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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1968 (SND Vol. VII). Includes material from the 1976 and 2005 supplements.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

PECHT, n., v. Also pech (Fif. 1857 W. Blair Rambling Recoll. 34), pegh (w.Sc. 1825 Jam.), peght, peycht, paight, peaght, peht, peiht, peech(t); picht, pight (Abd. 1825 Jam.); pi(c)(k), pike (Ork. 1929 Marw.). Earlier or variant forms of Pict (see note). [pɛçt; pɪk]

I. n. 1. One of an ancient people of uncertain origin who inhabited Scotland north of the Forth and are recorded by the name Picts from the end of the 3rd century A.D. till they were amalgamated with the Scots of Dalriada to form the Kingdom of Alba or Scotland in the middle of the 9th. Acc. to some authorities they had a culture of mixed origin, came to speak a Celtic (Brittonic) language, and are to be equated with the earlier Caledonians. In popular tradition, prob. because of the low-roofed or underground structures attributed to them, they were supposed to be dark-haired people of small stature and were confused with gnomes, brownies and similar creatures. Cf. Combs. and 2. Dim. pickie- (Marw.). Adj. ¶picish, Pictish. Comb. Pightland, Pickland, the land of the Picts, a formation based on O.N. Pettland, id., and now rendered as Pentland, in modern place-names.Ork. 1701 J. Brand Descr. Ork. 20:
There being several old houses . . . which to this Day are called Picts or Pights Houses, and the Firth between Orkney and Caithness, is still called Pight-land Firth.
Slg. 1788 R. Galloway Poems 28:
Then let a' Pickland's breed encore it, Lang live the Graham.
Sc. 1789 J. Pinkerton Enquiry I. 367:
The common denomination among the people of Scotland, from the Pehts Wall in Northumberland to the Pehts houses in Ross-shire, and up to the Orkneys, is Pehts.
Ork. 1805 G. Barry Hist. Ork. (1808) 115:
The Peihts, Picts, or Piks; whom, on probable evidence, we have already considered as the aborigines or first inhabitants of this place.
Sc. 1816 Scott Antiquary vi.:
“There was once a people called the Piks” — “More properly Picts”, interrupted the Baronet. “I say the Pikar, Pihar, Piochtar, Piaghter, or Peughtar,” vociferated Oldbuck; “they spoke a Gothic dialect.”
Rnf. 1835 D. Webster Rhymes 59:
Auld Kinghorn, o' picish birth.
Sc. 1881 Blackwood's Mag. (Sept.) 398:
A stranger . . . whom the most knowing man . . . pronounced to be a “Pecht”, for he was small and black and had all the characteristics of the traditional “Pecht”.
Ayr. 1887 J. Service Dr. Duguid 82:
A round humplock, or hill supposed to have been biggit either by the Druids or the wee Pechs.
Fif. 1905 Reliquary (April) XI. 76:
The mothers and grandmothers of the locality long garrulously told their offspring that “the caves were bigget by the Pechs — short wee men wi' red hair and long arms.”
Sh. 1934 W. Moffat Shetland 139:
The memory of the “pechts” lives on among the folk-lore of the people as of a race of gnomes, bringing evil, but they themselves have gone.

Combs. and phrs., freq. referring to archaeological remains of various dates associated esp. in the 18th and early 19th cs. with the Pictish period in Sc. history, though now in many instances no longer attributed to the Picts (see The Problem of the Picts (Wainwright 1955)): (1) picht aits, the wild oat, Avena fatua; (2) picts' ale, = heather ale s.v. Heather, n., 5. (1) (Ork. 1965); (3) pechts' broch, -brough, the circular stone fortified dwelling found in large numbers in Shetland, Orkney, Caithness, Sutherland, and Skye, now dated to the 1st centuries B.C. and A.D., and phs. developed from earlier local stone houses by sea-borne intruders from the West. See Broch and (5), (7), (9) below; (4) pech's cairn, a popular name for a burial cairn or barrow, now known to be of the megalithic period and thus pre-Pictish; (5) pechts' castle, = (3) (I.Sc. 1965); (6) picki-dike, an ancient stone wall popularly attributed to the Picts (Ork. 1929 Marw., Ork. 1965); (7) pechts' fort, = (3); (8) pechts' grave, = (4); (9) pechts' house, (i) an underground dwelling or souterrain, a Weem or earth-house, most of which date from the first two centuries A.D. (Sc. 1825 Jam.; I. and n.Sc. 1965); (ii) = (3). Rare and obs. in this sense; (10) pecht's pipe, an old small clay tobacco pipe freq. dug up in fields (Uls. 1953 Traynor). Cf. Elf, 11.; (11) pecht(s,) stane, pech-stane, one of a series of monoliths carved with symbols and figures and occasionally with inscriptions in Ogam characters, found in the historic Pictland and dating from the 7th to the 10th cs. A.D. (Sh. 1903 E.D.D.).(1) Ork. 1903 G. Marwick Old Roman Plough (1936) 2:
Wile-aits, picht-aits or ginn. This is a peculiar kind of wild oats; it is said to have been grown and used by the Picts long ages ago.
(2) Abd. 1883 W. Jolly J. Duncan 95:
From the fine-leaved heath (Erica cinerea), he brewed a kind of ale, said to have been used by our Pictish forefathers, and hence called “Picts' ale.”
(4) Per. 1795 Stat. Acc.1 IX. 258:
Small cairns, which the people here call the Pechs cairns.
(5) Sh. 1771 Old-Lore Misc. V. iii. 129:
The old circular buildings, generally on the seaside or in lochs and fortified by ditch and wall towards the land, now in ruins, called Burghs or Picts Castles.
Sh. 1891 Scots Mag. (March) 243:
An ingeniously constructive race, supposed to have been Celtic, the ruins of whose circular fortresses, generally known by the name of “Picts' Castles,” remain.
(6) Ork. 1909 Old-Lore Misc. II. i. 30:
Kirstan, here's de minister coman roond de picky dyke.
(7) Sc. 1806 P. Neill Tour 80:
We viewed the Pechts' Brough or little circular fort, which has given name to the place. It is nearly of the same dimensions and construction with the many other broughs or pechts-forts in Shetland.
(8) Rxb. 1778 Session Papers, Memoriat W. Dickson (26 Feb.) 20:
That part of the barony of Ednam called the West Mains or Picts grave.
Bwk. 1853 Proc. Bwk. Nat. Club (1857) 138:
Near the summit of the hill there was formerly a hollow surrounded by stones, and called the “Pech's grave.”
(9) (i) Ork. 1701 J. Brand Descr. Ork. 20:
Several old houses . . . which to this Day are called Picts or Pights Houses.
Ork. 1774 G. Low Tour (1879) 51:
In the Parish of Holm we observe many vestiges of antiquity, particularly Pights' houses, the ruins of several yet appearing round the shores, in the form of pretty large hillocks, called by the inhabitants Howies.
Abd. 1795 Stat. Acc.1 XVI. 559:
There are a number of pits cast up along the brae, without any order, of such a size as to contain 3 or 4 persons. By tradition they are the Paights or Picts houses, and the people in the neighbourhood believe the Picts, who they imagine were of a diminutive size, dwelt there.
Ags. 1800 A. Jervise Memorials (1885) II. 104:
'Twas a Peght's House as some these call, With flagstone roof, and whinstone wall.
Ork. 1806 P. Neill Tour 9:
A large subterraneous building was some time ago discovered. It is vulgarly called a Pecht's house.
Abd. 1910 J. Grant Legends of Mar 9:
Picts' houses — excavations in a dry brae, with side walls of the rudest masonry inclining inwards, and capped over with long stones.
Sc. 1955 F. T. Wainwright Problem of Picts 15:
To speak of brochs as “Pictish Towers” or of souterrains as “Picts' Houses”, both once honoured terms, is to apply misleading labels which suggest equations that are not established.
(ii) Sh. 1733 T. Gifford Hist. Descr. Zetland (1879) 4:
There are several holms belonging to this parish, only used for pasture of little value, save one called Moussy, in which is one of these Pights houses, a great part whereof is yet standing, called The Castle of Moussy.
Sc. 1822 Scott Pirate xxvii.:
One of those dens which are called Burghs and Picts-houses in Zetland.
(11) Bwk. 1856 G. Henderson Pop. Rhymes 8:
Grisly Droedan sat alane By the cairn and Pech stane.
Lnk. 1991 Duncan Glen Selected Poems 59:
I staun wi it and you
and think o the peelie
alane agin the pale luift
and see
eternity in thae twa
and you and me
thegither and apairt.

2. A somewhat contemptuous term for a small undersized creature or, occas., thing, esp. a diminutive man or woman, a dwarf, a “midget” (Abd. 1825 Jam.; Sh., Bnff., Abd. 1965); a small mischievous child, a little rascal. Also dim. pichtie, deriv. peechtan, id. (Mry. 1925).Abd. 1768 A. Ross Works (S.T.S.) 160:
You'd laugh to see the monky pight.
Peb. 1793 R. Brown Carlop Green (1817) 119:
And here's the pug-like smilan' Pegh; Wi' the powowit poll.
Bch. 1804 W. Tarras Poems 135:
Was't wine, the slock o' feckless pights? Na faith, 'twas whisky!
Sc. 1826 Wilson Noctes Amb. (1863) I. 262:
Neptune . . . lauchs to see the bit wee insignificant eighty-gun ships, or pechs o' Forty-fours, dashed into flinders.
Abd. 1898 J. R. Imray Sandy Todd xi.:
[To] lat the likes o' yon picht o' a cratur' twine him roon her finger like a worsit thread.
Abd. 1903 E.D.D.:
This word was applied about 1798 to the persons living in a country district of Aberdeenshire as a term of contempt, “Gae awa hame, ye pechts o' B[irs]e.”
Abd. 1906 J. Christie Drachlaw Revisited 5:
Tae a' the sckweel it was a sicht Tae see the merkie wee bit picht [cuckoo in clock].
Abd.1 1929:
A wee picht o' a body, he cud hae pitten her in's pooch.

II. v. To work in a feeble ineffective way, to make a poor job of something, tackle work halfheartedly and inefficiently (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 125, picht). Ppl.adj. pichtin', peechtan, of a person: inefficient, bungling, “ham-handed”, awkward (Ib.), deformed, stunted, ill-grown, misshapen (Mry. 1921 T.S.D.C. 16); vbl.n. pichtan, a feeble attempt at anything, a botching performance (Gregor).

[The Sc. forms with [ç] represent O.E. Peoht, a Pict; the forms in [-k] are acc. to P.L.D. § 63.2.; both from Lat. Picti, “the painted people”, prob. from their habit of tattooing or painting themselves with woad. O.Sc. has pech in sense I. 1., a.1400, in sense 2., 1622. See however N. Chadwick in Sc. Gaelic Studies Vol. VIII. Part 2. pp. 146-177.]

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"Pecht n., v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 21 Jun 2024 <>



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