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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1974 (SND Vol. IX).
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

TANIST, n. Also -er, †tainist-. Celtic Law: the successor to a Celtic king or chief (of Ireland or Scotland), elected during his predecessor's life-time from within certain degrees of kinship. See J. Cameron Celtic Law (1937) 179, J. H. Stevenson in Sc. Hist. Review XXV. 1, A. O. Anderson ibid. 382). Hence tanistic, of a tanist, tanistry, the system of succession through a tanist, the office of tanist, tanist-stone, a stone on which a tanist was said to have stood to be sworn into his office. Hist.Sc. 1776 D. Dalrymple Annals Scot. I. 31:
While the vestigies of the old custom of Tainistry remained, every father would wish to secure his estate to his infant son.
Sc. 1813 Scott Rokeby iv. vi.:
The banners of his Tanistry. The Tanist he to great O'Neale.
Sc. 1826 Scott Journal (1939) 104:
Having accomplished a revolution in the sixteenth century, they [Clan Ranald] adopted a Tanist, or Captain — that is, a chief not in the direct line of succession.
Sc. 1837 W. F. Skene Highlanders (1902) 104:
The principle upon which the Tanistic succession is founded was recognised as the old law of succession in Scotland as early as the competition between Bruce and Baliol for the crown.
Sc. 1851 D. Wilson Prehist. Annals. (1863) I. 140:
Other monoliths are probably the Tanist Stones, where the new chief or king was elected, and sworn to protect and lead his people.
Sc. 1860 C. Innes Scot. in Mid. Ages 176:
The law of Tanistry — a system which depended upon a descent from a common ancestor, but which selected the man come to years fit for war and council, instead of the infant son or grandson of the last chief, to manage the affairs of the tribe, and who was recognised as the successor, under the name of Tanist, even during the life of the chief.
Sc. 1885 Blackwood's Mag. (July) 117:
A more characteristic specimen of a Tanist stone may be seen on the top of Dun Add, a rocky isolated hill about 200 feet high, in Argyleshire, not far from Ardrishaig. On a smooth, flat piece of rock which protrudes above the surface there is carved the mark of a right foot covered with the old cuaran or thick stocking, eleven inches long and four inches and a half broad.
Sc. 1936 Sources Sc. Law (Stair Soc.) 346, 427:
Tanistry was the practice of choosing from the eligibles a successor to the king while he still reigned, and does not make its appearance until a time considerably later than the Norman invasion, although it must have existed in some form at an earlier period in Ireland. . . . The tanister was chosen and half-inducted to the dignity, to prevent disputed succession.

[Gael. tànaiste, Ir. tánaiste, second, succeeding, successor, heir apparent.]

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"Tanist n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 21 Jul 2024 <>



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