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Highland Games Terminology

'In Terms of Highland Games: Get to Your Marks, Get Set, and Go!'

HIGHLAND GAMES TERMINOLOGIES: A concise list of terminologies used in Highland Games. You will find 100s of Highland Games terms and definitions used by competitors and officials, all listed from A to Z.

Participants and competition referees can use this vocabulary of Highland Games terminology. The titles and common match rulings will also help spectators and sports fans.

The official Highland Games rules and regulations is a good place to start if you are learning to play. These Highland Games key words cover the advanced lingo and sports terms related to the game.

Shoot through to the most common Highland Games terminology by clicking the alphabetic facility below. Or, take a timeout and sharpen your knowledge and understanding of the game.

This comprehensive list of Highland Games terms and definitions continues to grow. Check in often for more information associated to Highland Games techniques and event-winning strategies.

GAMES TERMS: A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

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A – Abuse

Physical or verbal abuse by an entrant towards any official is not tolerated and gets reported to senior officials.

B – Bagpipes

In Highland Games terms, the Bagpipes are a class of musical instrument.

The aerophone uses enclosed reeds which are fed air from a constant reservoir shaped like a bag.

Despite the fact that the Scottish Great Highland bagpipes or ‘pipes’ are probably best known throughout the English-speaking world, they have been played for centuries around Europe and beyond.


All athletes must wear a bib during the games. The bibs must be clearly numbered on the front and back.


The bicycles used in the cycling events must have fixed wheels.

The bikes cannot have loose fixtures and the handlebars should be plugged. Speed gears, mudguards, and brakes are considered illegal for the Highland Games competitions.

C – Caber Toss

Tossing the caber – Competitors can choose where to make the throw and the run length is not stipulated in Highland Games rules.

Tossing the caber has no standard length or weight for the caber.

Catch-as-catch-can Style

Catch-as-catch-can style is a method of wrestling. The wrestlers can grab hold of their opponent by any means except by the flesh, hair, ears, clothing, or genitals.

Kicking, flying mares, strangleholds, and hammerlocks are not permitted. The winning objective is to pin your opposing wrestler by the shoulder to the floor for at least three seconds.

Cowal Games

The Cowal Highland Gathering is the largest Highland games in the world and held in Dunoon, Scotland, every August.

Cumberland and Westmoreland Wrestling

Cumberland and Westmoreland wrestling is a unique tussle event between two competitors. Both wrestlers begin by holding one another and standing chest to chest.

Their right arm should be wrapped around the body of their opponent and the chin should be firmly resting on the opponent’s shoulders.

Kicking is not allowed but the winner is determined by successfully wrestling any body part of your opponent to the floor, excluding their feet.

Highland Games Caber Toss

D – Dead Heat

A dead heat signifies two or more competitors have tied without a clear and outright winner. When this happens in a qualifying race both competitors advance to the next round.

E – Events

Highland Games events take place from Cowal to Tomintoul and the majority of points in between. The events are a unique mix of sports, culture and community program of field and track events, piping and Highland dancing.

Event competitions typically include ‘heavy events’ like the tug-o-war, the hammer throw and tossing the caber.

F – Finish Line

The finishing line is marked by fabric stretched and tied across the track between two posts. A competitor finishes the race when his torso crosses the finish line.

G – Gaelic

The Gaelic language and culture originated in Ireland.

It extended into southwest Scotland in the middle ages and has become dominant throughout Scotland and the Isle of Man since.

H – Heavy Events

Heavy events at the Highland Games include these five activities;

  • Throwing the weight
  • Throwing the hammer
  • The shot put
  • Tossing the caber
  • Throwing the weight over the bar

High Jump

The high jump event allows three attempts at each height for each competitor. Illegal moves include diving and somersaulting.

Highland Attire (costume)

All Scottish Highland Games competitors must wear traditional Highland attire of kilt and sporran in the heavy events. They must wear numbered bibs in the athletic events. Costume and clothing advertising is banned, except for the official sponsors’ details.

Wrestlers must wear shorts and jock straps in the catch-as-catch-can style competitions and their footwear should be stockings or rubber gym shoes.

Highland Games

The Highland Games represent a meeting for athletic events, playing music using the bagpipes, and dancing. The Highland Games are held in the Scottish Highlands and by Scots elsewhere around the world.

I – Inverness

The Inverness Highland Games were founded in 1822. It is one of the most spectacular traditional gatherings staged in Scotland and is one of the highlights of any visit to the Highland capital city of Inverness.

J – Judges

Highland Games judges must officiate a minimum 4.4 yards from the winning post at the finish line.

K – Kilt

The kilt originates from the traditional dress of men and boys in the Scottish Highlands of the 16th century. Kilts are knee-length non-bifurcated skirt-type garments which are specifically identified by the pleats at the rear of the skirt.

L – Light Field Events

Three light events include;

  • The pole vault
  • The triple jump
  • The high jump

M – Mull Highland Games

Mull Highland Games is the perfect site for field events overlooking The Sound of Mull, Morvern and Ardnamurchan. The Mull Highland Games have a picture postcard backdrop that adds scenic beauty to the drama enacted on the games field.

N – Nova Scotia

The Antigonish Highland Games has built a worldwide reputation based on authenticity, attention to detail, and hospitality.

O – Obstruction

Using obstruction in the Highland Games Rules results in disqualification from the event and possible disciplinary action taken by the general council. Obstruction can be either;

  • Blocking or jostling another games’ entrant
  • Deliberately running wide in a track event to prevent another competitor passing you

P – Pegs

Starts are pegged down with the race distance clearly marked on the peg.

Pole Vault

Pole vault entrants are allowed three separate attempts at each height.

Putting the Ball

What are the rules of putting the stone in Highland Games? The stone or metal ball used in the putting event is thrown outwards from the shoulder using only one hand while remaining behind the trig. The ball should be round and must weigh between 16 and 22 pounds.

Q – Queen

The annual Braemar Gathering is held in Aberdeenshire which is only a short distance from the royals’ Balmoral estate and The Queen has attended many times.

R – Rope

Ropes used for the tug-o-war event cannot be longer than 12 feet long.


The Scottish Games Association (SGA) is the governing body which ensures all entrants follow the rules in Scottish Highland Games events.

Sheaf Toss

The sheaf toss is a traditional Scottish agricultural sport event originally contested at county fairs. A pitchfork is used to hurl a burlap bag stuffed with straw over a horizontal bar above the competitor’s head. Typical weight for the bag is 16 pounds (about 7 kg).

Three chances are given to each competitor to cleanly go over the bar, without touching it. After all challengers have made their attempts, the bar is raised and all successful competitors move on to the new height. This continues until all but one athlete is eliminated.

Shot Put

The shot put is a track and field event which occurs by throwing a heavy spherical object called the shot, in a pushing motion. The aim is to hurl it as far as possible. The shot put competition for men has been a part of the modern Olympics since 1896 and women’s shot put competition began in 1948.

Spiked Shoes

Entrants must wear spiked shoes for all race events including the 437 yard race.

Starter’s Orders

The starter’s orders for sprint events follow these three specific steps and order.

  1. Get to your marks
  2. Get set
  3. Go

A shot of a pistol synchronizes with the third step ‘Go’. Runners are penalized for moving hands or feet over the start mark during step one ‘Get to your marks’. The penalty is being moved back 3.3 feet from the start line for all races up to the 437 yard event.

The false start penalty for the 875 yard race is being put back 6.5 feet and 16 feet for the one mile race. Repeat second offenses receive a doubling of the distance penalty and a disqualification for a third offense.

Stone Put

One of the main Scottish heavy athletic events is the stone put. It is contested at modern-day Highland games gatherings. The stone put is very similar to the shot put, but as a rule the stone put frequently uses an ordinary stone or rock instead of a steel ball. Depending on which type of stone put event is being contested, the weight of the stone varies from 16 to 26 lb for men (or 8 to 18 lb for women).

Stopped Race

Race stoppages are rare but officials may stop a race or event for safety reasons.

T – Throwing the Hammer

Throwing the metal-headed hammer takes place from behind the trig and in a standing position. The hammer weighs between 16 and 22 pounds and the cane or wooden handle should measure no more than four feet two inches.

Throwing the Weight

Throwing the weight is another trig event used with one hand. The metal weight is attached to a ring and a chain measuring no more than 18 inches in length. The thrown weight must weigh between 28 and 36 pounds.

Throwing the Weight over the Bar

The weight should be no more than 56 pounds in ‘throwing the weight over the bar’ events. Each competitor uses one hand to throw the weight over a bar which is fixed at a chosen height.


In Highland Games events the person tossing the caber is called a ‘thrower’ or ‘tosser’. While tossing the caber the aim is to make it fall directly away in the ’12 o’clock’ position and clear from the tosser.


In Highland Games terminology, ‘trig’ is made of wood and measures six inches high and 45 feet long and used for the distance games. The competitor must have both feet behind the trig after completing their throw.

Triple Jump

The triple jump games use a sandpit for the jump. Three attempts are allowed and there is no standard run length. A foul is called of the entrant falls backwards after landing in the pit.


Highland Games tug-o-war events have either five or eight players in each team. With the exception of the team’s anchor man, all players are not allowed to put their heels in the ground. They must remain standing and raise their heels 0.25 inches at all times during the tug.

A rule infringement yellow card is given for handover-hand tugging which is followed by team disqualification for further fouls.


The first Highland Games in the USA took place in 1836. The Caledonian Club of San Francisco held its first Games in 1866 and boasts the oldest running Games in the USA.

V – Video

Watch a video clip of the Highland Games on Vimeo.

W – Weight for Distance

The ‘weight for distance’ event has contenders hurling a 56 or 28lb. weight as far as possible while maintaining control behind a trig. The athlete spins to gain momentum on the weight then releases it. Women, amateurs and masters use various weights such as 14, 28, 42 and 56lb. and using the same principles.

Weight for Height

In Highland Games vocabulary, the ‘weight for height’ event entails tossing a 56 or 28lb. weight up and over a horizontal bar. The athlete can only use one hand and the weight can strike the bar as long as it goes over.

Y – Youth Races

Highland Games youth races are for youngsters between ten and 16 years old but entrants must be 17 or older to participate in open events.

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Highland Games Terminologies