Japanese WW2 naval dirk

A dirk is a short thrusting dagger, sometimes a cut-down sword blade mounted on a dagger hilt rather than a knife blade. Like the cutlass historically used as a boarding weapon for naval hand-to-hand combat during the Age of Sail, the dirk became part of the parade uniform of naval officers in the 19th and 20th centuries.[1]



The term is associated with Scotland in the Early Modern Era, being attested from about 1600. It is spelled dork or durk during the 17th century,[2] presumably from the Dutch, Swedish and Danish dolk, via German dolch, tolch from a West Slavic tulich. The exact etymology is unclear; the sound change from -lk to -rk is rather common in Scots and Northern English loanwords from Danish (as in kirk, smirk from Danish kilche, smilke).[3][4][2][5] The modern spelling dirk is probably due to Samuel Johnson's 1755 Dictionary.

The term is also used for "dagger" generically, especially in the context of prehistoric daggers such as the Oxborough dirk.

Naval dirk

WWII era Soviet naval officers' dirks

The dirk (Polish kordzik, Russian кортик) became part of the uniform of naval officers and civilian officials in the Navy Department of the Russian Empire, and in the Soviet navy an element of the dress uniform of officers. Later, it became an element of other uniforms as well, e.g. of airforce officers in the Polish army, and of the police forces in some countries.[clarification needed]

Highland dirk

Painting of George Gordon, 5th Duke of Gordon (1770–1836) in highland dress.

The Scottish dirk (also "Highland dirk", Scottish Gaelic: Biodag) is an optional accessoire of the black tie variant of Highland dress. This is a tradition derived from 16th to 18th century military dress. The development of the Scottish dirk is unrelated to that of the naval dirk; it is a modern continuation of the 16th-century ballock or rondel dagger.[6]

The traditional form of the Scottish dirk is a development of the second half of the 17th century, and it became a popular item of military equipment in the Jacobite Risings. Of the 78th Fraser Highlanders, raised 1757, Browne (1838) writes that their uniform was the full highland dress including musket and broadsword, but not the dirk, but that "many soldiers added the dirk at their own expense". [7]

The modern development of the Scottish dirk into a dress accessoire takes place in the 19th century. The shape of the grip developed from the historical more cylindrical form to a shape intended to represent the thistle. Fancier fittings, often of silver, became popular shortly after 1800. The hilts of modern Scottish dirks are often carved from dark colored wood such as bog oak or ebony. Hilts and scabbards are often lavishly decorated with silver mounts and have pommels set with cairngorm stones. The blades measure 12" in length and are single edged with decorative file work known as "jimping" on the unsharpened back edge of the blade. When worn, the dirk normally hangs by a leather strap known as a "frog" from a dirk belt, which is a wide leather belt having a large, usually ornate buckle, that is worn around the waist with a kilt.

See also


  1. ^ O'Brian, Patrick (1974)Men-of-War: Life In Nelson's Navy, p.35
  2. ^ a b Hoad, T.F. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology Oxford University Press (1996) ISBN 0-19-283098-8
  3. ^ Hensleigh Wedgwood, A dictionary of English etymology, 1859.
  4. ^ Collins English Dictionary 21st Century Edition Harper Collins (2001) ISBN 0-00-472529-8
  5. ^ Robinson, M. (ed) The Concise Scots Dictionary Chambers 1985 ISBN 0-08-028491-4
  6. ^ John F. Campbell, Popular tales of the West Highlands, vol. 4, 1862, p. 365 has a sketch of the portrait of "The Regent Murray" at Taymouth, dated ca. 1560, portraying a man in Highland military dress of the era, including a dagger.
  7. ^ James Browne, A history of the Highlands and of the Highland clans, vol. 4, A. Fullarton, 1838, p. 250.

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Dirk — Dirk, v. t. [imp. & p. p. {Dirked}; p. pr. & vb. n. {Dirking}.] To stab with a dirk. Sir W. Scott. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Dirk — Dirk, n. [Ir. duirc.] A kind of dagger or poniard; formerly much used by the Scottish Highlander. [1913 Webster] {Dirk knife}, a clasp knife having a large, dirklike blade. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Dirk — m Flemish and Dutch form of DEREK (SEE Derek). Its use in the English speaking world since the 1960s is largely due to the fame of the actor Dirk Bogarde (b. 1921; originally Derek Niven van den Bogaerde). He is of Dutch descent, although he was… …   First names dictionary

  • Dirk — Dirk, a. [See {Dark}, a.] Dark. [Obs.] Chaucer. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Dirk — Dirk, v. t. To darken. [Obs.] Spenser. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • dirk — c.1600, perhaps from Dirk, the proper name, which was used in Scandinavian for a picklock. But the earliest spellings were dork, durk (Johnson, 1755, seems to be responsible for the modern spelling), and the earliest association is with… …   Etymology dictionary

  • dirk — [dʉrk] n. [so spelled by Dr. Johnson; earlier dork, durk < ?] a long, straight dagger vt. to stab with a dirk …   English World dictionary

  • Dirk [1] — Dirk, holländischer Vorname, so v.w. Dietrich …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Dirk [2] — Dirk (Seew.), 1) das Tau, mittelst dessen die Gaffel eines Segels gesteuert (orientirt) wird; 2) Dolch der schottischen Hochländer …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Dirk — Dirk, ein Tau, das vom Masttopp nach dem äußern Ende des Besanbaumes führt, um diesen wagerecht zu halten (aufdirken); langes, einschneidiges Dolchmesser, bei dem Bügel und Parierstange derart gebogen sind, daß die Angriffswaffe damit gefaßt… …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Dirk — Dirk, die Toppnant des Baumes der Gaffelsegel; s. Takelage …   Lexikon der gesamten Technik

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