No good Scotsman would be caught without his sgian dubh (/ˌskiːən ˈduː/skean-dhu; Scottish Gaelic pronunciation: [s̪kʲɪnˈt̪uh]) a small knife that was carried in the top of the boot or hose. In Gaelic, sgian means “knife or blade” and dubh means “black”.
History varies on this weapon. Some researchers believe the black refers to the wooden handle that was often made of bog wood, which is dark brown to black in color; others believe that it was carried as a concealed weapon, thus making the intent dark. This is interesting when it is well-known that baring a blade in someone’s house to which one was invited was seen as a threat.
The custom of revealing a concealed weapon and placing it in plain sight in the top of your boot was meant as a sign of peace to the household, that is, no secrets and no intent to harm.
In the Old West, this was like checking your guns at the door.
Modern day sgian dubhs can be very ornate with decorated hilts, pewter caps or stones, and engraved blades. But in medieval times, the people leaned toward the practical. Sgian dubhs were single-edged utility knives with three to four inch blades used for skinning animals, cutting bread, and the like, but could be used in defense as a last resort. You might think it makes sense that if it was carried in a boot or hose top, it would have a flat hilt so as to lay more securely against the leg, but since antler horn was also used, it is more likely it had a rounded grip.
For more information:
- The history of Sgian Dubh – Gaelic Themes
- Unknown Scottish History :: The Sgian Dubh
- Wikipedia: Sgian-dubh