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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1971 (SND Vol. VIII).
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

SKATT, n., v. Also skat, scat(t). [skɑt]

I. n. A tax on land still levied in Sh. and Ork. as a relic of the Norse occupation under which it was payable to the jarls on behalf of the Norwegian Crown. When the Scottish Crown acquired these rights in 1472, the skatt continued to be collected by the Scottish Earls and donataries who paid a sum in lieu to the Scottish and later the British Exchequer. The tax was orig. paid by udallers in cloth, butter and oil (see Wadmel). Hence skatt-butter, -oil (Sh., Ork. 1825 Jam.), -tax (Sh. 1881 Standard (26 July) 5). See H. Marwick Ork. Norn s.v. and Ork. Farm-Names 205 ff.Sh. 1716 P.S.A.S. XIX. 238:
Scat and Watle of 31 1/2 merks thair is . . . £15 4s. 6d.
Sh. 1733 T. Gifford Hist. Descr. Zetland (1879) 32–3:
The crown rent, which was at that time only a redendo called Scat, payable in butter, fish oil, and a sort of very coarse cloth, called wad-mill.
Ork. 1750 Session Papers, Galloway v. Morton (3 Jan.) 17:
The true and genuine Signification of the Word Skat, a Term never used by any Feudalist, is of the same Import or Signification, as Cess or Land-Tax with us.
Sh. 1772 A. C. O'Dell Hist. Geog. Sh. Islands (1939) 242:
Setter-lands, which are numerous and at different periods enclosed from or upon the Scattalds already paying Scatt, never paid Scatt to the Crown, but very often pay a Subsideary Scatt to the dominant tenant called a Tulbert Scatt.
Sc. 1814 Lockhart Scott xxviii.:
It has been found that the heritors of each Township hold directly of the Crown, only paying the Scat, or Norwegian land-tax, and other duties to his lordship.
Ork. 1874 Trans. Highl. Soc. 8:
Orkney and Zetland still pay both — to the Crown the British Land Tax — to its donatory the “Skat” of Norway.
Sh. 1904 G. Goudie Antiquities 175:
The vexed question of the nature and incidence of skat, whether, as contended for by the Crown donataries, it is a feudal burden due to them as superiors; or whether, as insisted upon from age to age by the land-holders, it is a tax, originally payable through the Earls, for the support of government, and should stand in place of, or be superseded by, the British land-tax.
Ork. 1952 H. Marwick Ork. Farm-Names 212:
There can be little doubt that it was the earlier Celtic or Pictish davach unit on which the initial Norse skat of an eyrir or ounce of silver was imposed (presumably by Harald Fairhair).

Special Combs.: (1) skatt-bridder, scat-brither, one whose sheep pasture on the common ground along with those of others, a sharer in the common grazing or skattald (Sh. 1772 A. C. O'Dell Hist. Geog. (1939) 240, 1866 Edm. Gl., 1908 Jak. (1928)); ¶(2) skat-field, = (6); (3) scatt-free, of land: not liable to skatt; (4) skatfu, scat-, skaffo, in fig. senses: inclined to pilfer or steal (Ork. 1845 Stat. Acc.2 XV. 96), greedy, avaricious, miserly (Ork. 1929 Marw., skatfu), gluttonous, of an animal (Ib., skaffo). These meanings appar. arise from the notion of skatt as a piece of rapacity on the part of the Government; (5) skattland, land on which skatt is payable (Sh., Ork. 1866 Edm. Gl.); (6) skattald, scat(t)ald, -hald, -(h)old, skattal (Sh. 1914 Angus Gl.), the common pasture-land of a crofting community in Shetland and †Orkney, orig. according to some, the whole district itself including the arable land (Sh. 1866 Edm. Gl., 1908 Jak. (1928), Sh. 1970). Also attrib. Hence scat(ta)lder, scattler, scat-holder, one who has a share in the skattald, = (1). Also in combs. inscatlder, id., (o)ut-, one who has no such share.(1) Sh. 1845 Stat. Acc.2 XV. 126:
Those whose sheep pasture promiscuously are called “Scat-brither.”
(3) Ork. 1952 H. Marwick Ork. Farm-Names 193:
“Quoyland” was the technical term for such skat-free land.
(4) Ork. 1880 Dennison Sketch-Bk. 109:
The gibby's i' the blathin jaro! Vild scatfu' breut.
(5) Ork. 1884 P.S.A.S. VI. 256:
Skatland, otherwise called “Uthale-land”, included all (excepting Bordland) the arable land of the townships which existed when the original, or rather, some ancient Valuation Roll was made.
Ork. 1952 H. Marwick Ork. Farm-Names 207:
All Orkney lands liable for payment of skat might be termed in general skatlands, but in the foregoing references we see the term used in a restricted and quite specific sense for a certain definite unit — a 4 1/2d land = a quarter urisland. . . . The Norwegian manngerd and lide and the Orcadian skatland or quarter-urisland all represented one and the same type of unit — that originally having the obligation of providing one man for the leding defence force.
(6) Sh. 1716 Old Lore Misc. III. ii. 104:
Rusater scatald, 54 marks. Udsta scatald, 136 marks.
Sh. a.1725 T. Gifford Hist. Descr. Zetland (1879) 78:
All horses belonging either to utscatlders or inscatlders.
Sh. 1772 A. C. O'Dell Hist. Geog. Sh. Islands (1939) 239–40:
The next smaller division is that of Scattald, comprehending 1, 2 or more often 12 to 20 towns or Hamlets, the lands of which have a right, pro indiviso, to pasture, peats, etc. in one and the same common called in common speech “The Scattald”.
Sc. 1821 Scott Pirate i.:
A right in the scathold, and a sixpenny merk of land.
Sh. 1822 S. Hibbert Descr. Sh. 458:
There are several country acts relative to the rights of the joint scatholders of a parish. . . . “The bailiff of each parish, with, twelve honest men, should annually ride the marches betwixt the first of Oct. and the last day of April, or at any other time when required by the scattlers.”
Sh. 1845 Stat. Acc.2 XV. 126:
Every tennant exercises an unlimited privilege of pasturage on the hills or scathold.
Sh. 1897 J. Jakobsen Old Sh. Dial. 109:
For every year this “hagri” or skattald-riding was done, a different boy was selected to accompany the proprietors and receive the floggings.
Sh. 1900 Shetland News (8 Dec.):
He had four gimmers, which pastured immediately outside the scattald dyke.
Sh. 1931 J. Nicolson Tales 42:
All the sheep belonging to a district roam together in the scattald.
Sh. 1950 Viking Congress (Simpson) 97:
There is an old and general tradition in Shetland that scat was levied for the use of the scattalds, the hill lands which are held in common. . . . As scattalds were never cultivated, and scat was never levied when farmland was out of cultivation, there does not seem to be any connection.

II. v. To impose skatt or tax (on a piece of land) (Ork. 1825 Jam.; Sh. 1866 Edm. Gl., 1908 Jak. (1928)). Hence skattable, subject to skatt.Ork. 1952 H. Marwick Ork. Farm-Names 208:
After the battle of Floruvoe in 1194, Shetland it may be remembered was detached from the Orkney Earldom by King Sverrir and thereafter administered from Norway. Owing probably to that transfer Shetland was skatted on somewhat different lines from Orkney, the markland there becoming the skattable unit, rather than the urisland as in Orkney.

[O.Sc. skatt, land-tax in Sh. and Ork., 1492, to levy a tax, 1502, O.N. skattr, tax, tribute. The form scattald, O.Sc., scatle, 1508, though popularly etymologised as = skat + hald, holding (see Haud, II. 5), presents difficulties as regards both form and semantic development.]

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"Skatt n., v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 22 May 2024 <>



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