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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1960 (SND Vol. V). Includes material from the 1976 and 2005 supplements.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

HEATHER, n. Also haither (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.), †hather (Sc. 1777 J. Lightfoot Flora Scotica I. 203); †hether; hadder; hedder, -ir, (I. and ne.Sc.). [Sc. ′hɛðər, I. and ne.Sc. ′hɛd-]

1. The name generally given in Scotland to plants of the genus Erica, esp. Calluna vulgaris, Erica cinerea, and Erica tetralix (Sc. 1782 J. Sinclair Ob. Sc. Dial. 194; Ags. 1848 W. Gardiner Flora Frf. 120), freq. covering large areas of moor or hill-side and formerly used for thatching and making ropes. Also used attrib., as in heather-honey, honey made by bees foraging in heather.Sc. 1700 R. Wodrow Early Letters (S.H.S.) 76:
They rowle themselves therein on strau, hadder or feirn.
Mry. 1714 Boharm Parish Mag. (Sept. 1897):
The minister did intimate to the congregation that there would need that every chalder's pay should bring in a load of hather for thacking the kirk.
Abd. 1768 A. Ross Helenore 68:
Tyn heart, tyn a', we'll even tak sic bield, As thir uncouthy heather hills can yield.
Ayr. 1786 Burns T. Samson's Elegy xii.:
Yon auld gray stane, amang the heather, Marks out his head.
Ags. 1820 A. Reid Royal Burgh Forfar (1902) 261:
Honey two kinds hedder kind and hom kind.
Edb. 1851 A. Maclagan Sketches 314:
That cozie, heather-theekit cot.
Rxb. 1852 N. and Q. V. 301:
It is believed in the neighbourhood of Melrose that burning the heather brings rain.
Bch. 1944 Scots Mag. (Feb.) 370:
The hedder hulls afore them lie, to be their simmer dwellin'.
Sh. 1947 Sh. Folk Bk. (Tait) I. 72:
Tirval wid sit windin' big hedder clews, Or mendin' da clibbers, maybe.
Abd. 1995 Flora Garry Collected Poems 13:
It wis jist a skelp o the muckle furth,
A sklyter o roch grun,
Fin Grandfadder's fadder bruke it in
Fae the hedder an the funn.

2. Specif. with reference to heather-clad hills as a place of refuge or concealment. Cf. Phrs. (1) and (6).Sc. 1725 Ramsay Gentle Shepherd ii. i.:
Will gar our vile Oppressors stend like Flaes, And skulk in Hidlings on the Hether Braes.
Arg. 1914 N. Munro New Road xi.:
It's one of the sly old chapels of that heather priest, Big John of Badenoch.

3. Used with exclam. force to express surprise, wonder, doubt or disgust (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.). Freq. in exclam. phrs. ay heather! (s.Sc. 1956) or o heather no! (Rxb.4 1956).Slk. 1893 W. Wathershanks at Lammas Fair:
“Heather,” says Tam; “let's intae this show; it's a waxwark.”

4. Phrs.: (1) a hide-i'-the-heather, a vagabond; (2) no' the heather, not the real, genuine or native product (em.Sc.(a) 1956); (3) to gie (somebody) (through the) heather, to give (someone) a piece of one's mind (Ork., Kcd. ( — through the — ) 1956). Cf. through the muir, s.v. Muir; (4) to go fae the hauch or hey tae the hedder, to go from a better to a worse situation (Abd., Knr. 1956); (5) to set the heather on fire, to set fire to the heather, to create a disturbance (Sc. 1825 Jam.), to cause a great furore or sensation = Eng. “to set the Thames on fire.” Gen.Sc.; (6) to take to the heather, to become an outlaw, flee for one's life. Cf. 2. above.(1) m.Sc. 1898 J. Buchan John Burnet iii. i.:
Jock never jaloused I had aught to dae wi' ye, but thocht I was aye the same auld hide-i'-the-heather I had been afore.
(2) Fif. 1924 Rymour Club Misc. III. iii. 131:
“To be Hielant is to be nearhand a Fifer” is another taunt; to which he sagely replies, “Strangers are no' the heather.”
(4) Abd.1 1930:
An ull shift ye are makin', fair gyaun fae the hauch tae the hedder.
(5) Sc. 1818 Scott Rob Roy xxxv.:
It's partly that whilk has set the heather on fire.
Per. 1895 I. Maclaren Auld Lang Syne 39:
Man, it wud hae dune your hert gude gin ye hed heard Jamie this mornin' in the kirk-yaird; he fair set the heather on fire.
Sc. 1955 Dmf. & Gall. Standard (2 July) 10:
The Home Rule candidates in Parliamentary elections have not, so far, set the heather on fire by the number of votes they have received.
(6) Sc. 1886 Stevenson Kidnapped xviii.:
Either take to the heather with me, or else hang.
Gall. 1895 Crockett Moss-Hags xxvi.:
It became at last a word in Scotland that “to take to the heather was to be in the way of getting grace.”

5. Gen. Combs.: (1) heather ale, -yill, a liquor brewed from heather, hops, barm, syrup, ginger and water (Sc. 1929 F. M. McNeil Sc. Kitchen 237, q.v. for recipe; Ork., ne.Sc., Ags. 1956); also heather crap ale. Cf. Sc. 1774 T. Pennant Tour 1772 I. 229; (2) heather-an-dub (dab), clay mixed with cut heather used instead of mortar in house-building (Mry. 1913 J. Grant in North. Scot.; †Abd. 1956); also used attrib. = rough, poor, tawdry (Abd. 1880 Jam.; ne.Sc. 1956), unrefined; (3) heather ask, -esk, the common lizard, Lacerta vivipara (ne.Sc. 1903 G. Sim Fauna ofDee” 196; Bnff., Abd. (-esk), Knr. 1956). See also Ask, n.3; (4) heather bell, the flower of the heather, applied both to Erica tetralix and Erica cinerea. Gen.Sc.; (5) heather besom, a broom made of heather. Gen.Sc. See Besom; (6) heather-bill, the dragon-fly (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 76; Cai. 1902 E.D.D.; Mry.1 1925), a corruption of etherbell, s.v. Ether, n.2; (7) heather-birn(s), the stalks and roots of burnt heather (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Ayr.4 1928; Bwk. 1942 Wettstein 68; Knr., Peb., Gall., Dmf. 1956). See Birn, n.2; (8) heather-blindness, a disease of sheep (see quot.) (ne.Sc. 1956); (9) heather-cat, a wild cat; applied fig. to a person; (10) heather-claw, a dog's dew-claw, which is apt to catch in heather with resulting pain, and is therefore often cut off (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; Cai., Fif., Gall., Dmf. 1956); (11) heathercling, a disease prevalent among sheep that have been grazing too long upon heather; (12) heather-clout, see quot. and cf. Fairney-cloots. Also in reduced form -clu (Ags. 1808 Jam.); (13) heather-cow(e), (a) a tuft or twig of heather (Sc. 1825 Jam.; Sh. 1914 Angus Gl., hedderkow; Cai.8 1934, -coo; I.Sc., Cai., Abd. 1956); (b) a broom made of heather twigs (Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 259; I.Sc., Cai., Abd., Kcb. 1956). See also Cow, n.1; (c) = (7) (Abd. 1956); (14) heather fish, a tadpole (Cai. 1975); ¶(15) heather-goose, a dolt or ninny; (16) heather-headed, having a dishevelled head of hair; hence fig. rustic, country-bred. Cf. Heatherie, Comb., and Hudderie; (17) heather ill, see quot.; †(18) heather Jenny, a nickname for a woman who sells heather brooms and pot-scrubbers. Cf. (5) and (26); †(19) heather Jock, id., applied to a man; (20) heather-lamp, a springy step common among people accustomed to walk over heathery ground (Slk. 1956). Hence heather-lamping, vbl.n., lifting the feet high in walking. See quot. and cf. Lamp; (21) heather-legs, legs which in walking step high and wide. See heather-lamp under (20); (22) heather-loup, = heather-lamp under (20); (23) heather-lowper, a hill-dweller, countryman (Mry.1 1925; Abd., Kcd. 1956); (24) hether-man, hather-, a heather-seller. Also found purporting to be a term in free-masonry; (25) heather-piker, a contemptuous epithet for a person living in a poverty-stricken or miserly way (‡Abd., Kcd. 1956); (26) heather-range(r), -reenge (Abd., Kcd., Ags. 1956), -ringe, (a) a bunch of straight heather stems cut to equal length and bound firmly together, used to scour cooking utensils (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B., -ranger; Per.2 1928, -range; Cai., Per., Knr. 1956). See also Ringe; (b) a hydrangea, s.v. Heather-range; (27) heather scratter = (26) (a) (Ork.5 1956); (28) heather-step = (20) (wm.Sc., Kcb. 1956). Hence heather-stopper, = (23) (Per. 1920); (29) heather-strain, a fault in building stone (see quot.); (30) heather-tap, a stem or bushy tuft of heather; also used fig.; (31) heather-wight, a Highlander (Sc. 1911 S.D.D. Add.); (32) heather yill, see (1).(1) Sc. 1820 Scott Monastery xxv.:
Halbert Glendinning . . . expressed himself unwilling to taste any liquor stronger than the heather ale, which was at that time frequently used at meals.
Wgt. 1845 Stat. Acc.2 IV. 207:
A short way south of Dunman are two small green eminences, called “the auld Kilns,” situated amid surrounding heath. These, tradition says, were used by Picts in preparing their mysterious beverage heather crap ale.
Gall. 1877 Saxon Gall. Gossip 295:
The Picts brewed some awful grand kind of drink they ca't Heather Yill out of Heather and some unknown kind of Fogg.
Sc. 1949 H. L. Edlin Woodland Crafts in Britain 177:
The fresh nectar of heather, obtained by boiling the blossoms in water, is the basis of the ancient Scottish drink called Heather Ale.
sm.Sc. 1979 Alan Temperley Tales of Galloway (1986) 158:
The secret of heather ale died with the last of the Picts on the Mull of Galloway.
Sc. 1996 Richard Mabey Flora Britannica 161:
Heather ale was once one of the staple drinks of the Highlands.
Sc. 1997 Carol P. Shaw Scottish Myths and Customs 118:
Although whisky has long been considered Scotland's national drink, the earliest-recorded alcoholic drink was heather ale, which supposedly originated with the Picts.
(2) Abd. 1877 W. Alexander Rural Life 10:
The walls of the straw-thatched cottages or huts were composed, in the upper part at least, of “feal” or turf; or it might be “heather and dub,” or mud and straw.
Abd. 1883 W. Jolly Life of J. Duncan 487:
His want of voice, which was . . . of a “heather and dub” order, was more than made up.
(4) Sc. 1725 Ramsay Gentle Shepherd ii. iv.:
When Corns grew yellow, and the Hether-bells Bloom'd bonny on the Moor and rising Fells.
Edb. 1773 Fergusson Poems (1925) 87:
Or whan on open bent they're seen, On hether-bell or thristle green.
Ayr. 1786 Burns To W. Simpson x.:
We'll sing auld Coila's plains an' fells, Her moors red-brown wi' heather bells.
Kcb. 1814 W. Nicholson Tales 220:
O Gallowa' braes, they wave wi' broom, An' heatherbells in bonnie bloom.
Ags. 1894 A. Reid Sangs 9:
But isna Scotia's heatherbell The glory o' the year?
Bnff. 1954 Banffshire Jnl. (7 Sept.):
The muckle foggy-backit bees were growin' fyower an' fyower amang the honey-scentit heather bells.
(5) Sc. 1721 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. 30:
Heather Jenny in her Blanket drest, . . . While Heather besoms loud she screams around.
Lnk. 1863 J. Brown J. Leech (1882) 330:
Adam Thomson, who made and sold heather besoms, and “ranges,” and “basses.”
Abd. 1915 H. Beaton Benachie 62:
A great trade was practised in the making of heather and fog besoms and scrubbers, as there were very few of the modern forms of brushes used about an ordinary farm in the last century, until about the 'sixties or 'seventies.
(7) Sc. 1799 Trans. Highl. Soc. I. 319:
Dried heath (called heather birns) will be sufficient to light it up.
Arg. 1841 T. Agnew Poet. Wks. 62:
Nae heather-birns he took to build his nest, But finish'd it wi' timmer o' the best.
Wgt. 1877 G. Fraser Sketches 377:
We'll be baith o' us starved, an' wi' may gang an' eat heather-birns if we lake.
m.Sc. 1911 J. Buchan Watcher by the Threshold 262:
In the corner sat the weird-wife Alison dead as a stone and shrivelled like a heather-birn.
(8) Sc. 1951 J. R. Greig Shepherd's Guide 49:
Contagious ophthalmia is a specific disease of sheep that is common to most sheep-raising countries including Scotland, where it is often referred to as “heather blindness.”
(9) Sc. 1886 Stevenson Kidnapped xvi.:
He's here and awa, here to-day and gone to-morrow: a fair heather-cat.
Kcb. 1894 Crockett Raiders xxvii.:
Hog turned like a heathercat, snarling with a flashing of white teeth, and red murder leaping up in his eyes like flame.
(11) Sc. 1834 Quarterly Jnl. Agric. IV. 813:
Ewes heavy with lamb, when confined too long upon it [heather], are apt to take a disease called the heather cling; and sometimes a good many die of this disease.
(12) Slk. 1832 Trans. Highl. Soc. III. 315:
The fetlock-joint or ancle, the external and posterior part of which is protected by two horny substances, which we call heather-clouts.
(13) (a) Sc. 1770 Kempy Kay in Child Ballads (1882) I. 302:
Ilka hair intil her head Was like a heather-cowe.
Sc. 1818 Scott Rob Roy xviii.:
Blind Ralph Ronaldson, that's travelled ower every moor in the country-side, and doesna ken the colour of a heather-cowe when a's dune.
Ags. 1826 A. Balfour Highland Mary I. 63:
It's a dizen o' years sin I had my foot on a heather cow.
Rxb. 1871 H. S. Riddell Poet. Wks. I. 204:
Where they'd get ere they came back A rive amang the heather-cowes.
Ork. 1909 Old-Lore Misc. II. i. 29:
Hid wis maistlens aa' hethercous an swines' blethers.
Sh. 1928 Shetland Times (3 March):
I wis gotten oot a muckel floamie o' heddercows.
Sh. 1951 Sh. Folk Book II. 66:
Ill news is lek a fitless heddercow.
Mearns6 1956:
It wad be a queer meer that ye wad cross an nae fin a heather cow.
(b) Slk. a.1807 Hogg Poems (1865) 91:
Wi' her heather-cowe clean wiping A' the floor frae end to end.
Ayr. 1899 H. J. Steven New Cumnock 41:
Glorious times they had at the roaring game, with their home-made stones and their heather-cowes or brooms.
(15) Rxb. c.1870 Jedburgh Worthies 39:
Y-y-you a bailie! Ye're just a h-h-heather goose, it ir ye.
(16) Kcb. 1789 D. Davidson Seasons 8:
Sic sangs as thae the heather headed bard Of Scotland [Burns], ranted, as he trod the glebe.
(17) Dmf. 1843 Trans. Highl. Soc. 671:
The “heather ill,” or constipation of the bowels.
(18) Sc. 1721 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. 30:
By Heather Jenny in her blanket drest, While Heather Besoms loud she screams around.
(19) Edb. 18–19th.c. J. W. M'Laren Edb. Memories (1926) 72:
The popularity of the ‘Heather Jocks' has been celebrated in a humorously descriptive song: The muircock noo may crousely craw, Since Heather Jock's noo awa'.
(20) Bwk. 1858 G. Johnston Botany E. Borders 138:
Those shepherds who have passed their youth amongst the Lammermuirs have their gaits so affected by traversing the rough heath, that, for the rest of their lives, they are accustomed in walking to lift their feet higher than other people. This practice is called by the lowlanders “heather-lamping.”
(21) Sc. 1824 Lockhart Adam Blair v.:
He was a thick-made, square-built, sturdy Highlander, with what are commonly called heather-legs.
(22) Ags. 1962 Scots Mag. (Oct.) 39:
The herd with his upturned soles and "heatherloups" being the butt of surreptitious humour.
(24) Lth. 1706 J. Watson Choice Coll. i. 39:
An Hether Man, as I heard say, . . . Came cantly cracking out the way.
Sc. 1755 Scots Mag. (March) 136:
His master says, “Who told you that?” The prentice answers, he “met with a hather-man.”
(25) Bch. 1944 C. Gavin Mountain of Light iii. v.:
Her neighbours called her an “earth-worm” and “a richt heather-piker,” but they sometimes added enviously that she must have “a gey foggin in the bank.”
(26) (a) Sc. 1700 Foulis Acc. Bk. (S.H.S.) 272:
To grissell to buy a duzen heather rangers of barrells . . . . 0 20
Edb. 1830 Edb. Ev. Courant (27 Nov.):
A poor man, who supports himself and family by making broom besoms and heather ranges.
Abd. 1920 R. H. Calder Gleanings 4:
Fine broom besoms, Fa''ll buy them new? Fine heather reenges, Better never grew.
Ags. 1954 Sunday Post (26 Sept.):
Anyone with bushy hair, “A heid like a heather reenge.”
(29) Fif. 1954:
Heather-strain is a kind of fault in building stone — said to be caused by roots or layers of tree, etc. It weathers white, and lets the damp through. Seen as a streak on the face of the stone.
(30) Sc. 1822 Scott Letters (Cent. ed.) VII. 173:
I have always heard that [the badge] of the Scotts was the heath-flower, and that they were sometimes called Heather-tops from that circumstance.
Sc. 1824 Scott St Ronan's W . ii.:
A head like a heather-tap.

6. Combs. in names of plants: (1) bell-heather, the fine-leaved heath, Erica cinerea, or the cross-leaved, Erica tetralix (Sc. 1807 Trans. Highl. Soc. III. 23). Gen.Sc.; (2) carlin heather, see Carline, n., 5. (1); (3) cat heather, = (1) (ne.Sc. 1956). See also Cat, n.1, I. 2.; (4) dog heather, see Dog, III. 2.; (5) hedder berry, black crowberry, Empetrum nigrum (Sh. 1914 Angus Gl.; Cai., Abd. 1956). See also berry hedder s.v. Berry, n.1; (6) hedder blüm, cross-leaved heath, Erica tetralix (Sh. 1914 Angus Gl.); (7) heather divot, see Divot, n., 1.; (8) he-heather, she-, see quot.; (9) ringe-heather, = (1), see Ringe. Cf. 4. (23) (a).(1) Sc. 1904 Trans. Highl. Soc. 20:
The bell heather, or Erica Tetralix and Erica cinerea, or Fraoch Frangach (French Heather) of old Perthshire hill-folks.
Sc. 1953 B. G. Macrow Torridon Highl. 134:
The hay was cut and stacked in the meadow. The ling was in full flower; the bell-heather browning on the grey rocks.
(8) Bwk. 1853 G. Johnston Botany E. Borders 136:
Erica Cinerea. . . . This is the she-heather of the Lammermuir herds, who thus ungallantly indicate their opinion of its inferiority to the Ling. Calluna Vulgaris. . . . The Calluna is called he-heather from its superiority as a fodder.

7. Combs. in names of birds: (1) heather blackie, the ring ouzel, Turdus torquatus (Bnff. 1888 Trans. Bnff. Field Club 24; Abd., Per., Knr., Slk. 1956); (2) heather bleat(er), see Heather-bleat(er), n.; (3) heather-cheeper, the meadow pipit (Per. 1956). Cf. moss-cheeper, id.; (4) heather-cock, the black grouse, Lyrurus tetrix; the red grouse, Lagopus scoticus (Abd.28 1948; Cai., Abd., Per.. Knr. 1956). Cf. Gael. coileach-fraoich, id.; (5) heather-hen, the red grouse (Per. 1956). Cf. Gael. cearc-fhraoich; (6) heather lintie, (a) the twite or mountain linnet, Acanthis flavirostris (I.Sc. 1837 R. Dunn Ornithol. Guide 80, -lintee; Bwk. 1889 G. Muirhead Birds Bwk. I. 174; Lnk. 1897 Annals Sc. Nat. Hist 208; ne.Sc. 1903 G. Sim Fauna ofDee” 98; Sh. 1914 Angus Gl., hedder linti). Gen.Sc.; (b) the common linnet, Acanthis cannabina (Slg. 1885 Trans. Slg. Nat. Hist. and Arch. Soc. 62; Abd., Per., Slk. 1956); (7) heather peep, -peeper, the common sandpiper, Tringa hypoleucos (Ayr. 1825 Jam., -peep; Abd. 1885 C. Swainson Brit. Birds 186, -peeper).(4) Lnk. 1881 D. Thomson Musings 93:
'Mang the bent the heathercock Cries tae his hen.
(5) Sc. 1933 N. B. Morrison Gowk Storm 81:
The dominie called them “heather-hens” and told us they always seemed to him to cry out, “Go back! Go back!”
(6) (a) Sc. 1869 Proc. Nat. Hist. Soc. Gsw. 290:
This, the “heather lintie” of most rural districts, is generally distributed, frequenting chiefly the higher grounds beyond the limits of high cultivation.
Sc. 1911 A. H. Evans Fauna of Tweed 90:
Twite. The Mountain Linnet, or Heather Lintie, as this bird is commonly called in the north, is well known to many persons in our district.
Cai. 1937 N. Gunn Highl. River xix.:
Two birds came tumbling down the air in front of him, flirting in twists and spirals. . . . They were heather linties, the singing birds that an older generation had snared for the cage.
(b) Ags. 1888 Sc. Naturalist (Oct.) 347:
The common Brown Linnet, there designated as the “Heather Lintie,” from its habit of breeding on the moors and more open grounds.

[Orig. obscure. Hadder is found in O.Sc. from 1399, heddir from 1410, hather (in placenames 1094), from 1597, heather from 1584.]

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