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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.

QUARTER, n., v. Also quorter; see Wharter, n., v

Sc. usages:

I. n. 1. The fourth part of a round of oatcakes, the triangular portion thus cut, a Farl or Corter (ne.Sc. 1967).Abd. 1835 A. Robb Poems (1852) 136:
A pickle aitmeal for our bannocks an' quarters.
Sh. 1901 Shetland News (20 April):
Shü marked aff da whaarters o' da skon wi' da nail o' her toom.
Abd. 1915 H. Beaton Benachie 28:
A quarter of oatcakes well covered with butter.
Bnff. 1922 Banffshire Jnl. (21 Feb.) 6:
Twa three quorters o' oatcakes, a whang o' blue hame-made cheese.

2. As a measure of weight or capacity: (1) a quarter-pound. Gen.Sc. Obs. in Eng. Also attrib. in quarter-laif, a quartern-loaf. Cf. Quarten.Abd. 1867 W. Anderson Rhymes 50:
A handfu' o' meal or a quarter o' bread.
Ags. 1894 J. B. Salmond B. Bowden (1922) 127:
I ran to the shop to gie Ekky Hebbirn a quarter o' soap.
Sh. 1898 Shetland News (28 May):
He wis niver geen her midder even a quarter o' tae.
Dmf. 1898 J. Paton Castlebraes 43:
A quarter o' Bacca tae Daidy.
Rxb. 1921 Hawick Express (27 May) 3:
Th' breid in Glesca bein' reduced a ha'penny th' quarter laif.
Arg. 1931 N. Munro Para Handy 368:
It's no' a pound of boiled beef ham and a quarter loaf that's yonder.
ne.Sc. 1952 John R. Allan North-East Lowlands of Scotland (1974) 190:
A quarter of oatcakes had to be broken over her head and the unmarried women took pieces to dream up a husband on. "Aye," the old man said, "I hear folk are sendin out wee bit knobbles o baker's cake in silvery boxes nowadays; but what power can there be in that? It should be cakes and whisky whan a bride gangs hame."

(2) as in Eng.: eight bushels, common as a measure of grain in ne.Sc. Phr. a weel-wyed quarter an' set bye, used fig. of a couple engaged to be married (Abd. 1923 Swatches o' Hamespun 86). Cf. Bun, ppl.adj.1, 1., Sack, v.Ags. 1960:
Grain is still sold today by the quarter of 280 lbs. which of course is 16 stone Scotch Troye.

(3) in regard to limestone (see quot.).Abd. 1845 Stat. Acc.2 XII. 142:
Unburned stone, which people in the neighbourhood purchase at the rate of 9s. a quarter, as it is called, — that is, a heap of stones built rudely into something like the form of a cube, 5 feet on each side, four of these measures, or 500 solid feet, being estimated to yield 100 bolls of lime.

3. As a measure of time: the fourth part of a year, specif. of a school term or similar period of instruction. Deriv. quarterly, adv., by the quarter, every quarter; n., short for quarterly examination, an examination held at the end of a school term. Gen.Sc.; quarterly pennies, = quarter pennies, s.v. 7. (13).Sc. 1722 Atholl MSS.:
For ane Quarters Boird to them Both [schoolboys] from the 25th of September to the 25 December . . . £36 Scots.
Sc. 1732 J. Colston Guildry Edb. (1887) 142:
The quarter's aliment due by the deceast James Seaton, late Janitor to College.
Edb. 1747–62 Observations by W.S.s, concerning Poor Rate 30:
There is not a Society in the Town, from the Writers to the Signet to the Street-cadies, but has poor of its own which it maintains, on certain quarterly or other Pennies, willingly contributed by every Member according to his Ability and Income.
Slg. 1795 Stat. Acc.1 XV. 371:
The wages are fixed for the parish schools by the heritors and session, at 1s. 6d. per quarter for children, half-a-crown for writing and arithmetic, and 3s. for Latin per quarter.
Sc. 1818 Scott H. Midlothian lii.:
I teach the French as well as the Classical tongues, at the easy rate of five shillings per quarter.
Sc. 1910 J. Kerr Sc. Education 199:
I've just made up my mind to tak a quarter o' Greek.
Dmb. 1932 A. J. Cronin Hatter's Castle ii. iv.:
Look at his bank balance — his wee Nessie was a fortnight late wi' her fees at the Academy this quarter.
Gsw. 1957 H. W. Pryde McFlannels 42:
Willie from behind his newspaper interjected, “Two quarters at the pianna.”

4. One of the areas (prob. orig. a fourth part) into which a parish was divided for the purposes of poor relief and the distribution of elders' duties; later, more gen. a locality, district (Ork. 1967). Phr. to be put on the quarters, to be put in receipt of parochial relief, of a pauper. Cf. II. and 7. (8), (10) (iii) and (17).Fif. 1720 J. M. Webster Carnock (1938) 75:
The elders in their several quarters are this day ordered to see that none come in to their quarters without testificates.
Ayr. 1735 A. Edgar Old Church Life (1885) 135:
The elders received tokens to distribute to their respective quarters.
Sh. 1795 Stat. Acc.1 V. 198:
When any person, unable to support himself, applies to be put on the quarters, (as it is called).
Sc. 1805 South Leith Records (Robertson 1925) II. 105:
The Elders and Deacons were appointed to the Divisions of the Parish, respectively as follows, viz.: — Elders Sands Quarter — Geo. Ritchie, Willm. Laing. Hill Quarter — John Thomson, Patrick Hadaway.
Sh. 1881 Williamson MSS.:
There is usually a mort cloth in each quarter.
Ork. 1956 C. M. Costie Benjie's Bodle 139:
Thir wis aye ee hoose i' the wharter whar' a' the young eens forgaithered.

5. A group of weavers who joined together for the performance of common tasks (see quot.). Possibly a survival of quarter in the craft sense, see quartermaster s.v. 7. (1).Fif. 1845 Stat. Acc.2 IX. 710:
And as a number of persons are required to beam a web, the weavers form themselves into societies, commonly called quarters, and have a set of nifflers to each.

6. In Rugby football: one of two players who played immediately behind the forward line, called in Eng. a half-back (see quot.). Also quarter-back.Sc. 1925 R. J. Phillips Sc. Rugby 13:
The original terms applied in Scotland and also in Ireland to the positions of the backs were “Back, half-back, and quarter-back.” The present designation of three-quarter was not in use in this country till, for the sake of uniformity, the English denomination was adopted, and the Scottish “quarters” became “halves”, and the “halves” three-quarters.” Before the line of three halves was introduced [1883], the normal formation was one full-back, two halves, and two quarters.

7. Combs.: (1) quarter bason, ? a vessel for holding a quarter of some standard measure of meal or the like, prob. a Firlot or fourth part of a bushel; (2) quarter-ben, -bain, a young boy employed in a coal-pit as a miner, his output being assessed at a quarter of that of an adult collier. See Ben, n.2; (3) quarter-cake, = 1. (Ags. 1967); (4) quarter-cart, a spring cart drawn by a pony or hackney formerly used for transporting light articles to and from a farm (e.Lth. 1967); (5) quarter-day, as in Eng., one of the four term-days in the year. These, in Scot., are Candlemas (2 Feb.), Whitsunday (15 May), Lammas (1 Aug.) and Martinmas (11 Nov.). See articles svv.; (6) quarter fishing, salmon-net fishing carried on during the first and last quarters of the moon, when it was supposed that the fish were more plentiful; (7) quarter-game, in Golf: a short drive, played when approaching the green; (8) quarter-house, quarters, a house to stay in, lodgings; †(9) quarterland, in the Highlands: a piece of land orig. assessed at a quarter of the Davach (see 1950 quot.); in the Border Counties: a quarter of a husbandland or ploughgate (see 1845 quot.); (10) quarterman, (i) = (2) above; (ii) a man who drove the quarter-cart (see (4)), attended to the light horses and did miscellaneous jobs and errands on a farm (e.Lth. 1967); †(iii) a male pauper who was given poor relief by being lodged for a short period at a time in the various houses in the parish. Cf. II. and (17); (11) quarter master, an official in an Incorporated Trade who looked after the affairs and probably collected the dues of a quarter or sub-division of the members. Cf. 5. above; (12) quarter-moon, the crescent moon (Sc. a.1838 Jam. MSS. II. 146; I. and n.Sc., Fif., Wgt., Slk. 1967). Obs. in Eng.; (13) quarter-pennies, the sum of money contributed per quarter by each member of an Incorporated Trade, Friendly Society or similar charitable body; (14) quarter-seal, one of the seals of the Chancery of Scotland, a replica of “the top half of the great seal” (Sc. 1958 Intro. Sc. Legal Hist. (Stair Soc.) 334), attachable to certain writs but in practice now no longer used; (15) quarter-sponge, in Baking: see quot. Gen.Sc., obsol.; (16) quarter-stroke, = (7); †(17) quarter wife, the female equivalent of (10) (iii) (Sh. 1967).(1) Ayr. 1795 Burns Lass o' Ecclefechan i.:
Rock an' reel, an' spinning wheel, A mickle quarter bason.
(2) wm.Sc. 1842 Children in Mines Report (1) 20:
When the child comes to about ten years old, he is considered by the colliers as a “quarter man”, sometimes called a “quarter bain”, or “ben”.
(3) Fif. 1897 D. Pryde Queer Folk 245:
Carrying pokes to hold the quarter cakes and whangs of cheese.
(6) Dmf. 1829 Private Letter Bks. Sir W. Scott (Partington 1930) 335:
A Gentleman in Dumfries . . . having bought a considerable extent of the river Nith there was then a reserve of the quarter fishing, being the property of another person.
(7) Sc. 1862 R. Chambers Rambling Remarks 14:
The short-spoon . . . is used for playing either good-lying or bad-lying balls when within a hundred yards or so of the hole; this is termed playing the “quarter game”.
(8) Sc. 1826 in Child Ballads (1956) V. 216:
Fan they came to his quarter-house, his land-lady came ben.
Bnff. 1862 R. Sim Leg. Strathisla 52:
I'm a quiet man an' like a quiet quarter-house, better than the mixt meingie I micht meet wi' in a change-house.
(9) Arg. 1718–29 L. Ramsay Stent Bk. Islay (1890) 1, 279:
The King's part £325 Scots, which, being divided amongst 132 quarter lands, each share is £2. 9. 4. . . . That in every four Quarter lands in Islay there bees one man appointed for searching and seeking after any theft that he suspects to be committed.
w.Sc. 1811 J. Macdonald Agric. Hebr. 624:
Cearabh [sic], a quarter land or 8 groat or 32 pennylands, which are commonly rented at £70 or £80 sterling [in Islay].
Rxb. 1845 T. Aird Old Bachelor 9:
Those [villagers] who had enough to support themselves and their families on their “quarter”, “husband”, or “cot” lands, generally lived by farming their own small poffle — which, by the way, they did very ill.
Sc. 1950 P.S.A.S. LXXXV. 55–7:
An officer known as the Mair was responsible for collecting the dues from each davach, and to facilitate the collection the davach was divided into four parts known as Quarterlands. The quarterland represented a quarter of the davach, not in the sense that it was a quarter of its superficies, but in that it was responsible for a quarter of whatever dues the davach paid . . . In the West Highlands the quarterland persisted as an agricultural holding down to the nineteenth century . . . It was the unit on which Land Cess and other public burdens were levied down to about 1840.
Sc. 1957 W. R. Kermack Sc. Highlands 111:
In the south-west Highlands the typical tacksman's holding was the ceathramh, or quarterland, that is, like the ploughgate a quarter of the davach.
(10) (i) wm.Sc. 1842 Children in Mines Report (1) 20:
When the child comes to about ten years old, he is considered by the colliers as a “quarter man”.
(ii) m.Lth. 1857 J. H. Oliver Brit. Agric. 16:
5 ploughmen, 1 quarterman, and one foreman.
m.Lth. 1864 St. Andrews Gaz. (30 Jan.):
It was his duty, as the defender's servant or quarterman, to get the highest price for the straw.
(iii) Sh. 1908 Old-Lore Misc. I. viii. 313:
I always had respect and affection for the quarter-wives, and quarter-men, poor old things. They lived in the days before there were any poorhouses in our isles . . . and . . . were quartered on their own district. They were housed in turn by everybody.
(11) Edb. 1703 Burgh Rec. Edb. (1967) 60:
Two quarter masters of the wrights and other two quarter masters out of the number of the Coupers painters sclaitters. . . .
Rxb. 1716 J. J. Vernon Par. Hawick (1900) 204:
Complaines John Swan and Robert Tinline the two quartermasters of the trade of weivers within the toune for themselves and in name and behalf of the corporation thereof.
(12) Ags. 1834 Dundee Advertiser (17 Jan.):
Her gaucy kebbuck being pared down to the shape of a quarter moon.
(13) Mry. 1714 R. Young Annals Elgin (1879) 722:
None shall in time coming be received as a Guild Brother without he pay for his title to the benefit accruing from the said fund, and subscribe to pay the quarter pennies in time coming.
Inv. 1793 Trans. Inv. Scientific Soc. VIII. 389:
It was resolved that for the help of the sickly or decaying members the Incorporation shall pay two shillings quarter-pennies instead of one shilling quarter-pennies in the year.
ne.Sc. 1851–3 Trans. Highl. Soc. 81:
It is truly remarked by an informant in our own district, that the quarter-pennies at the meetings for collection are often outbalanced by the drinking-shillings.
(14) Sc. 1707 Acts Parl. Scot. XI. App. 205:
That the Privy Seal, Signet, Casset, Signet of the Justiciary Court, Quarter Seal and Seals of Courts now used in Scotland be Continued, but that the said Seals be Altered and Adapted to the state of the Union.
Sc. 1722 W. Forbes Institutes I. iv. 188:
The Quarter Seal, which is a Fourth Part of the Great Seal, is appended to Writs subservient to heritable Rights that have passed the Great Seal, and is therefore called the Testimonial of the Great Seal.
Sc. 1752 J. Spotiswoode Stile of Writs 171:
The Letters of Tutory dative granted to me under his Majesty's Quarter Seal. Sc. 1838 W. Bell Dict. Law Scot. 451: Royal grants proceeding on signatures, and passing the Privy Seal, Quarter Seal or Great Seal, according as they convey rights of greater or less consequence.
Sc. 1922 J. M. Thomson Public Records 75:
The proper seal of Chancery Precepts is the Quarter Seal. . . . It consists of the upper half of the Great Seal, obverse and reverse, appended in old times par simple queue, as the French say, that is, on a strip of parchment cut lengthwise at the foot of the writ (latterly it came to be appended on a tag like the Great Seal).
Sc. 1931 Encycl. Law Scot. XII. 395:
The Quarter Seal is still used for gifts by the Crown as ultimus haeres.
(15) Sc. 1907 J. Kirkland Modern Baker I. 119:
In the West of Scotland the usual custom is to make bread in three stages, viz., quarter-sponge, batter sponge, and dough.
Sc. 1927 J. Kirkland Bakers' ABC 276:
Quarter Sponge: — The name given to a mixture of flour, water, yeast, and a small quantity of salt in which to grow yeast for a considerable period — from 14 to 16 hours or more — as a preliminary to dough-making. This sponge is principally used in Scotland, and is specially adapted for bread-making with barm. The term “quarter” implies that a quarter of all the water ultimately used in the dough has been made into a sponge at this first stage.
(16) Sc. 1955 R. Browning Hist. Golf 71:
He was not a long driver; but his quarter strokes were deadly and his putting was irreproachable.
(17) Sh. 1879 Shetland Times (2 Aug.):
She was, as we have seen, a “quarter-wife,” one of a class common before the introduction of the Poor-Laws, who was quartered on a locality, or quarter.
Sh. 1899 J. Spence Folk-Lore 179:
In the corner in past the fire (which was on the middle of the floor), on the lit-kettle, sits an old grandmother or a “quarter wife” rocking the cradle.

II. v. 1. As in Eng., to provide with quarters or lodgings, to give bed and board to, specif. and esp. in Sh., as a method of poor relief. See quot. and cf. I. 4. Vbl.n. quartering.Sh. 1844 Report Commission Poor Law Scot. Index 578:
In several of the parishes of Shetland, more particularly throughout the presbytery of Burravoe, the poor are relieved by what is called “Quartering”. A person who, in the opinion of the parish authorities, is a fit object for parochial relief, is disposed of by assigning to him a particular district of the parish on which he is quartered; and it is considered obligatory on the inhabitants of that district in rotation to provide him with board and lodging for a certain number of nights, in proportion to their means.

Hence quarterer, a poor person who is given temporary lodgings by way of charity (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 136). Cf. Quarter, I. 4., 7. (8), (10) (iii), (17). Also attrib.Sc. 1802 Duke of Athole's Nurse in Child Ballads No. 212 B. 9:
Had you a quarterer here last night, Or staid he to the dawing?
Bnff. 1881 W. Gregor Folk-Lore 57:
Now and again there was a quarterer in the family. There was a class of respectable beggars, whose vocation was not looked upon as disreputable. Such commonly confined their wanderings to a particular district of the country, and made their rounds with great regularity. Within that district there were certain houses at which they invariably lodged or quartered.
Abd. 1931 J. H. Hall Holy Man 48:
Do you mind hearing of the quarterer gypsies that used to go from croft to croft in the old days?

2. Mainly in pa.p. quartered, having lost a quarter of pay for being late (Bnff., Ags., Ayr. 2000s).Rnf. 1972 Bill Bryden Willie Rough 43:
PAT: Fine. Thanks, Eddie. See ye in the mornin, Willie. JAKE: On time, or ye're quartered.
Gsw. 1985 James Kelman A Chancer 244:
And are they sticky about time? asked Margaret.
No half! 3 minutes and you're quartered - an hour and you're sent home.
Aye. I was late twice that first week - gave the auld man a right showing up - he's no been quartered for twenty years!
Sc. 2003 History Scotland Jan-Feb 53/3:
Late arrival meant the employee was 'quartered' or had 15 minutes pay docked from their wages.

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"Quarter n., v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 3 Dec 2023 <>



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