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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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About this entry:
First published 1956 (SND Vol. IV). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

GANFER, n. Also ganfir, gamfer, gaenfore; gonfer(t) (Marw.), -for.

1. A ghost, apparition (Sh. 1866 Edm. Gl., ganfir; Ork. 1922 J. Firth Reminisc. 151; Ork. 1929 Marw.; ‡Sh. 1954); “an apparition of a living person in a place where he is not corporeally present; supposed to be a portent of the person's death” (Sh. 1914 Angus Gl.).Ork. 1774 G. Low Tour (1879) 8:
There are many other particulars of this kind of folly still remaining among the more ignorant vulgar as . . . deaths by death-lights . . . or by Ghosts, here called Ganfers.
Sh. 1822 S. Hibbert Descr. Shet. 548:
“Ganfers” or ghosts are . . . very commonly seen, particularly by the sagacious shelty.
Sh. 1899 J. Spence Folk-Lore 162:
A person likely to die was said to be fey, and a gaenfore or feyness was a prelude of death.
Ork. 1912 Old-Lore Misc. V. ii. 70:
Atween dem baith he saw his son coman' . . . Hid was his gonfer, for when he met dem dere was juist de twa weeman.

2. (1) An atmospheric sign or phenomenon; a portent; drizzle or mist foretelling a snowstorm. (2) “any supernatural phenomenon” (Ork. 1929 Marw.).(1) Ib.:
A “sun-gaa” or a “broch aboot the moon” is regarded as a gamfer betokening bad weather; in winter, a cold, foggy drizzle is regarded sometimes as a “gamfer for snaa.”
Ork.1 1929:
This wather's like a ganfir afore sna.
Ork. 1957 Ronald Miller ed. The Third Statistical Account of Scotland: The county of Orkney (1985) 129:
In the winter time, if it gets suddenly calm, and if there is a slight drizzle, weather prophets say that it is a 'ganfer' for snow, and a snowstorm is expected in the immediate future.
Ork. 1995 Orcadian 5 Jan 14:
In my childhood, my father referred to just such a quiet mist as a "gamfer for snow." ... I had come across "ganfer;" only once, in a terrifying ghost story in a Peace's Almanack. I knew it meant "ghost;" ... Is that mist, then, the ghost of snow, like a coming event casting its shadow before?
(2) Ork. 1929 Marw.:
He'll be seean gamfers this night afore he wins home.

3. Fig. “An unwieldy, uncouth person” (Sh. 1900 E.D.D.).

[Norw. gjenferd, an apparition, a ghost, from *gagn (gegn)-ferð, a returning, meeting, haunting by ghosts.]

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



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