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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.

CESS, n. and v.

1. n. An assessment tax or levy. Now gen. superseded by rate (N.E.D.). In Scotland it originally meant land-tax and it is still frequently used to denote a local tax of any kind, with fig. extensions.

†(1) “The King's, or land tax” (Sc. 1782 J. Sinclair Ob. Sc. Dial. 114).Sc. 1705 J. Grant Seafield Corresp. (S.H.S. 1912) 415:
And in order to this to apropriat one monthes cess and name collectors thereof answearable to the Parlament.
Sc. 1890 Bell Dict. Law Scot., s.v. Land-tax:
The land-tax of Scotland, or cess, is a permanent tax fixed at £47,954 per annum, to be levied out of the land rent of Scotland for ever, subject, however, to a power of redemption. This burden on the land rent is payable partly from burghs and partly from shires; the inhabitants of burghs being assessed according to their rents and income, by stentmasters; and the inhabitants of counties, according to the yearly revenue of their land and other heritage, by the commissioners of supply.
Sc. 1924 R. S. Rait Parliaments Scot. 500:
The English term "cess" came to be applied. Cess meant, up to 1707, a monthly payment of about £72,000, of which a proportion (usually a sixth) was charged upon burghs, and the remainder was payable by persons having real estates of land, temnds, annual rents due by infeftments, feu duties, and tack or lease duties.
Abd. 1715 Abd. Burgh Records (1872) II. 353–354:
The said head court . . . heard the order from the Earle of Marr — commanding the magistrats and towne counsell to raise six moneths cess in full of all former cess.
m.Sc. 1997 Tom Watson Dark Whistle 54:
His lineage hings
Aff breist-bane rid,
His neb an' claws
Wi' ran-dan bluid aye clagged,
Yet wi' rumgumption
Tholes yon coinage o'
Bad cess, the cleck
Edb. 1845 Stat. Acc.2 I. 648:
They pay a proportion of the city-cess or land-tax.

(2) A local tax or impost (Abd.2, Ags.2, Fif.10 1939); “most commonly in pl., implying all rates and taxes generally” (Bnff.2 1939). Now only dial. in Eng.Sh. 1795 J. Mill Diary (S.H.S. 1889) 103:
Further demands were made by Government upon this countrey for men to the Navey threatening . . . to lay a cess on the island of 25£ Ster.
Abd. 1928 Q. B. Lane in Abd. Book-Lover VI. No. 1, 14:
Jock peys rent tae nane, to nane he pays cess, He's aye gear to niffer an' something to len'.
Ags. 1895 Arbroath Guide (30 Nov.) 3/7:
There's me was makin' sure o' gettin' thae bawbees to pay my cesses wi'.

(3) An exaction of any kind; a tribute. Known to Bnff.2 1939.Sc. 1898–1901 Gilderoy in R. Ford Vagab. Songs, etc. (1899) 28:
All those did honestly possess, He never did annoy, Who never failed to pay their cess To my love Gilderoy.
Fif. 1740 in J. Grierson Delineations of St Andrews (1838) 181:
That the porter pay his own servant or under porter, without any cess from the students.

(4) A burden (Bnff.2 1939).Abd. 1932 J. Leatham Fisherfolk of the North-East 19:
If they go on like this the hale village 'll be in the asylum. An awfu' cess to the pairish!
Ayr. 1823 Galt Entail I. xvi.:
“I hae a notion,” replied Charles, “that we need be no cess on him; we're content to live in a sma' way.”

†(5) Comb.: cess-book, tax record book.Sc. 1795 Stat. Acc.1 XIV. 140:
In the county cess-book, the valued extent of the parish of Kilninian amounts to 138 merks land.
Rxb. 1845 Stat. Acc.2 III. 409:
They are not rated in the yearly cessbooks.

2. v. To tax (Bnff.2 1939). Ppl.adj. cest.Sc. 1726 Records Conv. Burghs (1885) 392:
Under favour of their being indulged to cess their country in £10,000 per annum.
Sc. 1926 W. Shirley in Scots Mag. (March) 435:
The fowk are sae rakit an' spuilyit, an' pit frae hoose an' land-haldin', an' sae cest wi' sogery they are made desperit.

[The form cess is for etym. correct sess, an aph. form of assess, the form with c being due to mistaken etym. Jam.6 gives sess, n. and v., but with no examples. E.D.D. gives both cess and sess, with numerous examples from Eng. dial. N.E.D. notes 1 (1) as specially Sc.]

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"Cess n., v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 24 May 2024 <>



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