What is the Knife That a Scotsman Wears Called?

For centuries, a traditional element of Scottish Highland dress included a knife called a sgian dubh, pronounced skian do. It remains an important part of modern Highland dress, and you may see a sgian dubh tucked inside a Highlander's stocking.


"Sgian dubh" translates as "black knife." "Sgian" refers to the dagger or blade, and "dubh" means black, referencing both the colour of the handle and the secretive nature of the weapon's traditional use.


Tracing the original use of the sgian dubh is difficult. Evidence suggests two potential uses prior to the knife becoming part of modern Highland dress. Lower classes skinned wild game with the sgian dubh, while some people believe it had a traditional use as a secret weapon hidden in the armpit. As laws came into effect in Scotland, the sgian dubh was displayed in a stocking.


The traditional material for the sgian dubh handle is black bogwood. Today, the variety of styles and materials include stag horn handles and chrome, and jewelled silver. Clan badges and Celtic knots are common designs.

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About the Author

Based in Phoenix, Michelle Fowler has been writing since 2005. Her first article appeared in "Canadian Military History." Fowler has also been published in "War and Society" and reviewed books for "Global War Studies." She holds a Master of Arts degree in history, with a specialization in military history, from Wilfrid Laurier University.