1) To grind into small pieces, as in a mortar; to beat.
Many early examples make reference to a mortar, as in the will of the vicar of Osbaldwick in 1557. Among his bequests was one for a braysyn morter which was to remayne in the husbandmen’s handes for ever and everye man to have it a yeare and no more and it to go abowte as the holy breade dothe and no man to denye riche nor poore to braye his spice in yt . Also: 1570 two braying morters and two pestelles, Spaldington.Less precisely it had the meaning of to beat, in various trades and crafts, and the OED notes its use in the preparation of hemp and flax, and the scouring of wool. The ordinances of the skinners in York add to that list, for in 1500 their practices included an item for 1000 graywarke wanyng and braying at a cost of 2s. Several West Riding accounts show that the word was regularly used for stone-breaking in the repair of the local roads. In Honley, for example, in 1778, 42 yards of road had to be stoned and well brayed and there was an entry in the farming accounts of a South Crosland farmer in 1845 for Stones braying and laying on . Both these meanings have been noted from the fourteenth century.The OED also notes that the word could mean to beat or thrash a person, but with just one reference, from 1808 in Cumberland: it is classed there and in the EDD as a northern dialect usage. The Yorkshire evidence is earlier and seems to trace its development directly from the first meaning. In 1708, a Kettlewell man claimed that an attacker struck at him and said that he would bray him as smaill as sand. In 1747 George Brooke of Braithwell wrote a letter about debts and rents which he owed, and expressed the fear that he might be physically assaulted, saying I should be very sorry … to fall into the hands of one that would Bray me to pieces . It is one of a small number of dialect terms that survive in everyday use and it can still be printed in local newspapers without the need for editorial comment. In October 2013 the Huddersfield Examiner reported on a fire in the Outlane area and interviewed a witness who stated that he was made aware of the unfolding drama only when a fire-officer began braying on the door.