Term of the day: sharping corn

It’s a holiday week. We’re all busy. But The Legal Genealogist can’t leave you in the lurch, so here’s…

cgbug_Halloween_Candy_CornThe term of the day:


So you’re reading along in some records in the British Isles and, all of a sudden, you’re stumped.

As, say, when you come across the fact that, in the minutes of the Baron Court of Stitchell, Scotland, in 1663, it was reported that it was “judicially … enacted and ordained that the owner and maister of ilke pleuche within this Barony shall pay yeirly to John and Robert Lillie, smythes in Stitchell for their sharpeing-corne and in lie and place thereof, ane stoucke of sufficienty outfield aits.”1

Yeah. Sure.

You can start with the fact that, well, this really isn’t in English, as far as I can tell… Ilke pleuche? Aits? Say what?

And even when you figure out that all the farmers and husbandmen in the Barony were to give outfield oats to the blacksmiths for their sharping corn,2 you’re still left with the question…

What the heck is sharping corn?

Turns out, according to Black’s Law Dictionary, it’s “a customary gift of corn, which, at every Christmas, the farmers in some parts of England give to their smith for sharpening their plow-irons, harrowtines, etc.”3

Now clearly, as the Baron Court records indicate, this wasn’t just in some parts of England but also at least in the Borders area of Scotland.4 And sharping corn didn’t have to be paid on Christmas, but just about the Christmas season.5

And, according to the Baron Court records, “Sharping corn had to be paid to the blacksmith as a fee for sharpening implements, else a fine was exacted.”6

So there you have it.

And if you’re of ilke pleuche, I hope you paid your blacksmith in outfield aits. I’m not going bail for you if you didn’t.


Image: User cgbug, Open Clipart Library

  1. George Gunn, Records of the Baron Court of Stitchell 1655-1807 (Edinburgh, Scotland: Scottish Historical Society, 1905), 26; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 26 Dec 2013).
  2. See ibid., n.1.
  3. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 1090, “sharping corn.”
  4. The barony, spelled in many ways including Stitchell and Stichill, is in Roxburghshire or the County of Roxburgh, on the Scottish side of the Scottish-English border. See Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.com), “Stichill,” rev. 24 Mar 2013.
  5. See Nathan Bailey, An Universal Etymological English Dictionary: Comprehending the Derivations of the Generality of Words in the English Tongue … And Also a Brief and Clear Explication of All Difficult Words (London: p.p., 1770), 743; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 26 Dec 2013).
  6. Gunn, Records of the Baron Court of Stitchell 1655-1807, 215.
Print Friendly
This entry was posted in Legal definitions. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Term of the day: sharping corn

  1. GG says:

    You’re correct. The minutes appear to be written in Scots, not English. I think “ilke pleuche” means “each plow.”

    Scots is a Germanic language similar to English. It was the primary language used in the lowland part of Scotland for centuries and is also the language in which the lyrics to perennial New Year’s Eve anthem, “Auld Lang Syne” were written:

    For auld lang syne, my jo,
    For auld lang syne. 
    We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet, 
    For auld lang syne.                     

  2. Gnarlodious says:

    However the astute reader may note that “corn” was not really the corn pictured, which is “maize”, a new world plant. Corn in the old world was “kernels”, meaning wheat or any such hard grain. Barleycorn, being a humble soft grain was a lower grade commodity therefore requiring its own name.

    You can argue that by 1663 maize was common enough in England, but the history of grain as currency precedes that date by a long ways. And I’m pretty sure candy corn was not invented until recently ;)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>