Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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BIRN, n.1 A burden, a load, usually one carried on the back; extended also to mean a group or crowd of people, animals or things; a race, a tribe. Lit. and fig. [brn, bʌrn, bɛrn]

1. lit. Sc. 1923  Sc. Univ. Verses (1918–1923) 93:
For Time' wi' his shearin' heucks, Devalls at the sicht o' my goon An' my birn o' buiks.
ne.Sc. 1881  W. Gregor Folk-Lore of N.-E. Scot. 24:
When one boy or girl made a present of “sweeties,” lozenges, or such like, to another, if only one or two were given, the following words were repeated: “Ane's nane, Twa's some, Three's a birn, Four's a horse laid.”
Abd. 1768  A. Ross Helenore 106:
A witless littleane bred to herd the ews, Or whan they're fu' to pu' a birn o' cows.
Mearns 1933  L. G. Gibbon in Scots Mag. (July) 265:
But the spinners had broken into the ring, a birn of them down to the farther end.
Ags. 1823  A. Balfour Foundling of Glenthorn IV. v. 120:
But I didna think that ever I could ha'e had a warm heart to ane o' their [niggers'] birn, as I ha'e to the poor fallow wha's sittin' butt the house there.

2. fig. Mry.(D) 1824  J. Cock Hamespun Days 110:
To hear ye sing o' Elgin town, My auld bit heart, that's now sair down, It helps to lift a wee aboon A birn o' years.
Abd.(D) 1917  C. Murray Sough o' War (1918) 9:
Gey short o' breath, but keen an' teuch, It's but his birn o' days.

Phr.: a load abeen a birn, used of an excessive burden or of something in excess of normality. Abd.(D) 1929  J. Alexander Mains and Hilly 5:
Weel, it's jist pittin' a load abeen a birn, an' aw'll be the waur o' 't.

[O.Sc. birn(e), byrne, berne, from end of 14th cent. Eng. dial. burn. O.E. byrðen, connected with O.E. beran, to bear.]

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"Birn n.1". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 18 Oct 2018 <>



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