A Scots Glossary


The table below lists some Scots legal terms, some Latin that is used in legal documents and some obselete terms that may be encountered by genealogists researching their Scots ancestry.

Term Meaning
ab initio (Latin) from the beginning
abridgments of sasines/seisinsAn abridged extract from the Register of Sasines.
academyOriginally a private or public school in a burgh.
ad finem (Latin) at the end
ad infinitum (Latin) forever
ad litem (Latin) appointed for a lawsuit
adminstrator/administratrix A person appointed by the court to settle the estate of someone who died intestate.
adverse possession Gaining title to another's land by exercising the rights of ownership of that land unchallenged for a period of time, typically on the order of five to ten years, and meeting other requirements (as set by each state). See seizin.
advowsonThe right of patronage or presentation to a church benefice.
annuityThe right to a yearly payment in money.
amerced (Scots)fined or mulcted
americament (Scots)A penalty inflicted.
ante (Latin) before
arbiterA person chosen voluntarily by parties to a dispute to decide the difference between them (In English Law, he is called "arbitrator").
arrest1 To apprehend;
2 To take the property of a debtor or defender in the hands of a third party.
arresteeThe person holding goods arrested.
bona fide (Latin) sincerely
bona fides (Latin) good faith
bond of manrentA written agreement whereby a fee person becomes a follower of a patron or defender.
border warrantA warrant for the arrest of the effects and person of a man in England for debts owed in Scotland.
bore-brieveA formal certificate of descent given to a person who had settled, or intended to settle, on the continent, The certificate was granted under the great seal or the seal of a burgh. It secured to holder's social position in their new abode.
bothyA hut or shelter.
bovateAn ancient land measure
brocheA burgh or town.
burgessInhabitant of a burgh with full legal rights.
burghA Scottish town that has been granted a Charter by the monarch (a Royal Burgh) or by a noble (a Burgh of Barony). The status formerly gave the town certain legal rights, such as holding town fairs and to have a town council.
call (of summons)A summons is called by the exhibition, in a list on a wall of the court, of the names of parties and their legal representatives. From this date is estimated the time for entering appearance.
carucateAn ancient land measure: the amount of land that one team of oxen could plough in a season.
Candlemas Day A Scots quarter day (2 February).
chattel A tangible, movable article of personal property, as opposed to real property.
circa (Latin) Approximately
collateralProperty put up by someone getting a loan. If they fail to repay the loan, the property goes to the person granting the loan.
comburgessFellow burgess, a member of the same burgh.
consanguineanA sibling having the same father but not the same mother.
consensus (Latin) agreement
conservatorGuardian or custodian.
contra (Latin) against; to the contrary
contra bonos mores (Latin) contrary to good morals
corpus (Latin) body
corpus delicti (Latin) body of offence
croftA small piece of arable land adjoining a dwelling, worked by the occupier and his family. Under late 19th century legislation crofting in Scotland is confined to the Highlands and Islands..
curatorA person appointed by law as guardian.
de die in diem (Latin) from day to day
de facto (Latin) in fact
deforce (Scots)Resistance to an officer of the law in the execution of his duty.
de futuro (Latin) in the future
de integro (Latin) as regards the whole
de jure or de iure (Latin) in law
deedA formal document, authenticated by the maker's signature, the signatures of two witnesses, and a proper testing-clause.
dictum (pl. dicta) (Latin)a saying or usually a judicial statement
disponed (Scots)Legally made over or conveyed to another.
distraintSeizure of goods.
dominie Schoolmaster (from the old term dominus - an inferior member of clergy).
escheatorAn official appointed yearly to take notice of the escheats in the county to which he is appointed and to certify them to the Exchequer.
ex cathedra (Latin) with official authority
ex gratia (Latin) freely; without a legal obligation
ex officio (Latin) by virtue of one's office
ex parte (Latin) for proceedings, when the party against whom they are brought is not heard
ex posto facto (Latin) after the event
factum (Latin) an act or deed
fee (Scots)To hire the services of someone, usually a farm-labourer or servant.
feu (Scots)A possession held on payment of a certain annual rent in grain or money.
feuar (Scots)One who holds a feu.
feu-farme (ferme) (Scots)A mode of possessing land.
gowk1. A cuckoo. 2. A fool or stupid person.
groatA silver English coin, nominally worth 4 pence, current until 1662.
heir portioner (Scots)On of the co-heirs who inherits part of a divided property.
heritor (Scots)A landholder in a parish.
holographWholly written by one person.
husband land (Scots)A division of land containing 26 acres.
ibid (Latin) at the same place (used in footnotes for work already cited previously)
in camera (Latin) in private
indwellerAn inhabitant.
in loco parentis (Latin) in place of the parent
in modo probationis (Latin) in the way of proof
in omnibus (Latin) in every respect
in rem suam (Latin) to one's own advantage
in situ (Latin) in its place
in toto (Latin) in total, in full
incendiary letterA threatening letter.
indenture A written agreement. (Originally, the document was written in duplicate, and the two copies placed side by side and 'indented', or cut, with a wavy line so they fit together perfectly. Each party held one copy.) See also deed poll.
inter alia (Latin) among other things
intestate Having no will. If someone dies intestate, the court appoints an administrator to settle the estate.
ipso facto (Latin) by that very fact; thereby
justifiable homicideKilling in exercise of a public duty (e.g. execution of sentence of death), or of a private right (e.g. of self-defence).
Lammas Day Scots quarter day (1st August).
law agentTerm used to denote a solicitor or a writer.
libel1. written defamation; 2. criminal indictment.
lienThe right to retain the property of a debtor until he pays (originally an English term).
locus standi (Latin) the right to be heard before a tribunal
lodgeFor pleadings and other documents, to leave them in the custody of the Clerk of Court.
looseTo remove, cancel, or take off e.g. an arrestment.
Lyon King Of Arms, LordThe principal administrative officer (who is also a judge) in Scottish heraldic matters.
majorA person of full legal age (opposite minor).
mala fides (Latin) bad faith; used in phrase "mala fide possessor" which refers to one who possesses property upon a title which he knows or should know to be invalid
malicious mischiefDamage done to property out of malice or cruelty.
mandateAn authority given to a man to act (gratuitously) for another.
marchA boundary.
marriage-contracta contract between two people married or about to be married, for the purpose of regulating the rights in property of themselves and their children
mens rea (Latin) wicked mind
messuage (Scots)A dwelling house with its adjacent buildings and lands appropriated to the use of the household.
MainsThe home farm on an estate that is cultivated by or for the land-owner.
Martinmas Scots quarter day (11 November).
modus operandi (Latin) way of doing something
mortis causa (Latin) on account of death
munus publicum (Latin) a public office
mutatis mutandis (Latin) (in comparing cases) making the necessary alterations
nexus (Latin) connection
nisi (Latin) unless
non compos mentis (Latin) not of sound mind and understanding
non sequitur (Latin) an inconsistent statement, it does not follow
novationthe replacement, by agreement between the parties involved, of one obligation by another
obiter dictum (Latin) of judicial statements, not essential to the decision of the case and therefore without binding authority (pl. obiter dicta)
onus probandi burden of proof
outwith (Scots)outside of, beyond, without
oxgangAs much land as could be tilled by use of an ox and plough.
pactum (Latin) agreement
pactum illicitum (Latin) unlawful contract
par delictum (Latin) equal fault
particateA rood of land.
per curiam (Latin) in the opinion of the court
per se (Latin) by itself
perambulatorOne who attested to the bounds of a land by walking round the boundaries.
pertinentAnything pertaining to land, generally used in the plural.
pleadTo argue a case in court.
plea-in-lawA short legal proposition at the end of a pleading showing exactly the relief sought and the reasons for that.
portioner (Scots)One who possesses part of a property that had been originally divided among co-heirs.
possessionDetention of a thing with the intention to hold it as one's own or for one's own benefit.
post (Latin) after; later
post mortem (Latin) after death
preceptAn order subscribed by the King or under his signature.
prepositus (Latin) ProvostThe elected head of local government in a town or burgh. Equivalent to an English Mayor.
pro rata (Latin) in proportion
pro tempore (Latin) for the time being
probate The process of proving a decedent's will and settling the estate. The signing of a will was typically witnessed by neighbours, who would later swear in court that they saw the decedent sign the will prior to death. This "proved" that the will was actually that of the decedent.
procuratorA Lawyer or advocate
Procurator FiscalA legal official, appointed by the Lord Advocate, who ascertains in criminal cases whether there is sufficient evidence for a prosecution to take place.
productionAn article produced as evidence in court.
publici juris, publici iuris (Latin) of public right (also of)
pupilChildren up to 12 (girls) and 14 (boys) (n. pupillarity).
purpartyThe share of an estate held by co-parceners and allotted to them in partition.
quantum (Latin) how much, an amount
Quarter DaysThe days on which certain payments, such as rents, were traditionally due and on which tenancies began and ended. Scots quarter days were Candlemas Day (2 February); Whit Sunday (15 May); Lammas Day (1 August) and Martinmas (11 November).
quid juris ,quid iuris (Latin) what is the law? (used often in exam questions)
quid pro quo (Latin) consideration. something for something
quit-claimA renunciation of all claim.
quit-rent A rent paid in lieu of required feudal services. See fee and socage. The quitrent can be considered a real estate tax.
re (Latin) in the matter of
register of sasines (Scots)The 900 year archive of the sasines created in Scotland.
res (Latin) thing; the object of an action; matter, affair
res communes things in their nature incapable of appropriation, such as light and air
res gestae (Latin) the circumstances of a case
restitutio in integrum (Latin) restoration to the original position or condition
sasine (seisin, seizin) (Scots)
  1. The act of giving legal possession of property.
  2. The instrument (document) by which such possession is proved.

Seizin was originally not an estate, but a way to gain one, as by adverse possession. This is rooted in the Roman legal concept that whoever worked the land should be its owner.

seised, seized (Scots)Given possession of property by legal authority.
servitorClerk, Secretary, Attendant.
sine die (Latin) indefinitely
sine qua non (Latin) an indispensable condition
socage A form of tenure of agricultural land. Holding of land by a tenant in page for fixed payment or originally for non-military service to the lord.
status quo (Latin) the existing state of affairs
sub modo (Latin) within limits
sub nomine (Latin) under the name of
suggestio falsi (Latin) the suggestion of something which is untrue
sui generis (Latin) unique
suppressio veri (Latin) the suppression of the truth
supra (Latin) above; earlier
talis qualis (Latin) such as it is
tenement (in law)That which is held by tenure, the possessor of which is a tenant. Hence the lands, houses etc, leased from another person for a term of years.
tertius (Latin) third party
testate Having a will.
timeousin due time.
trustee An individual to whom another's property is entrusted.
tutorThe guardian of children in pupillarity.
uberrima fides (Latin) the utmost good faith
ultimus haeres (Latin) last heir; the Crown inherits as last heir for want of other heirs
umquhile (Scots)Former, the deceased, late, formerly.
uterineOf a sibling, to have the same mother but different fathers.
verbatim (Latin) word by word; exactly
veritas (Latin) truth
vestTo become the property of a person.
vide (Latin) see
viewAn inspection of premises, the subject matter of an action, sometimes allowed to jurors before a jury trial takes place.
volens (Latin) willing
warrant A governmental order authorising some action. An arrest warrant instructs a sheriff to arrest someone. A land warrant instructs a state to issue land to someone.
Whit Sunday A Scots quarter day (15 May).