A dirk is a short thrusting dagger
A dagger is a fighting knife with a sharp point designed or capable of being used as a thrusting or stabbing weapon. The design dates to human prehistory, and daggers have been used throughout human experience to the modern day in close combat confrontations...

, sometimes a cut-down sword
A sword is a bladed weapon used primarily for cutting or thrusting. The precise definition of the term varies with the historical epoch or the geographical region under consideration...

 blade mounted on a dagger hilt
The hilt of a sword is its handle, consisting of a guard,grip and pommel. The guard may contain a crossguard or quillons. A ricasso may also be present, but this is rarely the case...

  rather than a knife blade. It was historically used as a personal weapon for officers engaged in naval hand-to-hand combat during the Age of Sail
Age of Sail
The Age of Sail was the period in which international trade and naval warfare were dominated by sailing ships, lasting from the 16th to the mid 19th century...



The term is associated with Scotland in the Early Modern Era
Scotland in the Early Modern Era
Scotland in the Early Modern Era refers, for the purposes of this article, to Scotland between the death of James IV in 1513 and the end of the Jacobite rebellions and beginnings of industrialisation, roughly corresponding to the early modern era in Europe....

, being attested from about 1600.
It is spelled dork or durk during the 17th century, 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). The modern spelling dirk is probably due to Samuel Johnson
Samuel Johnson
Samuel Johnson , often referred to as Dr. Johnson, was an English author who made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer...

's 1755 Dictionary.

The term is also used for "dagger" generically, especially in the context of prehistoric daggers such as the Oxborough dirk
Oxborough dirk
The Oxborough Dirk is an over-large ceremonial weapon from the Bronze Age, a dirk or dagger, but several times the normal size. It was found in 1988 protruding from a peat bog near Oxborough, Norfolk, where it had been deposited point down. It is one of only five large dirks known in north-west...


Naval dirk

A thrusting weapon, the naval dirk was originally used as a boarding weapon and functional fighting dagger. It was worn by midshipmen and officers during the days of sail, gradually evolving into a ceremonial weapon and badge of office. In the British Navy, the naval dirk is still presented to junior officers; their basic design has changed little in the last 500 years.

The naval dirk (Polish kordzik, Russian кортик) became part of the uniform of naval officers and civilian officials in the Navy Department of the Russian Empire
Russian Empire
The Russian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the Soviet Union...

, and in the Soviet navy
Soviet Navy
The Soviet Navy was the naval arm of the Soviet Armed Forces. Often referred to as the Red Fleet, the Soviet Navy would have played an instrumental role in a Warsaw Pact war with NATO, where it would have attempted to prevent naval convoys from bringing reinforcements across the Atlantic Ocean...

 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..

Highland dirk

The Scottish dirk (also "Highland dirk", Scottish Gaelic: Biodag) is an optional accessory of the black tie
Black tie
Black tie is a dress code for evening events and social functions. For a man, the main component is a usually black jacket, known as a dinner jacket or tuxedo...

 variant of Highland dress. The development of the Scottish dirk as a weapon is unrelated to that of the naval dirk; it is a modern continuation of the 16th-century ballock or rondel dagger. The wearing of the dirk as a clothing accessory is a tradition derived from 16th to 18th century military dress.

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. The 78th Fraser Highlanders
78th Fraser Highlanders
The 78th Regiment, Regiment of Foot otherwise known as the 78th Fraser Highlanders was a British infantry regiment of the line unit raised in Scotland in 1757, to fight in the French and Indian War.-History:...

, raised in 1757, wore full highland dress uniform; their equipment was described by Major-General James Stewart in 1780 as including a "musket and broadsword, to which many soldiers added the dirk at their own expense."

The modern development of the Scottish dirk into a dress accessory 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
Ebony is a dense black wood, most commonly yielded by several species in the genus Diospyros, but ebony may also refer to other heavy, black woods from unrelated species. Ebony is dense enough to sink in water. Its fine texture, and very smooth finish when polished, make it valuable as an...

. Hilts and scabbards are often lavishly decorated with silver mounts and have pommels set with cairngorm
Smoky quartz
Smoky or smokey quartz is a brown to black variety of quartz. Like other quartz gems, it is a silicon dioxide crystal. The smoky colour results from free silicon, formed from the silicon dioxide by natural irradiation.-Morion:...

 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. Many Scottish dirks carry a smaller knife and fork which fit into compartments on the front of the sheath, and a smaller knife known as a sgian dubh
Sgian Dubh
The sgian-dubh is a small, singled-edged knife worn as part of traditional Scottish Highland dress along with the kilt. It is worn tucked into the top of the kilt hose with only the upper portion of the hilt visible...

is also worn tucked into the top of the hose when wearing a kilt.

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