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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1956 (SND Vol. IV).
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

FENCE, v., n. Sc. usages:

I. v. 1. Sc. Law: to open the proceedings of (a Court, †or Parliament) with a formula forbidding disorderly interruption or obstructive behaviour.Ags. 1748 A. Reid Regality of Kirriemuir (1909) 389:
The Townsmen have a Custom of fencing or riding in the Mercat, as they call it.
Sc. 1818 Scott H. Midlothian xxi.:
The Lords will be here incontinent and proceed instanter to trial. They wunna fence the court as they do at the Circuit. — The high Court of Justiciary is aye fenced.
Ags. 1896 J. Stirton Thrums 8:
“Fencing the Mercatt” [by the Baron Bailie at Kirriemuir Fair] continued until the year 1843.
Lnl. 1939 F. Drake-Carnell Old Sc. Custom 74:
There [at Linlithgow] the Court is “fenced”, the ancient method of ensuring that there should be no feuding or bloodshed whilst a court is in session.
Sc. 1951 Sc. Daily Mail (5 May):
Edinburgh's chief City Officer. . .assumed his official stern look and little-used cocked hat and strode yesterday into the Council Chamber with gleaming halberd raised high to “fence the Court.” “I defend and forbid,” he said, “in His Majesty's name . . . that none presume to take upon them to trouble or molest this Court. . . .” This ritual, which informs new members of the Chamber that they may not speak “without lief” of the chair, goes back six centuries or more. It's probably the last remaining relic of the ancient Head Courts of the Burgh.

2. In Freemasonry, in phr. to fence a lodge, to exclude from the lodge any uninitiated person, as the Tyler does (Sc. 1735 R. F. Gould Essays on Freemasonry (1913) 109 Note; Fif. c.1850 R. Peattie MS.).

3. To lay an arrestment on (goods) for debt.Abd. 1758 Monymusk Papers (S.H.S.) 52:
We charge you that ye . . . attour lawfully tross, fence, arreast, apprise, compell, poind, and distrenzie the said haill defenders their haill goods.

4. Sc. Church usage, in phr. to fence the tables, to admonish intending communicants to search their consciences in order to deter unworthy participants. Gen.Sc., obsol. or obs. exc. in Highlands. Vbl.n. fencing, sometimes attrib. Cf. Debar.Sc. 1709 W. Steuart Worship Ch. Scot. ii. iv.:
Thereafter, he fenceth and openeth the Tables.
Bwk. c.1830 R. Gibson Old Bwk. Town (1905) 195:
On the Sabbath he would preach the introductory sermon, then the action sermon, fence the tables — “the debars”.
Fif. 1887 “S. Tytler” Logie Town III. x.:
She heard him “fence the Tables” — that is, forbid their profanation by false professors, and men and women living in unrepented, unrelinquished sin.
Kcb. 1898 Crockett Standard Bearer xiv.:
Mess Hairry was at his fencing prayer in the Kirk on a sacrament Sabbath.
Lth. 1916 J. Fergus The Sodger 17:
But, eh, he spiles the Sacrament an' robs it o' its poo'er, An' gets the tables fenced an' dune inside o' hauf an 'oor .

II. n. As in Eng. Sc. combs.: 1. Fence-fed, of animals, fed with tit-bits brought to the side of the fence; hence, pampered (Abd.27, Ags.19 1950); †2. fence-louper, a wild, incorrigible person, a dyke-louper (see Dyke, n. 1. (6).).1. Ags. 1834 A. Smart Rambling Rhymes 123:
She was a sleek an' fence-fed beastie, Made fat an' fair wi' tit-bits tasty.
Ags. 1906 Arbroath Guide (21 April):
Gin the fence-fed craiter winna tak's meat, he'll seek it afore it seeks him.
2. Sc. 1822 Scott F. Nigel xxx.:
I got charge to take the young fence-louper to the Tower here.

[O.Sc. fens, v., of a court. c.1400, to put under arrest, 1543.]

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"Fence v., n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 29 Feb 2024 <>



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