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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1960 (SND Vol. V).
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

HALF-MERK, n.comb. Also haff-, etc., and -mark. The half of a merk equivalent to 6/8 sterling, formerly the fee or symbol for a clandestine marriage. Hence phr. to take the half-merk with, to marry secretly. Gen. used attrib. with marriage, bridal, kirk, etc. (Sc. 1808 Jam.). Now only hist.Sc. 1729 Ramsay T.T.Misc. (1876) I. 190:
Since ye are content to tye The haff-mark bridal band wi' me.
Peb. 1805 J. Nicol Poems I. 32:
Neist day a haaf-merk marriage came, Lest she soud be bambowzlet.
Sc. 1816 Scott Antiquary xxxix.:
They made as muckle wark about her making a half-merk marriage wi' Simon Mucklebackit . . . as if she had been ane o' the gentry.
Per. 1836 G. Penny Traditions 47:
He carried on a considerable traffic in illegal marriages — saving the parties the expense of a journey to the famous Half-merk Kirk in Edinburgh.
Sc. 1847 R. Chambers Trad. Edb. 301:
His livelihood was . . . gained [ a.1789] latterly by celebrating what were called Half-mark marriages; a business resembling that of the Gretna blacksmith.
Fif. 1878 S. Tytler Scotch Firs II. ix.:
How had a reverend gentleman like him so far forgotten himself, even in his youngest days, as to take the half merk with the mistress?
Sc. 1933 N. B. Morrison Gowk Storm 229:
We will simply require to take each other for husband and wife, by word of mouth, before witnesses . . . They call it a half-mark or an irregular marriage . . . it is legal and binding.

[O.Sc. has half-merk, a half mark. from 1509, halfe marke church, 1663.]

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"Half-merk n. comb.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 21 Jun 2024 <>



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