cot·​tar ˈkä-tər How to pronounce cottar (audio)
variants or cotter
: a peasant or farm laborer who occupies a cottage and sometimes a small holding of land usually in return for services

Examples of cottar in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web In 1846 and 1847, potatoes, the subsistence crop of the cottar subtenants who composed nearly half the population on some Hebridean estates, failed almost entirely. Hugh Raffles, The New York Review of Books, 9 Oct. 2020

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'cottar.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English coter, cotyer "peasant residing on a smallholding and owing labor service or payment to a lord," borrowed from Anglo-French cotere, cotier, borrowed from or formed parallel to Medieval Latin cotārius, from Old English (or early Middle English) cot "dwelling of a rural laborer" + Anglo-French -ere, -ier -er entry 2 or Latin -ārius -ary entry 1 — more at cot entry 1

Note: The status of such a peasant—whether free or bound to the land—is not entirely clear. The cotsetla of Anglo-Saxon law was apparently free (see entry in Dictionary of Old English), but his successor in the Domesday Book, the cotārius, was apparently not (see That the incidence of cotārius/cot(i)er in northern France has been dependent on influence from Germanic speech is demonstrated by Kurt Baldinger in "L'importance de la langue des documents pour l'historie du vocabulaire galloroman (le champ onomasiologique du roturier)," Revue de linguistique romane, tome 26 (1962), pp. 324-25. For the period that England and Normandy were under linked administration, and some time thereafter, cotārius/cot(i)er was in common use in both areas, though the term becomes obsolescent in Normandy by the fourteenth century. Under influence of the Low Countries it reemerges between the Somme valley and the Romance-Germanic linguistic boundary in Flanders in the fourteenth century, continuing through the sixteenth. As a description of a person holding land in a specific way cottar, also cotter ("tenant occupying a cottage with or without attached land") continued in use in Scotland into the nineteenth century, with an Irish variant cottier.

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of cottar was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near cottar

Cite this Entry

“Cottar.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 19 Jul. 2024.

Kids Definition


variants or cotter
: a peasant or farm laborer occupying a cottage usually in return for services

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