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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1974 (SND Vol. IX). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

TARTAN, n., adj., v. Also tairtan, tertin (Slk. 1893 J. Dalgleish Walter Wathershanks 21). Ramsay uses the Latinised form tartana in his poem of that title (Poems (S.T.S.) I. 27 sqq.). [′tɑrtən, ′tertən]

I. n. 1. A woollen cloth woven in stripes of varying width and colour repeated at regular intervals and crossing a similar set of stripes at right angles so as to form a pattern. A plaid or long blanket of this sort was the characteristic garb of Highlanders and certain patterns were favoured in certain districts perhaps because of the availability of local vegetable dyes. In consequence, towards the end of the 18th century and largely through the enterprise of Messrs Wilson, weavers in Bannockburn, a series of tartans, each ascribed to a certain clan, was devised and is now accepted as authoritative, though almost entirely unhistorical. Gen.Sc., adopted into Eng. in the 17th c. in reference to Scot.; a tartan pattern, esp. one associated with a particular clan. Also attrib.Sc. 1723 R. S. Fittis Hist. Per. (1874) 287:
An eln of tartan for hose.
Sc. c.1730 E. Burt Letters (1815) II. 168:
The whole Garb is made of chequered Tartan, or Plaiding.
Sc. 1745 Caled. Mercury (4 Oct.):
Great Choice of Tartans, the Newest Patterns.
Sc. 1746 Acts 19 Geo. II. c. 39:
No Tartan, or party-coloured Plaid or Stuff shall be used for Great Coats, or for Upper Coats.
Ayr. 1787 Burns Whar gat ye That ii.:
I'll cleed thee in the tartan sae fine.
Sc. 1806 Gazetteer Scot. 395:
Of late the greater part of the tartan for the army has been manufactured in this parish [St Ninians].
Sc. 1818 Scott H. Midlothian xxxv.:
I judged that being sae mony hundred miles frae hame, your Grace's heart wad warm to the tartan.
Sc. 1831 J. Logan Sc. Gael (1874) I. 242:
The investigations of the Highland Society, the stimulus given by the visit of our Gracious Monarch to Scotland, where the great chiefs brought their followers to attend him, and where the Celtic Society, dressed in proper costume, formed his Majesty's body guard, have combined to excite much curiosity among all classes, to ascertain the particular tartans and badges they were entitled to wear.
Sc. 1899 T. Hunter Guide to Per. 272:
Ladies' Tweeds, Skirtings, Clan Tartans for Kilts, Costumes, etc.
Lth. 1929 C. P. Slater Marget Pow 152:
A Stuart-tairtan kult.
Abd. 1955 W. P. Milne Eppie Elrick xv.:
Some gey skyrin tairtans, Mains.

2. A garment made of tartan or patterned like tartan, esp. a Highland plaid (Sc. 1782 J. Sinclair Ob. Sc. Dial. 164). In pl. the full Highland dress of tartan (Sc. 1810 Scott Lady of Lake iii. xxvii., iv. xvi.).Sc. 1721 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. 36:
A bright Tartana vail'd the lovely Fair.
Ayr. 1786 Burns Vision i. ii.:
Down flow'd her robe, a tartan sheen.
Sc. 1801 Scott Glenfinlas xxviii.:
Thou only saw'st their tartans wave.

3. Fig. the Gaelic language (Sc. 1818 Sawers; Fif. c.1850 Peattie MS.). Phr. to tear the tartan, to speak Gaelic (Gsw. 1934 Partridge Slang Dict.; Ork., Cai., Inv., Mry., Per., Fif., wm.Sc., Gall. 1972); to talk loudly and volubly, to jabber away, make a great clamour (Id.). Also attrib. = Gaelic.Gsw. 1904 H. Foulis Erchie xvi., xvii.:
Yin o' yer tartan chats that has a hunder verses . . . Ye heard folk tearin' the tartan and misca'in' somebody at hame in Clachnacudden.
Sc. 1941 Scots Independent (July) 6:
Tearing the Tartan — by Auld Nick.
Mry. 1952 I. Cameron Heather Mixture xiv.:
Do he and Peter-Postie “tear the tartan” as they used to do, and cap each other's stories with wild exaggerations?
Sc. 1957 People's Jnl. (13 July) 17:
They were tearin' the tartan nine weys at yince. An' then they stertet sweirin' at yin anither.

4. = tartan-purry. See 5. (4).Sc. 1893 T. F. Henderson Old World Scot. 80:
Of oatmeal we have tartan — a pudding made chiefly of chopped kale and oatmeal.

5. Combs. and phrs.: (1) fireside tartan, a mottled discolouration of the legs caused by sitting too close to a fire (Mry., Per., Fif., Dmb., Ayr. 1972); (2) Grannie's tartan id., (em.Sc.(a), w.Lth., wm.Sc., Dmf. 1972); (3) kail and tartan, see Kail, 6. (2); (4) shepherd's tartan, see Shepherd; (5) tartan-purry, tart-an(d)-purri(e), a dish variously described as a mixture of boiled oatmeal mixed with chopped-up red cabbage or cabbage water (Abd. 1790 A. Shirrefs Poems Gl.; Sc. 1814 J. Sinclair Agric. Scot. App. II. 435; Sh. 1866 Edm. Gl., 1914 Angus Gl.); (6) tink(l)er's tartan, = (1) (n.Sc., Slg. 1972).(2) Sc. 1965 Sunday Post (16 May) 21:
Does toasting my legs at a coal fire have a weakening effect? No, but you'll develop Grannies' tartan — unsightly blotches in the skin.
(5) Abd. 1733 W. Forbes Dominie Depos'd (1765) 35:
Tartan-purry, meal and bree, Or butt'ry brose.
Fif. 1827 W. Tennant Papistry 52:
Some ran to parritch, some to kail; And some to tartan-purry.
Sh. 1899 J. Spence Folk-Lore 177:
Cabbage entered largely into the winter dietary, in such preparations as lang kale, short kale, and tartanpurry.
(6) Edb. 1964 J. T. R. Ritchie Singing Street 68:
“Tinkers' tartan”: the mottled appearance of the skin of your legs brought about by toasting them too often in front of the fire.

II. adj., from the n. used attrib. 1. made of or having a chequered pattern like tartan (Sc. 1808 Jam.). Gen.Sc.Sc. 1721 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. 36:
The first Parent of the Tartan Plaid.
Sc. 1729 Musical Misc. II. 56:
He's finer far in's Tartan Plaidy.
Sc. 1768 Edinburgh Mag. (March 1785) 235:
The upper garment of the Highlanders was the tartan or party-coloured plaid, termed in the Gaelic “breccan.”
Ayr. 1786 Burns Earnest Cry xviii.:
Her tartan petticoat she'll kilt.
Sc. 1807 Dugall Quin in Child Ballads No. 294. i.:
An he is one to Lissie's bed, Tartan-trues, an a'.
Sc. 1810 Inverness Jnl. (23 March):
A light green tartan coat of the Bannockburn manufacture.
Sc. 1950 Stewart, Christie & Co. Highland Dress:
Full Dress Tartan Hose, full dicing and overcheck throughout.

2. Scottish. Sc. 1998 The List (23 Jan-5 Feb) 98:
For the last six months though, the searingly credible show Electronica has been broadcasting over the tartan airwaves to an estimated audience of 50,000, mixing up obscure Japanese hip hop, demos and white labels with mixes from local and in ternationally renowned names.
Sc. 2003 Herald (16 Oct) 5:
One of the most enduring - and endearing - partnerships in Scottish variety has come to an end with the death from natural causes, at 81, of Frances Watt. Fran and Anna, icons of tartan kitsch, are no more.
Sc. 2004 Evening Times (26 Jan) 14:
New tourist traders get tartan tips: [headline]
Tourism bosses have launched a new information guide for Scottish firms.
The Tartan Book features practical legal advice and support for new hotels, guest houses and tourist attractions.

Deriv. tartanry, sentimental Scottishness.wm.Sc. 1988 Scotsman (12 Dec) xii:
Since Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Scottish intellectuals have sought consolation in such havers. Philosophical tartanry, the fantasy of a nation of romantic doppelgangers whose warped DNA dooms them to shuttle forever between Ecclefechan and the Absolute.
Sc. 1993 Herald (22 Jan) 14:
When Scott set up the 1882 [erron. for 1822] Edinburgh visit of that ninny, Prinny, then of course King, he invented tartanry and grovelled at the fat man's hose. (King George IV wore pink tights for the occasion.)
Sc. 1996 Scotland on Sunday (7 Apr) 7:
Although Mr Brown was importing half of his fish from Norway he saw nothing illegal in appropriating the evocative trappings of tartanry.
Sc. 2002 Edinburgh Evening News (7 Oct) 2:
The NTS has two important themes to its credit - affection and trust. No business can match that combination. Its integrity would not be compromised by merchandising money services with its tartanry, silver and other tasteful gifts.

Comb. Tartan Army, Scottish football supporters at matches, collectively.Sc. 1995 Daily Record (20 Sep) 14:
I hope the Tartan Army travel in their thousands and, once again - win, lose or draw - show the world that we are a nation to be proud of.
Sc. 1997 The List (30 May-12 Jun) 5:
Jimmy Hill has scored a famous victory against the Tartan Army. The loathed pundit has manfully ignored defiantly un-PC chanting from the fans ever since the 1982 World Cup, when Scotland's David Narey hit a scorching goal against Brazil.
Gsw. 1997 Glaswegian (6 Jun):
A nutty play about the Tartan Army has been rocked by deserters.
Abd. 1998 Aberdeen Evening Express (15 Apr) 40:
Tartan Army superfan Joe McGunningle was in seventh heaven this afternoon after learning he has tickets for Scotland's three World Cup matches in France.
Sc. 1999 Edinburgh Evening News (1 Apr) 64:
Scotland boss Craig Brown today admitted that he may have to drop skipper Gary McAllister for the good of the team after the Coventry star was booed by the Tartan Army against the Czech Republic.
Sc. 2003 Scotsman (7 Jun) 4:
They are perhaps the most unlikely division of the Tartan Army, the German battalion who have travelled from the Fatherland to demonstrate their devotion to the 11 men sporting the Saltire at Hampden.
Ahead of today's crucial Euro 2004 qualifier, members of Gerta - the German Tartan Army - have shrugged off their national yoke to give their all to their adopted country.
Sc. 2004 Herald (7 Jan) 5:
Former SNP activist, ex-Tory parliamentary candidate, Tartan Army foot soldier, entrepreneur, pest controller ... now Iain Lawson can add yet another string to his bow as Scotland's first honorary consul for the Republic of Estonia.

III. v. Only in ppl.adj. tartaned, clad in tartan.Slk. 1813 Hogg Queen's Wake 283:
Tartaned chiefs in raptures hear The strains, the words, to them so dear.
Abd. 1875 A. Smith Hist. Abd. I. 656:
The crested chief led on his tartaned band.
Sc. 1881 Lord A. Campbell Rec. Argyll (1885) 441:
I was first tartaned, more than fifty years ago.

[O.Sc. tartane, = I. 1., 1474, = II., 1533, appar. ad. O. Fr. tiretaine, tertaine, a kind of cloth of wool and linen or cotton mixed.]

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"Tartan n., adj., v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 8 Dec 2022 <http://www.dsl.ac.uk/entry/snd/tartan>

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