AskDefine | Define dirk

Dictionary Definition

dirk n : a long dagger with a straight blade

User Contributed Dictionary



From durk.



  1. A long Scottish dagger with a straight blade.
    • 1883: Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island
      In half a minute he had reached the port scuppers, and picked, out of a coil of rope, a long knife, or rather a short dirk, discolored to the hilt with blood.


  1. To stab with a dirk.


Alternative spellings


  1. A long Scottish dagger with a straight blade.


tae dirk
  1. To stab with a dirk.

Extensive Definition

Dirk is a Scots word for a long dagger; sometimes a cut-down sword blade mounted on a dagger hilt, rather than a knife blade. The word dirk could have possibly derived from the Gaelic word sgian dearg (red knife). It may also have been a corruption of the Low German terms Dulk or Dolk. The shift from dearg [ˈdƷʲɛrəg] to dirk [dʌrk] is very minimal.
In Bronze Age and Iron Age Scotland and Ireland, the dirk was actually considered to be a sword. Its blade length and style varied, but it was generally 7-14 inches. Scottish Dirks can range from less than 6 inches to around 20-25 inches. However, the blades of Irish versions often were as much as 21 inches in length.

Cultural importance

In medieval Scotland, the dirk was a backup to the broadsword, and was wielded by the left hand while the shield was carried on the arm. Dirks were used to swear an oath upon in Celtic cultures. After the Battle of Culloden, the British government troops were aware that the Highlanders normally swore on their dirks, so, to prevent future uprisings or rebellions against the throne, they made them swear an oath never to "possess any gun, sword, or pistol, or to use tartan:
Nearly every Scottish male at the time of the oath had a dirk. The dirk was small and was carried everywhere the owner went. The dirk was worn in plain view suspended from a belt at the waist.
Another shorter dagger tucked into a coat sleeve or stocking as part of Highland dress is known as a Sgian Dubh, derived from the arm pit dagger or sgian achlias. To this day, a real or false dirk is sometimes worn as a part of traditional Scottish costume.

Naval dirks

In addition to these traditional weapons, other styles of dirk were worn by European and American forces on land and sea. Easier to carry than swords, dirks gained favor as lighter side arms among many military and naval officers during the 17th through 19th centuries. In some navies, they continued to be worn by midshipmen and cadets well into the 20th century. Numerous examples of naval dirks have survived from the earlier age of sail, some with histories of use during naval engagements. Most naval dirks were worn primarily on dress occasions, however, and consequently although attractive many were not designed for use in battle.
Naval and other dirks were commonly made with either double-edged or single-edged blades, and there was no standard blade configuration. Reference books covering naval dirks invariably show the popularity of both blade types. As a consequence, historically there were about as many naval dirks mounting single-edged blades as those with double-edged blades. Some dirks have single-edged blades that also have a false edge near the tip, a feature that could be useful in a backcut.

Other uses of dirk as a weapon are

  • a side arm worn by officers, midshipmen, and cadets of the world's navies.
  • a short-bladed weapon used in the Middle Bronze Age (c. 1500-1100 BC).
  • a thrown weapon, as opposed to a melee weapon.
  • a short dagger used by pirates.
  • a small, straight-bladed dagger carried for personal protection.
In the USA, dirk is a word used in the knife laws of several states. While it generally means any double-edged knife, the legal meaning may vary from state to state.

See also

dirk in German: Dirk (Messer)
dirk in Lithuanian: Dirkas
dirk in Dutch: Dolk
dirk in Polish: Dirk (broń)
dirk in Russian: Кортик
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