Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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BIRSE, Biss, Birsie. (dim.), n.1, v.1 [brs, bʌrs Sc.; bɪs Ork.]

1. n. Gen.Sc.

(1) A bristle, hair. Sc. 1721  J. Kelly Proverbs 338:
The Sowter gave the Sow a Kiss. Humph, quoth she, its [sic] for a Birse.
Mry.(D) 1897  J. Mackinnon Braefoot Sk. viii.:
The grave-digger picked up a “birse,” and suddenly busied himself redding his pipe.
Per. 1895  R. Ford Tayside Songs 280:
It's saip them here, an' scrape them there — The case is really 'yont a' lauchter — Our toun-en's scarce o' hearts an' birse Thro' barber Willie's bonnie dauchter.
Lnk. 1887  A. Wardrop Poems, Songs, etc. 13:
The tousie-tailed collie lap richt on the tap o' me, cockit his birse, showed his white teeth, an' barkit like fury.

(2) The bristle fixed on the shoemaker's thread; sometimes the two combined. Ork. 1929  Marw.:
Biss, a bristle; spec. of a bristle on a pig and of the bristles used by shoemakers for fixing on the end of a thread.
Abd.(D) [1900]  C. Murray Hamewith (1909) 21:
The cauper left his turnin' lay, the sooter wasna slaw To fling his lapstane in the neuk, the elshin, birse an' a'.

(3) A sheaf or plume of bristles. Lth. a.1885  J. Strathesk More Bits from Blinkb. (1885) 182:
A wee cockit hat on't like the birse on a yeomanryman's helmet.
Slk. 1886  T. Craig-Brown Hist. Selkirkshire II. vi.:
[In 1818] the Magistrates conferred the freedom of Selkirk upon all the members of the Royal Company [of Archers] who were present at dinner, observing all the ceremonies of the birse.

Phr. licking the birse. (See quot.) Slk. 1932  Times (20 June) 8/5:
The Duke of Buccleuch and his co-freemen [of Selkirk] went through the ceremony on Saturday of “licking the birse.” This is a sheaf of bristles from a wild boar skin and was used by the Souters in making their noted soled shoon. The Duke dipped the birse in wine and drew it between his lips. This was the symbol of his initiation as Souter.

(4) Beard. Abd.(D) 1928  J. Baxter A' Ae 'Oo' 32:
Watt wisna bonnie, be it said; Willie's birse ne'er bluntit blade.

(5) Anger, temper. Sc. 1816  Scott Antiquary xxi.:
He wad set up the tother's birse, and maybe do mair ill nor good.
Ork. 1929  Marw.:
“To set up the b[iss],” means to get angry, show signs of ill-temper.
Cai. 1929  “Caithness Forum” in John o' Groat Jnl. (8 Nov.):
Ye've pitten Kirsty's birse up.
Abd. 1824  G. Smith Douglas 41:
But ance his birse was raised, than wae to him That came 'aneath the knot e'en o' his thum'.
m.Sc. 1920  “O. Douglas” Penny Plain xiii.:
But it's thae new folk that pit up ma birse.
Arg. 1932 1 :
Tak my advice: dinna cross him when his birse is up.
Dmf. [1826]  R. Chambers Pop. Rhymes (1870) 75:
This set up the wife o' Kittlerumpit's birse. In pl.
Sc. 1829  Wilson Noctes Amb. (1855) II. 175:
My birses being up, faith I challenged him . . . to rin him intil Embro' on shank's naigie.
Ayr. 1822  Galt Sir A. Wylie v.:
Ye're a deevil at a paik, when your birsies are up.
Kcb. 1893  S. R. Crockett Stickit Minister xiii.:
“‘Veesitor,' quo' she!” says John, with his birses up in a moment.

2. v.

(1) To put a bristle on. Sc. 1896  A. Cheviot Proverbs 311:
That at auld St Andrews fair, A' the souters maun be there . . . And a' them that birse the thread; Souters out o' Mar.
Fif. 1909  Colville 134:
He [the sutor] beat the bend-leather on his lap-stane, drew his thread across the roset . . ., deftly birsed a fresh lingle end, or passed the gleaming elshon (awl) through his hair.
w.Rxb. 1923  Watson W.-B. 57:
The shuimaker birsed his lingle-end.

(2) To flare up, get angry. Edb. 1828  D. M. Moir Mansie Wauch (1839) xxvi.:
“Haivers, haivers,” said Nanse, birsing up like a cat before a colley.

[O.E. byrst, bristle; Dan. börste; Du. borstel; Ger. borste; Sw. borst. For loss of r in Ork. biss cf. L.Bnff. hoss, puss, for horse, purse (see P.L.D. § 143), and also O.N. bust, a bristle (Torp), Norw. boste, id. Cogn. with Lat. fastigium, extreme edge.]

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"Birse ". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 20 Oct 2018 <>



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