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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1941 (SND Vol. II). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

BOURTREE, BOORTREE, BORETREE, Boortrie, Bower-Tree, Bootrie, Bountree, Boontree, Bountrie, Bountry, n. The elder tree, Sambucus nigra. Often used attrib. Gen.Sc. [′bu:rtri, ′bo:rtri, ′buntri Sc., but m.Sc. + ′butri]Sc. 1795 Stat. Acc.1 XVI. 110–111:
Some of the [elder] trees . . . by the natural bending of the branches cause an agreeable shade, or bower, [hence] . . . the propriety of the name . . . in Scotland, namely, the Bower-tree.
Sc. 1808 Jam.:
Bourtree, Boretree, Bountree. . . . This shrub was supposed to possess great virtue in warding off the force of charms and witchcraft. Hence it was customary to plant it round country-houses and barnyards.
Sc. [1826] R. Chambers Pop. Rhymes (1870) 204:
Bourtree, bourtree, crooked rung, Never straight, and never strong; Ever bush and never tree, Since our Lord was nailed to ye!
Ork. 1907 J. S. Clouston in Old-Lore Misc., Ork., Sh., etc. I. i. 31:
A kail-yard garnished with a bunch of crouching bourtrees.
ne.Sc. 1952 John R. Allan North-East Lowlands of Scotland (1974) 147:
Anyone who has been brought up in the shelter of even a single bourtree bush might wonder why people ever built their houses on such a flat and windy foreshore.
Abd. 1906 J. Christie in Bnffsh. Jnl. (10 July) 10:
[They] grew their kail near sauch or boortrie.
m.Sc. 1927 J. Buchan Witch Wood i.:
But the Lord has showed me singular favour and my damps are lightened since a leech in Edinburgh prescribed a hyperion of bourtree and rue.
m.Sc. 1988 William Neill Making Tracks 46:
The gress growes still sae caller green
ablo the bourtree's bloom,
tho halflin dwaums are langsyne flown
like blossom frae the broom.
Bwk. 1890 G. Deans Birgham Bowers in Minstrelsy of the Merse (ed. Crockett 1893) 268:
Oh, bonnie are the bountrie trees Where the thrush in simmer sings.
wm.Sc. 1989 Janice Galloway The Trick is to Keep Breathing (1990) 13:
On the map, it's called Bourtreehill, after the elder tree, the bourtree, Judas tree; protection against witches.
Lnk. 1991 Duncan Glen Selected Poems 8:
And cuttin new gress for pownies owre in the field.
And boontree canes - for bows and airrows.
Kcb. 1789 D. Davidson Seasons 42; Kcb.1 1935:
In the cool retreat By saugh an' boortree twining other's arms.
Rxb. 1820 Edin. Mag. (June) 536/1:
I have often seen pins of rowan tree and boun tree or alder [elder] wood, fixed in stables and byres to protect the inmates.
Uls. a.1889 W. Allingham Poems and Songs (1893) 45:
The boortree and the lightsome ash across the portal grow, And heaven itself is now the roof of Abbey Asaroe.

Combs.: (1) Bore-tree-berry wine, elder-berry wine.Gall.(D) 1901 Trotter Gall. Gossip 114:
His wife wus . . . a gran' maker o' bore-tree-berry wine.

(2) Bourtree-, bountry-, bootrie-gun, a pop-gun. Gen.Sc.Sc. 1821 Blackwood Mag. (Aug.) 35:
Bountry-guns are formed of the alder [elder] tree, the soft pith being taken out, and are charged with wet paper.
Ayr. 1887 J. Service Dr Duguid 32:
He ordered me to bring him that bootrie-gun.
Rxb. 1821 A. Scott Poems, etc. 45:
And whar oft we've had sic fun, Ilk wi' bow and bourtree gun.

(3) Bowertree-puff, “an hollow tube made of Boretree, used by kill-men to blow through, and rouse their seed fires, or fires fed by the husks of corn” (Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 87).

[D.O.S.T. records the first element in this word as bour, bowr, but makes no mention of boun. This last may be the Eng. bound, obs. (Boun', n., 2), for the elder-tree used to be planted about houses and barns as a charm against evil spirits, to whose power it was supposed to set bounds. E.D.D. gives bown-tree, elder-tree, for Nhb., meaning the sacred tree. The very late appearance, however, of this form may indicate rather a folk etymology. In Mod.Sc. the most common spellings are bour [u], boor [u], and bore [o]. Bore, to pierce, with its Sc. variant Boor, v.2, q.v., has been suggested for first element, which Borral Tree, the elder, seems to confirm, but the bore form is wanting in O.Sc. The spelling bower-tree (see first quot.) has led to the suggestion that bower, arbour or house, is the origin of the first element, but this spelling is against the gen. pronunciation in Mod.Sc. D.O.S.T. cites Burtrees, a place-name in Ayrshire (c.1320), as possibly of the same origin as bourtree, and J.B.J. cites Buirtrekelde [elder-tree well], in Guisboro' Cartul. (Yks.) 1199–1203.]

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"Bourtree n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 19 Jul 2024 <>



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