound . . . The augmentation of the original “mark” has not been uniform in the Shetland Isles. From Unst a mark is stated as being 11/3rd pounds, from Dunrossness and Foula as being = 1½ pounds.

[O.Sc. marca (Latin), = 1., a.1173, marc, 1381, = 2., 1393, = 4., 1576; merkland, 1491.]

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



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