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A Glossary of Clan Terms

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Scotland Project > Scottish Clans Teams > A Glossary of Clan Terms

Also see

A List of Scottish Gaelic Names >< List of Terms Related to Scottish Heraldry


The Lords Prayer in Scottish Gaelic
A Glossary of Scottish Clan Terms and the meaning of words in the Gaelic (Gàidhlig) Language


The Clan system was the effective means of government in the Highlands of Scotland from sometime before the year 1000 AD until it was essentially eliminated by the British in 1745. It grew out of the similar system of Celtic Ireland, from whence the Scots came.


  • Ancient ~ (Anc) Term used to describe the use of colours which simulate natural dyes in tartan, natural dyes were used before the mid 1700s
  • Agley ~ awry. If a plan goes agley, it doesn't go according to plan.
  • Arasaid ~ ladies’ tartan wrap, secured with an Arasaid belt.
  • Argie-Bargie ~ a dispute or quarrel. To argie means to argue.
  • Armseye ~ originally spelled armscye, the armhole opening in a garment.
  • Arrhae ~ 13 silver coins given to the minister or priest by the groom as part of the wedding ceremony. In any situation something given to bind a bargain between parties.
  • Àrsaidh ~ old, ancient.
  • Auld Claes an Parritch ~ after a holiday we return to old cloths and porridge
  • Apron ~ The front part of a kilt
  • Assymetrical ~ A tartan 'sett' which does not 'pivot' and reverse at given in
  • Badge ~ The Heraldic Crest of a clan chief - surrounded by a strap & buckle
  • Balmoral ~ Traditional Scottish Bonnet
  • Barmekin, barmkin, or barnekin ~ a Medieval defensive enclosure found around smaller castles, tower houses, pele towers, and bastle houses in Scotland. As well as the residence, outbuildings were also included, plus a place to protect livestock during cattle raids. From the Roman barbican, meaning an outer fortification of a city or castle. Kirkhope and Smailholm are castles on the Scotttish borders that had a barmekin.
  • Bawbee ~ sixpence old Scots or half-penny sterling, named after mint-master Alexander Orrock, Laird of Sillebawbe.
  • Ben ~mountain, also inside or within, as ‘come ben the hoose’.
  • Beukin’ ~ asking for her hand.
  • Biggin ~ building.
  • Birl ~ spin or whirl around as in Scottish country dancing.
  • Chain Strap ~ Metal & or leather strap which is attached to the sporran in order to wear it
  • Clan ~ klăn a Celtic group especially in the Scottish Highlands comprising a number of households whose heads claim descent from a common ancestor
  • Count ~ The number of threads in each colour band in tartan
  • Dirk ~ Large ceremonial dagger - usually finely decorated
  • District Tartan ~ A tartan that is associated to a district rather than a family or clan name
  • Dress Tartan ~ A variation of a tartan in which the 'ground' or other background colour has been changed to white
  • Family Tartan ~ A tartan associated to a family name one which is not a recognised clan
  • Flashes ~ Small strips of tartan or woven material attached to a garter which is worn with the 'hose'
  • Ground ~ The dominant colour within a tartan design - the colour which would appear to be the background
  • Hose ~ A type of thick sock either knitted or woven worn with a kilt
  • Modern ~ Colour shades produced by chemical dyes (post 1860)
  • Old ~ Used to descibe a tartan sett which predates the one in common use
  • Pivot ~ The central colour band within a tartan design where the pattern reverses and repeats
  • Pleated to sett ~ Pleating a kilt so that the pattern on the rear matches the front
  • Pleated to stripe ~ Pleating a kilt so that the narrow stripe of the tartan is visible on each pleat ~ common on regimental kilts
  • Repeat The 'sett' ~ including its pivot and mirror image to form one complete pattern instance
  • Reproduction ~ Colours used to represent the fading of tartan dyes due to sunlight or weathering
  • Selvedge ~ The border at the edge of a woven tartan (usually a thicker thread) which prevents unravelling
  • Sept ~ A branch of a clan or a family who sought protection of a clan
  • Sett ~ The count of threads making up one tartan pattern from 'pivot' to 'pivot'
  • Sgian Dubh ~ Meaning 'dark knife' a small dagger traditionally worn in the 'hose' on a kilt outfit
  • Sporran ~ A purse made of leather, sealskin, badger or other animal fur
  • Waist Plate ~ Buckle
  • Warp -Length~ wise threads on a loom
  • Web -Finished cloth ~ still on the loom
  • Weft ~ Cross wise threads on the loom

Also see

Gaelic and Scotts Language

WikiPedia Commons





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