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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1965 (SND Vol. VI). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

OXTER, n., v. Also oxtar, ouxter (Ayr. 1869 J. Stirrat Poems 67), o(u)kster (Rxb. 1707 J. J. Vernon Par. Hawick (1900) 202), oxther, ouster (Rnf. 1825 Jam.). [′okstər]

I. n. 1. The arm-pit (w.Sc. 1741 A. McDonald Galick Vocab. 15; Sc. 1782 J. Sinclair Ob. Sc. Dial. 124; Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 370; Uls. 1880 Patterson Gl.; Sh. 1914 Angus Gl.); also of an animal: the under-part of the shoulder; the corresponding part of a garment, the arm-hole. Also in pl. form with sing. sense. Gen.Sc., also in Eng. dial.Sc. 1700 Culloden Papers (1815) 27:
Corserig naked, with a Child under his Oxter, happing for his lyffe.
Wgt. 1724 Session Bk. Wigtown (1934) 327:
Arthur Kinslay, dragoon, came up the street with a sword under his oxter.
Sc. 1775 Caled. Mercury (28 June):
A Pointer Dog . . . with several liver-coloured spots on different parts of his body, particularly one on his left oxter and spald.
Sc. 1819 Scott Bride of Lamm. xxiv.:
Ance let her leddyship get his head ance under her oxter, and see you if she winna gie his neck a thraw.
Abd. 1882 T. Mair John o' Arnha's Latter-day Exploits 67:
His left hand i' the oxter o' His waistcoat was enthoombed.
Ork. 1904 Dennison Orcadian Sk. 6:
Hid was droll tae see the wives rinin' i' the sea ap tae the oxters.
Dmf. 1912 J. L. Waugh Robbie Doo 96:
Get them aneath his oxter, and away he wad make up the street for the public-hoose.
Sh. 1931 Manson's Sh. Almanac 195:
Afore I cam ta his assistance, he wis in ta da oxters.
Bwk. 1943 W. L. Ferguson Vignettes 66:
Syne in his oxter pits it back, As doon the road he hobbles on.
Ags. 1947 J. B. Salmond Toby Jug iii.:
She would make the new gown “a wheen less skimpit alow the oxters.”
Uls. 1987 Sam Hanna Bell Across the Narrow Sea 162:
Sawney, a musket cradled in his oxter, halted some thirty paces from the cottage and raised his voice in a bellow.
Gsw. 1987 James Kelman Greyhound for Breakfast (1988) 155:
A man walked out of the sea one February morning dressed in a boilersuit & bunnet, and wearing a tartan scarf which had been tucked crosswise under each oxter to be fastened by a safety-pin at a point roughly centre of his shoulder blades; ...
wm.Sc. 1987 Duncan and Linda Williamson A Thorn in the King's Foot 103:
The wumman took two-three weans bi the hand an yin in her oxters.
wm.Sc. 1987 Duncan and Linda Williamson A Thorn in the King's Foot 158:
Away he goes back wi the gun in his oxter.
Cai. 1992 James Miller A Fine White Stoor 74:
Dan must have weighed thirteen stone. Dougie dragged him, holding him under the oxters, across the grass and into the cart.
Edb. 2004:
Ma hands were full so Ah had to cairry the boattle in ma oxters.

2. The fold of the arm when bent against the body, the embrace of one arm. Gen.Sc.Sc. 1726 Ramsay T.-T. Misc. (1876) I. 187:
A babie in her oxter.
Abd. 1768 A. Ross Helenore (S.T.S.) 87:
Her in her oxter hard an' fast she grips, An' prest her flaunt'ring mou upon her lips.
Sc. 1776 D. Herd Sc. Songs II. 19:
As I in his oxter sat.
Mry. 1865 W. Tester Poems 148:
Then squeezed wee Willie in his oxter, Till he maist squeezed out his breath.
Rnf. 1870 J. Nicholson Idylls 51:
Ye've heard hoo the de'il, as he wauchel'd through Beith Wi' a wife in ilk oxter, an' ane in his teeth.
ne.Sc. 1884 D. Grant Lays 73:
Lan'in' her into the oxter O' the souter's dother, Kate.
Arg. 1896 N. Munro Lost Pibroch II:
To those who knew not the pipes, the feel of the bag in the oxter is a gaiety lost.
Bnff. 1939 J. M. Caie Hills and Sea 62:
I took her in my oxter.

3. The act of embracing (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 121). Hence jocular form oxteration, cuddling, embracing, love-making (Edb. 1959).

4. In building: the space between the oxter-piece and the eaves (Sc. 1952 Builder (20 June) 942; Fif. 1957). Comb. oxterpiece, a short, vertical piece of timber fixed between a rafter and a ceiling-tie near the eaves, to act as a strut, ashlaring (Sc. 1906 G. Ellis Mod. Pract. Carpentry 365, 1950 B.B.C. (12 May)); in mining: a corner at a re-entering angle in a coal-face (Sc. 1886 J. Barrowman Mining Terms 49).

5. Combs. and phrs.: (1) oxter-cog, v., to help a person to walk by supporting him under the arm (Uls. 1880 Patterson Gl., Uls. 1964); n., a support under the arm (Uls. 1953 Traynor), fig. a supporter, a confidant (Uls. 1924 Northern Whig (21 Jan.)); (2) oxter-deep, deep enough to reach up to the armpits; (3) oxterf(o)u, an armful, as much as one can hold in the crook of the arm (Uls. 1953 Traynor). Gen.Sc.; also fig.; (4) oxter-gerss, foxtail grass, Alopecurus geniculatus, from its jointed stem (Rnf. a.1850 Crawfurd MSS. (N.L.S.) O. 23); (5) oxter-hand, = (1), v.; (6) oxter-hie, = (2); See Hiech; (7) oxter kinch, the arm-pit. See Kinch, n.1, 5.; (8) oxter-lift, as much as can be carried under the arm or in the arms (Sh. 1964); (9) oxter-pickle, -puckle, the small grain frequently attached under the same husk to a full one in oats (Kcd. 1822 G. R. Kinloch MS.; Bnff. 1964). Cf. Babie-pickle, id.; (10) oxter-pouch, -pooch, -putch, a breast-pocket (Per. 1915 Wilson L. Strathearn 260). Gen.Sc.; (11) oxter-staff, a crutch (ne.Sc. 1964, Abd. 2000s). Pl. -staffs, -staves [stevz, ‡stɑvz]; (12) oxter-stick, id. (Ags. 1990s; Bnff., Ayr. 2000s); (13) to come wi' a crookit oxter, to come with a gift in one's arms, esp. fig. of a wife bringing a dowry; (14) to gie an oxter, to lend an arm to in walking (Abd., Ags. 1964); (15) to tak under one's oxter, fig., to take charge or possession of, esp. through marriage; (16) up to yer oxters, (fig.) up to one's armpits; (17)wi one's airms in one's oxters, with the arms folded (Abd., Kcd., Ags., Wgt. 1964); (18) wi' one's heid under one's oxter, with a downcast drooping air (Ork., Uls. 1964).(2) ne.Sc. 1884 D. Grant Lays 17:
But when he buckles for the road, An' comes to cross “The Burn”, It tak's him mair than oxter deep.
Clc. 1922 G. Blair Haunted Dominie 38:
When you're oxter-deep in bracken.
m.Sc. 1990 Douglas Lipton in Hamish Whyte and Janice Galloway New Writing Scotland 8: The Day I Met the Queen Mother 59:
D'ye think Ah like it here - oxter deep in glaur an' ma heid fizzin' wi' midgies?
(3) Sc. 1724 Session Papers, Cromby v. Rothes (1 Jan.) 1:
He saw the Earl, Naughton, and some other Gentlemen receive an Oxter-ful of Pistols from their Servants.
Slk. 1818 Hogg Wool-gatherer (1874) 68:
Gang after your braw gallant, wi' your oxterfu' ket [baby]!
Ayr. 1822 H. Ainslie Pilgrimage 230:
When the gowan has gotten a grip o' the dew, an' the birk buss an oxterfu' o' the gloam.
Bnff. 1934 J. M. Caie Kindly North 29:
See, here's a bonny oxterfu' for baith o' ye the nicht, An' I winna straik yer feedie fae the kist.
(4) Cai. 1741 J. E. Donaldson Cai. in 18th Cent. (1938) 41:
When the party broke up, some of the guests had to be “oxter-handed” all the way to Bowermadden's house.
(6) m.Sc. 1917 J. Buchan Poems 46:
The water rinnin' oxter-hie.
(8) Bnff. 1847 A. Cumming Tales 49:
She afterwards asserted — “it was an oxterlift.”
Abd. 1929 J. Alexander Mains and Hilly 156:
The bride's mither bruik a haill oxterlift o' plates wi' ae shot.
(9) Bnff.2 1930:
I aye stick tae the taatie-corn altho there's a gey lot o' sma' amon't on accoont o' the oxter-puckle.
(10) Kcd. 1796 J. Burness Thrummy Cap (1819) 415:
[He] cramm'd it in his oxter putch.
Edb. 1822 R. Wilson Poems 44:
Jock, wi his oxter pouches fou'.
Fif. 1864 W. D. Latto T. Bodkin vi.:
“Worth a' that siller!” quoth Willie, drawin' frae his oxter pouch a dirty harran-poke.
Abd. 1871 W. Alexander Johnny Gibb ii.:
To Johnny Gibb the whole way was as familiar as his “oxter pouch”.
Sc. 1928 J. G. Horne Lan'wart Loon 13:
An' than, unwittens, cam' upon, In's oxter-pooch, his mither's scone.
(11) Ags. 1821 D. Shaw Songs 20:
An' now that I was lame, sir, I got a great big oxter-staff.
Bnff. 1880 J. F. S. Gordon Chrons. Keith 71:
Tam Duncan used oxter staves.
Abd. 1917 C. Murray Sough o' War 24:
Dear Jock — Like some aul' cairter's mear I'm foonert i' the feet, An' oxter-staffs are feckless things fan a' the furth's sae weet.
(12) Abd. 1885 J. Scorgie Flittin' Noo 29:
For weeks, ay, hale months oot an' oot, On oxter-sticks I clench'd aboot.
Edb. 2005:
She had twa oxter sticks when she broke her leg.
(13) Sc. 1736 Ramsay Proverbs (1776) 69:
The wife is ay welcome that comes with a crooked oxter.
m.Lth. 1897 J. Hunter J. Armiger vii.:
She had come to her man wi' a crookit oxter.
(14) Cld. 1880 Jam.:
I'll gie ye an oxter down the street.
(15) Cai. 1869 M. McLennan Peasant Life 245:
Ye're a vera silly quean gin ye'll nae tak' James Moffat's heid and purse, and mailin' under yer oxter.
(16)Sc. 1989 Scotsman (4 Mar) 8:
My wife being at the time up to her oxters in goats, ewes and gutters, I recently undertook to wash the dishes.
m.Sc. 1994 Martin Bowman and Bill Findlay Forever Yours, Marie-Lou 8:
Don't you jist love feelin sorry fur yirsel, eh? Ye jist lie thair up tae yir oxters in beer an filth expectin me tae clean ye up.
Abd. 1996 Sheena Blackhall Wittgenstein's Web 10:
It bein Setterday mornin, Mr Higgins wis up tae the oxters wi wark, tryin tae dell oot auld Mrs Burnett's Shottie, Fergie Dawson's Lotteries, Jeannie Trail's Wummin's Wikkly an the Meenister's chuddy.
em.Sc. 1997 Ian Rankin Black & Blue (1999) 271:
'You're up to your oxters, pal,' Ancram said.
'Thanks for reminding me.'
Gsw. 2000 Herald (1 Feb) 17:
We imagine Mr Smith at the yooni in the 1950s up to his oxters in political societies, debating, and generally preparing for a glittering career.
 (17)em.Sc. 1935 Sc. One-Act Plays (Reid) 226:
A saw Jean Maclagan comin' ower, wi' 'er erms in 'er oxter.
(18) Edb. 1900 E. Strain Elmslie's Drag-net 13:
Comin' in ae day wi' his heid under his oxter, as the sayin' is.

II. v. 1. To take, lead or support by the arm (Sc. 1887 Jam.; Uls. 1908 Traynor (1953); ne., m. and s.Sc. 1964).Ayr. 1793 Burns Meg o' the Mill iii.:
The priest he was oxter'd, the clark he was carried.
Sc. 1825 Scott Letters (Cent. ed.) IX. 70:
I canna bide to see them oxtering the men that gate.
Dmf. 1830 J. McDiarmid Sketches 295:
When a neighbour got groggy on a Saturday night, it was by no means an uncommon spectacle to see Tom oxtering him home to his wife and children.
Sc. 1875 A. Hislop Anecdotes 148:
Oxter me to his house, and there's a shilling!
Lnk. 1912 W. Wingate Poems (1919) 82:
And some ane maun oxter him hame to his lan'.
s.Sc. 1934 Border Mag. (Dec.) 183:
He wakened the beylie, oxtered him up to the Toll at Selkirk, and then . . . gave him in charge.
wm.Sc. 1980 Anna Blair The Rowan on the Ridge 28:
He met up with Will on the way back to the burn and, just beyond the kirk, they came on the group oxtering Hugh homeward.
Gsw. 2000 Herald (22 Feb) 17:
Inquiries revealed that the stewardess in question had taken severely to drink upon meeting our Lothario. She had to be oxtered out of the city-centre-style bar while the night was extremely young.
em.Sc. 2000 James Robertson The Fanatic 5:
Soldiers had helped him from the boat and oxtered him up the steps and dumped him in this icy chamber, wrapped in a blanket, feverish and shuddering.

2. tr. To embrace, cuddle (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 121; Cai. 1903 E.D.D.; ne., e. and wm.Sc. 1964). Also with at, wi, and fig. Vbl.n. oxteran (Gregor).Bch. 1861 J. Davidson Poems 40:
An' syne fan he [the wind] wad oxter you, An' flaf, an' howl, an' rair.
Sc. 1883 J. Kennedy Poems (1920) 151:
Whaur senseless fools at blithesome balls Are oxterin at the lasses, O!
Fif. 1894 J. W. M'Laren Tibbie and Tam 59:
Ye didna think I was watchin' your high jinks for the last hauf 'oor; deed no, or ye'd oxtered less wi' yon slut!
Abd. 1913 G. Greig Mains Again 42:
I cam on Peter oxterin Kate nae handy.
Abd. 1928 N. Shepherd Quarry Wood iv.:
He would shuffle round with it under his arm, “oxterin' at it as though it were a body.”

3. tr. To take someone on one's arm (Sh., ne.Sc., Fif., Lth., sm.Sc. 1964); intr. to go arm in arm (Sc. 1880 Jam.; ne.Sc., w.Lth., Lnk., Wgt., Rxb. 1964), also with in wi.Bnff. 1787 W. Taylor Poems 129:
To oxter fine young lady.
Kcb. 1808 J. Mayne Siller Gun 3:
Lads oxter lasses, without fear, Or dance like wud.
Sc. 1841 Whistle-Binkie (Ser. 3) 69:
She saw some ane, dress'd in a braw satin gown, Gang oxterin' awa' wi' her faither's herd loon.
Edb. 1881 Mod. Sc. Poets (Edwards) III. 20:
She oxtert wi' Watty McAndrew, the loon.
Fif. 1895 S. Tytler Macdonald Lass xxi.:
One of the boat-men seized me by the arm, and proposed that I should oxter in with him.
e.Lth. 1924 I. Adair Glowerower 68:
Twelve couples oxtered down the Lang Raw.

4. To hold or carry under the arm (Per., Fif., Lth., Ayr. 1915–26 Wilson; Sh., ne.Sc., Ags., Per., Fif., Kcb. 1964). Ppl.adj. oxtered.Rnf. a.1794 A. Wilson Poems (1844) 196:
Some oxtering pocks o' silken ware.
Bnff. 1887 W. M. Philip Covedale 176:
Maidens trim wi' shinin' faces, Decent wives wi' oxtered wean.
Sh. 1888 B. Anderson Broken Lights 85:
Oxterin' a muckle pock.
Edb. 1926 A. Muir Blue Bonnet 74:
McNab's head was jerked forward suddenly below Hector's arm. The position of being “oxtered” is unenviable.
wm.Sc. 1949 Scots Mag. (Nov.) 124:
Three of them to a stook, each with two oxtered sheaves, and in a swift combined action thatching the stooks like a shed roof.
wm.Sc. 1988 Scotsman (26 Nov)  iv:
I then took it [a gannet] out of the box, oxtered it with its front end facing back, took it's feet in my right hand, and walked with it to the water's edge, where I launched it.

5. To elbow, shove, jostle (Sh., ne.Sc., Ags., Lnk., Kcb., Rxb. 1964).Bwk. 1879 W. Chisholm Poems 78:
Though some may gang pushin' an' oxterin' past, An' order ye proudly to “Stand a bit Wast”.
Fif. 1897 W. Beatty Secretar 84:
He . . . oxtered his way into the crowd.

[O.Sc. oxter, under-arm, c.1420, Mid.Eng. oxtere, deriv. form of O.E. ohsta, armpit.]

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"Oxter n., v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 19 Jul 2024 <>



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