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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.

PROVOST, n. Also proves(t), provice (Ayr. 1823 Galt Entail lxxiv.); ¶pravast. Sc. forms and usages:

1. The head of a Scottish municipal corporation or burgh, who is the civic head and chairman of the town or burgh council and the chief magistrate, the Scottish equivalent of a mayor (Sc. 1782 J. Sinclair Ob. Sc. Dial. 221, 1946 A. D. Gibb Legal Terms 70). Also irreg. pl. form proveses. Derivs. provostry, -ie, the status or term of office of a provost, provostship; provostorial, adj., pertaining or belonging to a provost. Comb. Lord Provost, the title accorded to the provosts of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Perth, Dundee and, by use and wont, of Elgin. Under the reorganisation of local government in Scotland in 1975 the title Provost disappears except in the cases of the new districts formed by the cities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen. See Lord.Sc. 1700 Burgh Rec. Gsw. (1908) 293:
Appoynt John Anderson, present provest, there commissioner to the next generall assemblie of this Church.
Sc. 1753 W. Maitland Hist. Edb. 225:
The chief Magistrate of Edinburgh who is dignified with the Title of Lord Provost, is an Officer of great Authority. . . . and, before the Union of the Kingdoms of Scotland and England, anno 1707, was usually a Member of the Privy Council.
Ayr. 1787 Burns Brigs of Ayr 152:
Ye worthy proveses, an' monie a bailie.
Abd. 1793 W. Kennedy Ann. Abd. (1818) 334:
Not concerning himself with the provostrie, the town has been in the use to choose their provost.
Sc. 1810 Scott Letters (Cent. ed.) II. 336:
Your old friend Bailie Coulter died in his glorious year of Provostry.
Ayr. 1822 Galt Provost xii.:
My Lord Provost, as ye have not been present throughout the whole of this troublesome affair, I'll e'en gie an account mysel to the Lord Advocate.
Sc. 1830 W. Chambers Bk. of Scot. 69:
The number of magistrates varies in different towns. In some places there are four bailies, and no provost. In others there is a provost, with two or more bailies.
Sc. 1855 J. Strang Glasgow Clubs (1856) 212:
During his provostorial sovereignty the provost haugh was purchased.
Gsw. 1877 A. G. Murdoch Laird's Lykewake 143:
Hae ye a provost — Ruglen toon! — Wi' bailies seated him aroun'?
Ayr. 1901 G. Douglas Green Shutters xxi.:
“Yis, Pravast,” hiccupped Brown, “he has! He's as phull of drink as a whelk-shell's phull of whelk.”
Sc. 1914 G. M. Fraser Aberdonians 41:
The change from “Alderman” to “Provost” in the vernacular began to take place in Scotland in the end of that century. In 1486 it was so used with regard to the Chief Magistrate of Edinburgh — James IV still using the equivalent term Prepositus in all official communications.
Sc. 1928 Encycl. Law Scot. XII. 17:
A “Laird” has precedence of a provost, unless he be a “Lord Provost who is Lord Lieutenant of county of a city,” when within his jurisdiction.
Sc. 1947 Scotland (Meikle) 107:
The chairman of the town council, the Provost, holds his position for three years. The council nominates senior members to be magistrates in the local police courts. They are Bailies, and like the Provost and others are unpaid.
w.Lth. 1956 West Lothian Courier in Alistair Findlay Shale Voices (1999) 86:
He retired for health reasons in 1944 after having held the office of Bailie for four years and but for his retiral would doubtless have become Provost of the town.
Ork. 1972 George Mackay Brown Greenvoe (1976) 190:
He was going to look for some particular bottle of wine to entertain the Hamnavoe provost that evening at dinner.
Slk. 1980 Selkirk Advertiser 17 May 3:
Some of the old hands in local government will be barely able to suppress a wry chuckle at the way things are working out. When District Councils were set up they had their chairman and vice-chairman. Soon the chairman was elevated to the dignity of Provost; this week Ettrick & Lauderdale decided to grace its civic chairman with the title of Bailie.

2. In the Scottish Episcopal Church: the minister of a cathedral church.Sc. 1878 Clergy List 458, 459:
The Episcopal Church in Scotland . . . United Diocese of Moray, Ross, and Caithness . . . Provost of the Cathedral [Inverness] the Bishop. . . . St. Ninian's Cathedral [Perth] John Burton, Provost.
Sc. 1960 J. Highet Sc. Churches 31:
The Provost of a Cathedral Church is ex officio a Canon of the Chapter, ranking next after the Dean.

3. A game in draughts (Sc. 1851 J. Drummond Sc. Draught Player xii.).

[O.Sc. prowest, = 1., 1387, O.Fr. provost, Lat. praepositus, prefect, overseer. For the early history of the word see W. C. Dickinson in Early Rec. Burgh Abd. (S.H.S.) Intro.]

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"Provost n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 4 Mar 2024 <>



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