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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1941 (SND Vol. II). Includes material from the 1976 and 2005 supplements.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

BRANKS, Brank, Brancks, n.1 [brɑŋk(s)]

1. A kind of halter, or bridle, for horses or cows. Almost invariably used in the pl., so that the pl. form has come to be regarded as a sing. (see double pl. ending in quot. 5). Gen.Sc.Sc. 1724–1727 Ramsay T. T. Misc. (1733) 182:
Twa croks that moup amang the heather, A pair of branks, and a fetter lock.
Sc. 1808 Jam.:
Branks. This term properly denotes a sort of bridle, often used by country people in riding. Instead of leather, it has on each side a piece of wood joined to a halter, to which a bit is sometimes added; but more frequently a kind of wooden noose resembling a muzzle. Anciently this seems to have been the common word for a bridle, n.Sc.
Cai. 1929 J. Mowat in John o' Groat Jnl. (27 Dec.):
A've seen Hornag 'is very meenad as clear as crystal, wi' her branks on an' her hair tether, an' her widden baukie, eytin' foggage oot at 'e back o' Tam's peyt stack.
Bnff. 1860 (per Bnff.12):
Brank, a sort of halter or hinged piece of iron by which cattle are fastened in a byre.
Abd. 1923 J. R. Imray Village Roupie, etc. 23:
Strong brankses, an' tethers, for cuddy or coo.
Peb. 1793 Carlop Green (ed. R. D. C. Brown 1832) II. 25:
Wi' wife, and weans, and cur, and creels, And social cuddy gray, On spyin' a friend, that brak his branks, Lap, flang, and ran away.
Ayr. publ. 1892 H. Ainslie Pilgrimage, etc. and Poems 249:
Tam Dudgeon wha dealt wi' the Manks, lass, Him ye led like a shelty in branks, lass.

2. An instrument of punishment for scolds or witches, shaped like a bridle. Very rarely used in sing. Once gen. known.Sc. 1774 T. Pennant Tour in Scot. 1772 80:
The Brank, an instrument of punishment . . . is a sort of head-piece, that opens and incloses the head of the impatient, while an iron, sharp as a chizzel, enters the mouth.
Sc. 1808 Jam.:
Branks. Anciently this seems to have been the common word for a bridle. Within these few years an iron bit was preserved in the steeple of Forfar, formerly used, in that very place, for torturing the unhappy creatures who were accused of witchcraft. It was called The Witch's Branks.
Bnff. 1891 Trans. Bnffsh. Field Club 38:
She would have been subjected to the ducking-stool or to the branks as an inveterate “scold.”
Ags. 1882 Brechin Advertiser (4 April) 3/6:
They brang to her the brank An' loot her hear its horrid clank.
m.Sc. 1988 William Neill Making Tracks 47:
'I care not if they torture me
with thumbscrew, boot or branks; ... '
em.Sc. 1920 J. Black Airtin' Hame 60:
Though aye it daunted me when ane [woman] Would fain try on the branks.
Per. 1711 Barony Court Book of Couttie, Coupar-Angus:
Robert Grahame . . . deponed . . . he saw a clour on Duncan McCondacher's head, which the said Duncan said was given him by the strock of a brancks.
Peb. 1805 J. Nicol Poems I. 41:
For ye may play some rackless pranks, Wi' owre severe a potion, For whulk ye may wear hangie's branks.

3. Phrs.: (1) to get the branks on, to hold (a person) in check (Ork., Abd., Bnff., Edb., Ayr. 2000s); (2) to put the branks on, to put a curb on, to restrain, to cut a person "down to size," to checkmate (Ork., ne.Sc., Ags., Per., wm.Sc. 1975). (1) Abd. 1993:
We'll need tae get e branks on im or e'll be fleein aawye aifter e quines.
(2) Ayr. 1901 G. Douglas Green Shutters ix.:
He had put the branks on Wilson!

[O.Sc. brankis, branks, branx, (1) a form of bridle; (2) an iron device of the nature of a bridle and gag; in use since 16th cent. (D.O.S.T.). Cf. Ger. pranger, the pillory; a barnacle for a horse; Du. prang, a fetter. The pl. forms may have arisen through the association of the word with Jougs, q.v., or from the two-sided formation of the instrument (cf. tongs, scissors, etc.).]

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"Branks n.1". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 22 Jun 2024 <>



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