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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1934 (SND Vol. I). Includes material from the 1976 and 2005 supplements.
This entry has not been updated but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

AIRN, Ern, Irne, n. Also used attrib. as adj. [əirn I.Sc., n.Sc., em.Sc.(a); ɛrn wm. and sm.Sc. + e, e.Dmf., Ant.; ern em.Sc.(b), Kcb.; ærn s.Sc. + ɛrn. ə is often heard between ǣr and n.]

A. As n.

1. (The metal) iron. Also fig.Sc. 1822 Scott Pirate v.:
They looked as like whingers as ae bit airn can look like anither.
wm.Sc. 1985 Liz Lochhead Tartuffe 5:
There's nae airn sae hard but rust'll fret it.
There's nae cloth sae fine but moths'll eat it.
wm.Sc. 1986 Robert McLellan in Joy Hendry Chapman 43-4 21:
... Sandy MacMillan was tryin to strauchten a crookit swee. He brocht up some coal because he said it wad saften the airn better.
Rnf. 1815 W. Finlayson Simple Sc. Rhymes 113:
Thy smiles wad saften a bosom o' airn.
w.Dmf. 1908 J. L. Waugh Robbie Doo xii.:
Strike when the ern is hot.

2. (Metonymy.) Sword; pl. fetters; horse-shoe(s); other objects or implements made of iron.Sc. 1893 R. L. Stevenson Catriona xii.:
Here, stand up, out with your airn.
Sc. a.1802 Kinmont Willie in Ballads ed. Child (1904) No. 186 xxxix.:
At every stride Red Rowan made, I wot the Kinmont's airns playd clang.
Sc. 1819 J. Rennie St Patrick I. xi. 163:
“Are the' ony mae o' ye hereawa wad like to pree the airn?” said the victorious youth to the dying warrior.
Lnk. 1881 A. Wardrop Poems, etc. 98:
I'm sure they twa are fair diverts, Aye in the fire as mony airns.
Gsw. 1877 A. G. Murdoch The Laird's Lykewake, etc. 34:
Frae screigh o' day till aucht o' nicht I there had stuid my waukit legs on, An' ca'd new airns a gey wheen naigs on.
Lnk. 1919 G. Rae 'Tween Clyde and Tweed 39:
A pair o' auld ploo airns.
Kcb. 1894 S. R. Crockett Raiders vii.:
“It's likely,” said he, “that ye may hae some wark wi' your shootin' airns.”
Slk. a.1835 Hogg Tales, etc. (1837) V. 167:
They say . . . that wherever he sets his foot, the grass withers as gin it war scoudered wi' a het ern.
Uls. 1880 W. H. Patterson Gl. Ant. and Dwn. 2:
Airns, or Plough Airns, the coulter, sock, etc., of a plough.

B. As adj.m.Sc. 1988 William Neill Making Tracks 55:
Dae they mind on us, the trees, in the grey touns
whaur a tree is anither thing in a Cooncil Park
lik a widden bink, aw thir tame beds o flouers
in couthie suburbs hapt wi an airn dyke,
nae mair a pairt o thair realitie
nor fremit beasts in a faur ceetie zoo?
Lnk. 1997 Duncan Glen From Upland Man 10:
And mony tools hung
on the waw. Mell and haimmer,
aix and saw. And in the corner
a free-staunin airn fire wi lang black lum
raxin to the roof.
Ayr. 1789 Burns Grose's Peregr. vi.:
Rusty airn caps and jinglin jackets.
Gall.(D) 1901 Trotter Gall. Gossip 164:
A poke o' meal hingin in front o' the saiddle' an' an airn plate aneath't.
Slk. a.1835 Hogg Tales, etc. (1837) VI. 94:
Ye'll draw an Englishman by the gab easier than drive him wi' an airn gaud.

C. Combs.: airn-gray, of a grey steely colour; airn-soupld, fitted with an iron “souple” (= striking part of a flail. See Souple).Ayr. 1824 A. Crawford Tales Grandmother 275:
The fruit on my three airn-gray groset busses.
Gall. 1885 J. S. McCulloch in Bards of Gall. ed. Harper (1889) 50:
Nae weapon had Geordie — targe, claymore, nor spear, But an airn-soupled Galloway flail.

D. Phrase: New aff the irnes, “a phrase used with respect to one who has recently finished his studies, S[cotland]. . . . Its determinate application seems to have been to money newly struck, which retained not only the impression but the lustre” (Jam.). For St.Eng. N.E.D. gives only a 1683 quot.Edb. 1894 P. H. Hunter J. Inwick 18:
Ye see, there were twa candidates on the short leet for the Pairish o' Snawdon — baith birkies new aff the airns. So, fresh off the erns, but used in a more gen. sense in the foll. example.
Ayr. 1795 Burns Poems (Kinsley 1968) II. 754 note:
A Scots lilt new off the airns.
w.Dmf. 1917 J. L. Waugh Cute McCheyne (1929) 55:
It struck me that . . . he had come — fresh off the erns, as it were — to me in either peace or war.

[O.E. īren, īsen, īsern; Sw. järn, Dan. jern, O.N. jārn, isarn, O.I. iarann, Gael. iarunn, Ger. eisen, Goth. eisarn. Gen. supposed to have been borrowed by Germ. languages from Celtic. O.Sc. has irn(e) and (later) airn. The əi form in ne.Sc. comes from O.E. īren; the ɛ and e forms prob. from Scand. sources. The Un. Eng. Dict. considers the above forms to be cogn. with Goth. ais, brass, money, O.E. ār, r, brass, copper, Lat. aes, copper, but Falk and Torp regard this as uncertain.]

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"Airn n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 8 Dec 2022 <>



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