Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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BIRK, n.1 [brk + ɛ + ʌ]

1. The birch tree, betula alba. Gen.Sc. Also used in northern Eng. (E.D.D.). Sc. 1728  Ramsay Poems II. 99:
Some loo to keep their Skins frae Lirks, Some loo to woo beneath the Birks.
Sc. 1832  A. Henderson Sc. Proverbs 74:
Birk will burn, be it burn drawn [i.e. drawn through a burn]; Sauch will sab, if it were simmer sawn.
m.Sc. 1917  J. Buchan Poems 48:
Twae glandered mears, a dwaibly stirk, Hens, ae auld wife, a wauflike birk — That's whaur I dwal.
Fif. 1710  R. Sibbald Fife and Kinross 161:
We meet first to the West, Corbie, called also Birkhill, from a Park of Birks surrounding the House to the South.
Dmf. 1908  J. L. Waugh Robbie Doo (2nd ed.) vii.:
A mavis frae a silver birk was singin' a lullaby.

Comb.: birk wine. (See quots.) Sc. 1929  F. M. McNeill The Scots Kitchen 236:
Birk wine, juice from the birch tree, sugar, raisins, almonds, crude tartar.
Abd. 1934 19 (Deeside) :
In my early schooldays at Inchmarnoch we used to tap a birch tree a foot or so from the ground and insert in the hole a pen nib or other sma' spoot, so that the sap might drip into a subjacent cup. In my recollection the stuff was gey wauch and usually dirty, but it was drunk neat and uncompounded. We called it birk-wine.

2. In pl., a small wood consisting mainly of birches. Gen.Sc. Edb. 1798  D. Crawford Poems, etc. 37:
An' ithers sing o' winding Tay, An' eke the Birks of Invermay.
Ayr. 1794  Burns Birks of Aberfeldie (Cent. ed.) i.:
Come, let us spend the lightsome days In the birks of Aberfeldie!

Hence birkie, adj., clad with birch trees. Rxb. 1847  J. Halliday Rustic Bard 263:
We totter through the birkie bank, an' doiter owre the brae.
[Prob. a variant of Birken.]

3. “Spars made of birch laid horizontally on the couples of a roof and running from gable end to gable end” (Cai.3 1934). Ork. 1734  Ork. Inventory in Ork. Antiq. Soc. (1923) 65:
Three sufficient harrows and harrowing irons . . . three new birks.
Cai. 1916  John o' Groat Jnl. (31 March):
The fire-end or kitchen was first built. . . . The “birks” were laid on, then the “sma' wud,” the divots and floss, the whole being well tied down with “simmons” [ropes of straw, etc.] and “benleens.”

4. (See quots.)

(a) “Birk, the bark of a tree; birchwood” (Sh. 1914 Angus Gl.).

(b) “Birk, the outer skin on big tangles. Same word orig. as Eng. bark” (Ork. 1929 Marw.).

5. Phrases: both expressive of absolute bareness. (See quots.) Cf. Birkie, n.3 (1) Sh. 1908  Jak. (1928):
As bare as de b[irk] a jøl-day, of something very bare and naked.
(2) Sh. 1934 7 :
As bare as da birk o' Yule e'en . . . was commonly applied in describing anything that was particularly bare and naked.

[O.N. bjrk, birch or bark, O.E. beorc, Dan. birk, Ger. birke.]

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"Birk n.1". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 8 Dec 2019 <>



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