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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1974 (SND Vol. IX). Includes material from the 1976 and 2005 supplements.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

SWURD, n. Also swoord (Abd. I 884 D. Grant Lays 28), swourd (Abd. 1900 C. Murray Hamewith 8); sourd (Abd. 1713 Abd. Jnl. N. & Q. VII. 202); sooard (Abd. 1924 L. Coutts Caul' Nor'-East 18); soord (Ags. 1853 W. Blair Aberbrothock 79, Mry. 1873 J. Brown Round Table Club 366; Abd. 1905 W. Watson Auld Lang Syne 272; Bnff. 1955 Banffshire Jnl. (23 Aug.)), soward (Per. 1903 H. Dryerre Blairgowrie 71); ¶swaird (Sc. 1874 W. Allan Hamespun Lilts 372), ¶sward (Abd. 1812 Bards Bon-Accord (Walker 1887) 600), swerd (Abd. p.1768 A. Ross Fortunate Shep. MS. 51; Fif. 1827 W. Tennant Papistry Storm'd 211; Abd. 1857 G. MacDonald Songs 8; Knr. 1891 H. Haliburton Ochil Idylls 59; m.Lth. 1894 P. H. Hunter J. Inwick 154); swird (Sh. 1866 Edm. Gl.; Ork. 1880 Dennison Sketch-Bk. 4; Fif. 1883 J. W. Wood Gipsy Heir 147; Ayr. 1889 H. Johnston Glenbuckie 249; Sh. 1916 J. Burgess Rasmie's Smaa Murr (Dezember 23), m.Sc. 1927 J. Buchan Witch Wood xii.); sord (Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 316). Sc. forms and usages of Eng. sword (Rnf. 1801 R. Tannahill Poems (1900) 21; Rxb. 1872 Scotsman (25 April) 6; Lnl. 1881 H. Shanks Musings 241; Per., Lth., Ayr. 1915–26 Wilson; Rxb. 1942 Zai). [m. and s.Sc. ‡swʌrd; I.Sc. Swɪrd; n.Sc. ′su(ə)rd. Cf. Swoom, Soop.]

1. As in Eng. m.Sc. 1982 Olive Fraser in Hamish Brown Poems of the Scottish Hills 93:
But the eagle abune Geal Charn
Hings like a swerd.

(1) Dim. forms swordick, swirdy, swurdy, the butter-fish or gunnel, Pholis gunnellus (Ork. 1800 G. Barry Hist. Ork. (1867) 285, 1891 Buckley and Harvie, Brown Fauna Ork. 276, 1929 Marw., Ork. 1972, swirdick, swirdy, swurdy), so called from its sword-shaped body.

(2) Combs.: (i) sword-dance, a dance, (a) performed as a solo, now chiefly in Highland games, in which the dancer does a series of steps between swords laid cross-wise on the ground; (b) associated with the island of Papa Stour in Shetland in which seven men with swords perform a complicated series of evolutions terminating with their swords interlaced so as to form a star (Sh. 1866 Edm. Gl.). See S. Hibbert Description (1822) pp. 554 ff., and A. Johnson Sword-Dance of Papa Stour (1926); (ii) sword-dollar, a silver coin of James VI, struck between 1567 and 1571, of the value of 30 shillings Scots and having a sword conspicuous on the reverse, a Ryal (Sc. 1825 Jam.). Hist.; (iii) sword-fern, the hard fern, Blechnum boreale (Rxb. 1915 Jedburgh Gazette (10 Sept.) 2, “perhaps so named from its scimitar-like shape”); (iv) sword-fish, the garfish or greenbone, Belone belone, from the shape of its jaws (Mry. 1852 Zoologist X. 3461); (v) sword-keel, a sheep-mark made by smearing a curved line round the animal's haunch-bone “in the shape of a cutlass” (Dmf. 1957); (vi) sword-slipper, a sword-sharpener. See note to Slipe, v.2 Hist. Also in n.Eng. dial.(i) (a) Sc. 1831 J. Logan Sc. Gael (1876) I. 236:
A favourite amusement of the Highlanders was the sword dance, which was performed with a great degree of grace and agility, being usually introduced as a finale to a ball in the manner of the “bob at the bolster” of the Lowlands.
Sc. 1852 Queen Victoria Leaves (1868) 90:
There were two or three sword dances.
Sc. 1886 C. N. M. North Bk. Club True Highlanders II. 39:
The dances at the present day which are considered exclusively Highland are the Sword Dance, Hulaichan or Reel o' Tulloch, the Strathspey, and the Highland Fling.
Sc. 1954 H. Thurston Scotland's Dances 12:
It is important to realise that an early reference to a ‘sword-dance' usually means one of the hilt-and-point type. Because today “sword-dance” unqualified indicates the “over-the-crossed-swords” type, references without descriptions have sometimes been misinterpreted, and the later type of sword-dance has been made to seem more ancient than it really is.
Sc. 1964 J. F. & T. M. Flett Trad. Dancing 42:
In the Central Highlands and the Western Isles this ‘Sword Dance' was omitted from the kissing dance after about 1895.
(b) Sh. 1814 Lockhart Scott xxviii.:
The Sword-Dance, now almost lost, but still practised in the Island of Papa.
Sh. 1822 S. Hibbert Description 555:
The sword-dance performed by the Curetes of Papa Stour, is not unlike that described by Olaus Magnus; but since the residence of Scottish settlers in the country, it has sustained some modification, by being rendered the sequel to a sort of drama performed by seven men, in the characters of the Seven Champions of Christendom.
Sh. 1883 J. R. Tudor Ork. and Sh. 176:
The old sword-dance, described by Scott in the Pirate.
Sh. 1932 T. Manson Guide to Sh. 176:
The sword-dance in time past has lapsed for years together, yet always it has been revived, and since 1926 has been fairly well established.
(ii) Sc. 1887 E. Burns Coinage Scot. II. 348:
The name of Sword Dollars for these pieces appears to be of comparatively recent origin.
(v) Kcb. 1880 J. H. Maxwell Sheep-Marks 1:
G buist; far sword keel.
(vi) Edb. 1701 Reg. Marriages Edb. (S.R.S.) 81:
William Sword, sword slipper in St Andrews.
Sc. 1731 Records Conv. Burghs (1885) 528:
White iron smyths, sword slippers, belt makers.
Sc. 1852 J. Grant Sc. Cavalier xxvii.:
A bare-armed swordslipper.

2. The sword-like leaf of the yellow iris or sword-flag, Iris pseudacorus (Sc. 1900 E.D.D.). Also in Eng. dial.

3. In various mechanical senses, like Eng. sword, a bar, blade, cross-piece, crank of a spinning-wheel, etc.; (1) the cross-piece in a barred gate; the cross-bar between chair or table legs (Cai. 1921 T.S.D.C., Cai. 1972); (2) the crank-rod of a church bell; †(3) in a horizontal water-mill: see quot.; (4) a cross-piece between the two uprights in a saw pit on which the plank to be sawn rested (Sh. 1962, swird); (5) a slat of wood or tang of metal on the end of a ladder which drops on the other side of a roof-ridge and prevents it from slipping (Per., Fif. 1972).(1) Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 316:
The long bar which crosses the others obliquy [sic], is the sord.
(2) Gall. 1722 Session Bk. Minnigaff (1939) 405:
Mending the Church door and the sword of the bell . . 18s.
Per. a.1752 J. Meikle Alyth Par. Ch. (1933) 213:
A new “sword” for the bell cost “2 lib 2 sh.”
(3) Sh. 1886 P.S.A.S. XX. 275:
The Sword (locally Swerd). — The little cross bar of wood which passes through the head of the lightening-tree on the surface of the mill floor. By the insertion of wedges underneath it, the lightening-tree is raised or depressed, as may be desired, with the consequent raising or lowering of the millstone, and the production of a coarser or finer meal.

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"Swurd n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 1 Mar 2024 <>



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