Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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SPAN, n. Also span (Jak.). [spɑn]

1. A high wooden hooped vessel, used e.g. for churning milk, a pail (Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928), 1938 M. Powell 200,000 Feet on Foula 311).

2. A measure, orig. Norwegian, used in calculations for the assessment of Skatt and other revenues as payable in butter (see quots.) (Ork. 1866 Edm. Gl.; Sh. 1908 Jak. 1928)). Hist. Ork. 1757  Session Papers, Galloway v. Morton (12 Nov.) 2:
The Span, Bysmar, or Pund, commonly called Lispund, or Setteen, contained twenty four of these Marks, or Half Pounds, and consisted of twelve Pounds, and no more.
Cai. 1861  C. Innes Sk. Early Sc. Hist. 77:
It was the established usage of Caithness, that for every score of cows a span of butter should be paid to the shop.
I.Sc. 1921  Old-Lore Misc. IX. i. 68–70:
Butter-skatt is enumerated in spanns of the value of 21d. Orkney payment. . . . The spann weighed 3½ Shetland lispunds or 5¾ Orkney lispunds . . . 63 lbs., as proved by the statement of 1328.
Ork. 1929  Marw.:
Span: . . . a measure of capacity used in the 1492 and 1500 Rentals in specifying the amount of butter skat that was payable. The conversion value at that period in Orkney was 20d sterling per span. . . . A proportion of the butter skat was paid actually in kind; this was reckoned by weight . . . and as each lispund was valued at 4d, it follows that the span (of butter) was considered = 5 lispunds.

[O.Sc. span, = 2., 1497 (Ork.), Norw., O.N. spann, a bucket, a measure of weight, esp. of butter.]

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"Span n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 16 Jul 2018 <>



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