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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1968 (SND Vol. VII). Includes material from the 1976 and 2005 supplements.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

PIT, n., v.2 Also pitt; ¶put. Sc. forms and usages:

I. n. 1. As in Eng. Combs. and phr.: (1) pit and gallows, a translation of the Latin feudal term furca et fossa, used to indicate the capital jurisdiction attached to a barony, by which the baron could put to death criminals found within his lands (see quots.). Hist. The word pit is gen. taken to refer to the water-filled trench in which females were executed by drowning. Others take pit as in sense 3. but the evidence points to the practice as a survival from Anglo-Saxon and Teutonic law, whereby male malefactors were hanged and females drowned (Sc. 1808 Jam., 1838 W. Bell Dict. Law Scot. 440, 1907 N.E.D. s.v., 1937 Carnwath Court Bk. (S.H.S.) xxvi. sqq., cviii.). These powers had in practice much decayed in the 17th c. and were formally abolished in the Heritable Jurisdictions Act of 1746; (2) pit-bing, a slag-heap from a coal mine; (3) pit-bottomer, in mining: the man who loaded the coal on to the hoist at the pit-bottom, an onsetter (Dmb. 1972 Patterns in Folk-Speech (Wakelin) 40); (4)pit butter, margarine, from its use as a substitute for butter in miners' sandwiches; (5) pitheadsman, = Eng. pitheadman, the employee in charge of the coal at the surface of the mine; (6) pit-‡merk, -mirk, adj., n., pitch-dark-(ness), sc. dark as the pit of hell. See Mirk, adj., 3. (8); (7) a threshing-mill wheel driven by two horses walking round in a circular pit. See Horse, n., 2. (16) (b).(1) n.Sc. c.1730 E. Burt Letters (1815 ) I I. 230:
The heritable power of pit and gallows, as they call it, which is still exercised by some within their proper districts, is, I think, too much for any particular subject to be intrusted withal.
Sc. 1747 Acts 20 Geo. II. c.43 § 17:
The Jurisdiction in Capital Cases, that was heretofore granted to many Heretors or Proprietors . . . whose Lands were erected by the Crown into Baronies or granted cum Fossa et Furca or with Power of Pit and Gallows, or with like Words, importing such Capital Jurisdiction, hath been long discontinued.
Sc. 1816 Scott O. Mortality xix.:
The barony of Tillietudlem has the baronial privilege of pit and gallows.
Sc. 1872 C. Innes Sc. Legal Antiq. 58:
Furca et fossa — the right of pit and gallows, the true mark of a true baron in the ancient time, who had . . . jurisdiction in life and limb.
Sc. 1892 Urie Court Bk. (S.H.S.) vi.:
Their boasted right of “pit and gallows” was tempered in the first instance by the withdrawal from their jurisdiction of the Crown Pleas, and subsequently by the limitation of their right to dispose of the homicide and thief, to cases in which the former had been caught “red-handed”, or the latter infang.
Sc. 1914 J. Mackay Church in Highlands 210:
It was then [after Culloden] that the clan system was broken, and hereditary jurisdiction terminated. The great chiefs and barons . . . were deprived of the power of “pit and gallows”.
(2)wm.Sc. 1984 Liz Lochhead Dreaming Frankenstein 139:
Coal. Colossus of pit-bings,
and the stubborn moors where Covenanters died.
Sc. 1994 Books in Scotland 49 23:
Half of her stories are in a tough un-Lallans kind of Scots, harsh and brewed in communities far from rural simplicity - more usually in shadow of pit-bing or industrial village.
(3)e.Lth. 1887 P. McNeill Blawearie 46:
Will Hood had been appointed pitbottomer here.
(4) Fif. 1952 B. Holman Diamond Panes 109:
The butter was margarine, known generally as “pit butter.”
(5) Ayr. 1848 Edb. Ev. Courant (7 Oct.):
William Young, pit headsman at Knowehead, eldest brother of the deceased.
Fif. 1868 St. Andrews Gazette (12 Sept.):
The house at Cardenden occupied by Alexander Welch, a pitheadsman, residing there.
(6) Sc. 1728 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) II. 147:
To lye without, Pit-mirk did shore him.
Abd. 1768 A. Ross Helenore (S.T.S.) 25:
It's yet pit-merk, the yerd a' black about.
Abd. 1995 Sheena Blackhall Lament for the Raj 10:
Syne hyne ootower the clouds it flew
Ayont the nicht's pit-mirk.
Hard teetle the Milky Way it gaed
Far aa the sternies steer
Ahin the meen an anent the sun
Awa frae the Eird's mineer.
Fif. 1998 Tom Hubbard Isolde's Luve-Daith 4:
As mony year it seemed as we follaed thon fankle
O pit-mirk pads whaur I wis feart ti hyter
Ower the skelets o men an aiblins o weemen an weans:
(7) Bnff.2 c.1920:
Een o' the pingins o' the pit wheel brook, an' the mull-laivers cam tee on their heels.

2. One of a series of holes dug to define the limits of an area of land. Comb. pit-stone, a boundary-stone, a march-stone.Lnl. 1762 Session Papers, Memorial G. Jarvie (4 July) 26:
He had removed some Pit-stones upon the said March.
Dmf. 1767 Session Papers, Duke of Queenberry v. Mounsey (12 Dec.) 25:
The pits he saw made as the limits at the perambulation of the commonty.
Lnk. 1816 G. Muir Cld. Minstrelsy 13:
Whose oaths are taken that the pit or march stones are standing in the same situation they left them last year.
w.Lth. 1845 Stat. Acc.2 I. 141:
The boundaries of property were marked by pit-stones.

3. An underground prison, a dungeon. Obs. exc. hist.Sc. 1700 S.C. Misc. (1846) III. 187:
He threatened to carry him to the town of Elgine, and to put him in the pitt there.
Sc. a.1814 J. Ramsay Scot. and Scotsmen (1888) II. 94:
All over Scotland pits were accounted legal prisons for thieves and other meaner criminals till the Jurisdiction Act passed.
Sc. 1816 Scott O. Mortality ix.:
I will cause Harrison . . . look for the key of our pit, or principal dungeon.
Sc. 1832 D. Vedder Sketches 33:
Those strongholds of misery which went by the appellation in Scotland, of “keeps”, “donjons ”or “pits”.
Knr. 1845 Stat. Acc.2 IX. 41:
These buildings had very thick walls; the lower stories were vaulted, and each of them had a small apartment within the wall, called by the people the pit, and used, according to tradition, not as a prison but as a place of concealment.

4. A slight depression in the skin, a dimple (Sc. 1787 J. Elphinston Propriety II. 73). Obs. in Eng.

II. v. †1. To define a land-boundary by means of a series of pits or holes, to mark (ground), Meith.Ayr. 1755 Ayr Presb. Reg. MS. (3 Dec.) 176:
All the said boundaries being Meithed and Pitted at the Sight of Mr Patrick wodrow and Mr Wm Allan Members ofthe Committee.
Rxb. 1768 Session Papers, Buccleugh v. Turnbull, etc. (10 March) 3:
For pitting, meithing, and setting up March-stones, in the Marches of the several Divisions.
Dmf. 1780 Session Papers, Petition J. Jardine (9 March) Proof 9–10:
He could fix upon the very spot, and could walk on the line and pit it all the way . . . They perambulated the said march, and pitted it out, making one pit at the south side of the railing; and from thence in a straight line through the moss to another pit made about twenty yards from the east end of the march-ditch.
Sc. 1817 Scott Letters (Cent. ed.) IV. 348:
A portion of the lands of Abbotslee bounded . . . by a line this day perambulated by the parties and . . . to be fixed by pitting running from the said Roman road in a straight line.

2. In Mining: to prove minerals near the outcrop by means of shallow pits (Sc. 1886 J. Barrowman Mining Terms 51), to test for ore.

[O.Sc. pit, = I. 1.(1), a.1425. pitt-stone, 1692.]

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"Pit n., v.2". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 19 Jul 2024 <>



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