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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.

BIRKIE, Birky, n.1 and adj. [′brk, ′bʌrk]

1. n.

(1) An active, smart, lively fellow, gen. young.Sc. 1824 Scott Redgauntlet, Letter x.:
That's something like it, man. Od, ye are a clever birkie!
Bch. 1929 (per Abd.1):
He wis a richt mirkie birkie, jist fu' o' idleseat.
Abd. 1930 D. Campbell Kirsty's Surprise 20:
I canna thole the wey thae Lunnon birkies tell sae mony lees.
Edb. 1773 R. Fergusson Sc. Poems (1925) 57–58:
Ah! willawins, for Scotland now, Whan she maun stap ilk birky's mow Wi' eistacks [dainties].
Lnk. 1922 T. S. Cairncross The Scot at Hame 41:
And they joked gangin' ower the tap, Stout birkies and fu' o' sap.
w.Dmf. 1929 J. L. Waugh in Sc. Readings, etc. (ed. T. W. Paterson) 12:
It's weel eneugh kenned that, birky tho' he be, he's just a bit o' putty in her hauns.

(2) A conceited fellow.Edb. 1866 J. Smith Merry Bridal, etc. 2:
Whaur swankin' birkies, daft wi' glee, . . . Hae met in mony a score.
Hdg. 1902 J. Lumsden Toorle, etc. 53:
And mind, my bouncin' birkie, what ye do.
Ayr. 1795 Burns Is there for Honest Poverty (Cent. ed.) iii.:
Ye see yon birkie ca'd “a lord,” Wha struts, an' stares, an' a' that?
Kcb. 1894 S. R. Crockett Raiders xviii.:
That's what auld Airie gies to young birkies like you that come in graund coats to play “Jook my jo” wi' his lasses.
Uls. 1987 Sam Hanna Bell Across the Narrow Sea 1:
'Dare ye give me lip, my birkie?' The old man started forward. 'You'll do as you're bid, or spend your days around Balwhinny as a horseboy!'

(3) (See quot.)Edb.3 1929; Edb.1 1934:
Birkie, a sharp-tongued, quick-tempered person (usually a woman). Sometimes used facetiously to a lively child.
[Prob. connected with Birk, v.1, to give a tart answer.]

Comb.: auld birkie, — birky (colloq.), “old boy.”Sc. 1725 Ramsay Gentle Shepherd Act II. Scene i. in Poems (1728) II.:
Spoke like ye'r sell, Auld-birky.
Mry.(D) 1824 J. Cock Hamespun Lays 114:
Guid-day, auld birkie, fu gaes a'?
Rnf. 1805 R. Tannahill Poems and Songs (1876) 38:
The twa auld birkies caper blythe an bauld.

2. adj.

(1) Lively, spirited.Ayr. 1821 Galt Annals iii.:
Kate being a nimble and birky thing.
Ayr. 1913 J. Service Memorables of Robin Cummell v.:
Daft Will Speir was ance a gleg and birkie loon.
Gsw. 1860 J. Young Poorhouse Lays 22:
Keep on the flair, ye birky elf! There hae yer brattles.

(2) Sharp or tart in speech; huffy, easily offended (Per. 1950).Ags. 1824 Literary Olio (20 March) 88/1:
I meant nae offence — sae, dinna be sae birkie.
s.Arg.2 1929:
He's a birkie sort o' chap, but there's nae ill in 'im.
Dmf. 1920 J. L. Waugh Heroes in Homespun (1921) 108:
Jerusalem! it's that birkie wife o' Queeny's. I promised her an empty box to haud some kitlin's.

(3) Pungent in taste, gassy. Fif. c.1880:
Fishwife after a loud belch: "Awfae birkie stuff, this limonade."

[The meanings of n. (3) and adj. (2) would suggest a connection with Birk, v.1 From the dates of quots. the noun function of birkie would seem to have preceded the adjectival. See also etym. note on Birk, n.4]

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"Birkie n.1, adj.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 30 Jun 2022 <>



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