Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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PIRL, v., n. Also pirrl, pur(r)(e)l. [pɪrl, pʌrl]

I. v. 1. tr. (1) To twist, twine. twirl, coil, curl (Cld., Rxb. 1825 Jam.; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; ne.Sc., Ags., Lth., Ayr., s.Sc. 1965), freq. of horse-hair or the like being twisted to make fishing-lines, or of the making of rug ends (Slk. 1965). Hence pirler, one who makes rug ends (Id.). Slk. 1832  Hogg Queer Book 183:
The bowselly hair upon his head Was pirled with his dark eebree.
Ayr. 1833  Galt Poems 43:
Nae mutch had she, but a snood of beads Was purl'd in her hair.
Edb. 1839  D. M. Moir Mansie Wauch xxvi.:
A bit daigh, half an ounce weight, pirled round wi' the knuckles into a case.
Slk. 1874  Border Treasury (31 Oct.) 169:
D'ye pirl yer ain lines an' buss yer ain heuks?

(2) in harvesting: to set sheaves at right angles to their neighbours in a stook to assist in the drying process (see quot.). Sc. 1890  H. Stephens Bk. of Farm V. 76:
A very common and effective plan of stooking pursued in certain exposed districts of the west and south-west, is to set up two pairs of sheaves, the one pair at right angles to the other instead of side by side, as in an ordinary stook . . . This system is called “pirling”, and, unless in particular districts, was probably more common half a century ago than now.

(3) to roll, cause to rotate, spin, whirl (Sc. 1825 Jam.; Bnff., Abd., Ayr., s.Sc. 1965); to manoeuvre (a small object) by a series of light dabs or pokes with the finger, a stick, etc. (Dmf. 1925 Trans. Dmf. & Gall. Antiq. Soc. XIII. 34; ne.Sc. 1965), in 1824 quot. to bring a bird on the wing whirling to the ground. Phr. to pirl dung, “to spread dung in the drills” (Bnff. 1921 T.S.D.C.). Abd. 1791  A. Shirrefs Poems 131:
First, wets the pirn, then thum's it round about; 'Till, wi' a prin, she pirls the tint end out.
Gall. 1824  MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 117:
An' wi' a gun pirl'd the muir fule, As they wud whurrin' flee.
Bnff. 1866  Gregor D. Bnff. 126:
Pirl the bawbee oot amo, the stew wee yir finger. Pirl the stanes aff o' the rod wee yir staff.
Sh. 1899  Shetland News (29 April):
Shü purrled da mold oot wi' her finger, sae at Bawbie could see.
Abd. 1928  J. Baxter A' Ae 'Oo' 28:
Mistress Puss bade her kitlinie pirl the grey clew.
Kcb. 1946–7  Trans. Dmf. & Gall. Antiq. Soc. 101:
Rolling the ovals was called “pirling” the [Easter] eggs at Girthon or Gatehouse.
Abd. 1951  Huntly Express (26 Jan.):
There's a hole aside the sneck; pit in yer finger an' pirl't up.

Specif. (i) in football, hockey, shinty and the like: to drive the ball with quick light strokes or kicks, to “dribble” (Bnff., Abd. 1965). Also absol. Hence pirler, a dribbler. Abd. 1923  A. Shewan Spirat Adhuc Amor 277:
Now we were “purling” or dribbling in a crowd.
Bnff. 1958  Bnff. Advertiser (28 Aug.):
“Thir's a Percy Shelley plays for the Seaton Hibs,” remarked Jovie. “Inside richt. A smashin' pirler.”
Abd. 1964  :
He pirlt the ba aa the wey tae the penalty-line an then lost it.

(ii) to work potatoes out of the ground by fumbling, without disturbing the haulms above (Sh. a.1838 Jam. MSS. XII. 178, Sh. 1965). Also intr. with for (Ork. 1929 Marw., purl). Cf. Lib. Sh. 1866  Edm. Gl.:
“To purl for potatoes”, to select the largest of the young potatoes by feeling them with the fingers without pulling up the “shaw”.
Sh. 1897  Shetland News (14 Aug.):
Purlin' is a ruinashen, an' hit's far ower shune ta dell up.
Sh. 1952  J. Hunter Taen wi da Trow 14:
Laek aald wives purlin taaties, Atill a early rig.

(4) to stir, agitate, mix, to poke a fire (Mry. 1825 Jam.; Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928), pur(re)l); Sh., Bnff., Abd. 1965), freq. used of a miller stirring his kiln fire (Abd. 1825 Jam.), also used absol. Hence pirler, pirlin-stick, -wand, the rod used for this purpose, a poker (Abd. 1880 Jam.). Phr. pirlet up, fig., of persons: over-excited, agitated, “stirred up”. Bnff. 1852  A. Harper Solitary Hours 65:
In winter nights, when grinding late, And pirling sids to haud us het.
ne.Sc. 1934  Scotsman (12 May):
The kiln, in which the grain was dried by a fire composed entirely of husks, which the miller kept “pirlin” or stirring till it emitted a strong, glowing heat.
Abd. 1948  Huntly Express (14 May):
The pirler was a long flat piece of thin iron about an inch or more broad with one end oblong or circular. This appliance was used to stir the flame and allow the air to keep ignited the closely packed mass of husks. It was a constant job with no let up, else the fire smouldered and went out.
Abd. 1959  Ib. (8 May):
Oor Ann's a ceevil quine, but ye ken, my lord, ony o's will gie a bit aithie fan we're pirle't up.

2. intr. (1) To curl, twist. Comb. pirl-grass, the creeping couch-grass or felt, Triticum repens (Sc. 1886 B. and H.; Arg. 1931). This however may be rather a corruption of pearl-. Cf. Pearl, 1. (2). Sc. 1736  Mrs. McLintock Receipts 38:
How to make fine Bandstrings . . . Mind to heat the syrup to make them purle.
Slg. 1795  Stat. Acc.1 XI. 374:
Over-run with the creeping wheat-grass, known by the vulgar name of felt or pirl-grass.

(2) to spin, whirl round, rotate (ne.Sc., Ags. 1965); of the eyelids: to flutter. Deriv. pirlie, whirling, rotating; fig. of persons: erratic, unstable, unpredictable, hard to please (s.Sc. 1825 Jam.). Combs. pirley-peasweep, a game in which a player spins round to the accompaniment of a rhyme (see 1821 quot.); pirlie-wheel, a pinion or cog-wheel in a piece of machinery; pirlie-wirlie, a toy windmill or the like, a whirligig (Ags. 1965); fig., a changeable, unreliable person, a “weathercock” (Abd. 1903 E.D.D.). Edb. 1821  Blackwood's Mag. (21 Aug.) 36:
Pirley Pease-weep is a game played by boys, and the name demonstrates it is a native one . . . The following is the rhyme of this play: — Scotsman, Scotsman, lo! Where shall this poor Scotsman go? Send him east, send him west Send him to the craw's nest.
Bwk. 1823  A. Hewit Poems 113:
Whan bawbees pirlt i' the plate Ne'er haet had I.
Ayr. 1833  J. Kennedy G. Chalmers 154:
If the eelids pirl, he's guilty for a pound note.
Sc. 1851  R. S. Fittis Misc. Tradition 337:
Making a' sorts o' pirly-wirlies o' wind mills and water mills, and nick-nackets.
Lth. 1860  J. Locke Tweed and Don 112:
You see how my line keeps sliding and pirling out.
Wgt. 1877  “Saxon” Gall. Gossip 106:
He let flee at the stowp, and sent it pirlin' doon into the tide.
Sc. 1887  Caled. Curling Club Ann. 377:
Oh what a treat it is to see Bonny, bonny stanes come pirlin'.
Fif. 1890  A. Burgess Poute 64:
Ye're pirly-wheels and Geeg ar awl t' skunt.
Abd. 1950 27 :
He gaed pirlin heelster-gowdie ower the steen.

(3) of snow, wind, water or other liquid: to swirl, eddy, wimple, ripple (ne. and s.Sc., Uls. 1965). Vbl.n. pirlin, purlin. Kcb. 1789  D. Davidson Seasons 33:
Ye roll in cuddlin purlings to the sea.
Peb. 1805  J. Nicol Poems I. 25:
Cauld December's pirlin drift Maks Winter fierce an' snell come.
Sc. 1819  J. Rennie St. Patrick II. x.:
I'll set my teeth in the withered chafts o' you till the bluid pirl out o' your luckin' e'en.
Sc. 1847  Whistle Binkie (1890) II. 249:
The saft winds pirlin' through the trees.
Sc. 1924  Sc. Recitations (Harley) 81:
I can hear the warm milk pirling i' the cogies i' the byre.
Rs. 1936  C. Macdonald Echoes i.:
On an emerald bank by the side of a pirling burn.

(4) to fumble with the hands or feet, grope. fiddle, poke about; to move or work in an idle half-hearted way (Sh. 1914 Angus Gl., purl; Mry., Bnff. 1965). Ppl.adj. pirlin', slow at work, fumbling, awkward, inefficient (Gregor); vbl.n. pirlin, idle, feckless work, the act of fingering a thing. Hence ‡pirlins, odds and ends which have gone through many hands, worthless oddments (Abd.15 1930; Bnff. 1965). Deriv. pirler, an odd-job man on a farm; a cattleman (Per. 1958). Bnff. 1866  Gregor D. Bnff. 127:
He pirlt lang at the sneck o' the door, afore he got it opened. He pirlt wee't in's han till he brook it.
Abd. 1871  W. Alexander Johnny Gibb viii., xxxviii.:
Benjie! fat are ye deein pirlin' aboot at yer bried, that gate? . . . The goodman 'imsel was pirlin aboot the byre doors wi' a bit graipie in's han'.
Sh. 1888  B. R. Anderson Broken Lights 80:
Noo, if her limmer o' a lass . . . Sat purlin' wi' her lazy taes Among da ase.
Abd. 1891  Trans. Bch. Field Club II. 15:
Pirlin' aboot the kype with their bools.
ne.Sc. 1896  Scots Mag. (Aug.) 224:
Johnny MacKenzie, who sauntered up with Dougal MacFadyen and “the Pirler”. (the youngest farm-boy).
Sh. 1919  T. Manson Peat Comm. 127:
Dey purl, an purl, an purl, an never git ony farder, an yet aa da time ye wid tink at dey wir wirkin.
Abd. 1922  Swatches o' Hamespun 61:
She pirled at a fir yowe wi' her tae.
Fif. 1952  B. Holman Diamond Panes 48:
Crossgates Band withoot oor John or Jimmy is a noise like a cat pirlin' in a tanker.
Abd. 1962  Huntly Express (9 March):
Pirlin' amon' wheels an' pingans.

II. n. 1. A curl, twist, coil (Lth., wm. and s.Sc. 1965); a curly quality in sheep's wool (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B., 1954 Hawick News (18 June) 7); a twist or knot of hair at the back of a woman's head, a “bun” (Ags., Fif., Wgt. 1965). Dim. pirlie, purlie, id.; a small curled sweet (Wgt. 1965). Deriv. pirlie, purly, adj., curly, curled, twisted (Rxb. 1825 Jam.; Bwk. a.1838 Jam. MSS. XII. 175; s.Sc. 1965), fig. of persons: difficult to please, contrary, awkward (s.Sc. 1825 Jam.); comb. pirlie-skinned, of an animal: having a crisp, curling coat (Rxb. 1825 Jam.). Cld. 1880  Jam.:
That line hasna the richt pirl.
Ags. 1886  Brechin Advertiser (24 Aug.):
The lassie was makin' up fancy purlies o' butter.
Sc. a.1888  Scots Mag. (Aug. 1945) 404:
The Heriot school-boys with their “special ‘pirl' of excellent trout-fishing line, for which the tail of many a Grassmarket horse paid ‘kain'”.
Sc. 1896  Trans. Highl. Soc. VIII. 137:
Wool is a leading feature. This should be of a “pirly” kind, thickly planted, filling the hand, and showing weight of fleece.
Sc. 1917  Glasgow Herald (15 Sept.) 7:
The “pirl” in the wool was small enough in some cases.
Lnk. 1920  G. Douglas Further Adventures Rab Hewison 20:
There's as mony o' the damned as there are pirlies (a little twisted sweetie) in Ferguson's sweetie shop window.
Lnk. 1948  J. G. Johnston Come fish with me 60:
A little pirl of dubbing which shades from one colour to another.

2. Fig., an intricacy, difficulty, “knotty point”; a “twirly bit” or arpeggio in a piece of music. Combs. pirlie-perfect, of a person learning a skill or the like: fuly trained, proficient, faultless. Slk. 1933  :
With a little more practice on the harmonium you will be pirlie perfect.

3. An eddy or swirl in air (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.) or water (Sc. 1825 Jam.; ne.Sc., Rxb. 1965), a ripple, faint breeze, current. Sc. 1817  Blackwood's Mag. (April) 23:
The sun was shinin bright, the wind was lown, an' wi' the pirl being away, the pool was as clear as crystal.
Ayr. 1822  H. Ainslie Pilgrimage 156:
There was a fine pirl out frae the Wast, wi' a sma' smurr o' rain.
Rxb. 1824  J. Telfer Ballads 64:
A pirl of wynd through the key hole came.
Bch. 1944  Scots Mag. (Feb.) 370:
A pirl o' win' fae the bare, broon knowes brings the tang o' burnin' grouth.

4. A gentle poking or prodding movement, a stirring (Bnff. 1965). Bnff. 1866  Gregor D. Bnff. 126:
He keepit a pirl wee's finger in the hole.

5. A whirl, a toss (Sc. 1880 Jam.).

[It is not certain that all the meanings derive from the same orig. For v., 1., cf. Mid.Eng. pirl, to twist, and purl, to embroider with twisted thread. For v., 2. (3) cf. Eng. purl, to ripple, of a stream. The word is prob. orig. onomatopoeic, of frequentative formation, and associated with Pirr, v., and purr, Porr, with the gen. sense of stirring, setting in motion, rotating. O.Sc. pyrl, to poke, c.1475.]

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"Pirl v., n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 18 Dec 2017 <>



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