Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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BIRL(E), Birrel, v.1 and n. [brl, bʌrl]

1. v., tr. and intr.

(1) To revolve rapidly, whirl round, dance; to make a rattling or whirring noise. Sc. 1924 Glasgow Herald (13 Sept.) 4/8:
In rantin' reel or blythe strathspey That set the dresser dishes birlin'.
Sc. 1933 W. Soutar Seeds in the Wind 16:
Roun' wi' a thoum, an' roun' wi' a thoum; Here's wee Wullie Wabster birlin' at his loom.
Mry. 1865 W. H. L. Tester Poems 156; Sh.4 1934:
The kettle birlin' ower the heat.
Abd.(D) 1928 J. Baxter A' Ae 'Oo' 20:
Hark the skip, “Soop up! Soop up! Birl, ye beauty! nail the cup!”
Hdg. 1876 J. Teenan Song and Satire 5:
He birled me roond like Nannie's wheel.
Lnk. 1923 G. Rae 'Mang Lowland Hills 59:
He birlet roond, an' aye the soond Was “Waes me, waes me, hell's deep pit.”
Uls.(D) 1879 W. G. Lyttle Readings by Robin 21:
Sumbuddy tippit me on the shou'der. I birled roon, and there wuz the very boy I had haen the row wae.

ppl.adj. birlan, whirring, revolving. Cai. 1930 John o' Groat Jnl. (21 Feb.) 2/2:
Then cam' 'e happy years til Willie's mill, 'E birlan peenyans dronan a' 'e day. vbl.n. birlin, a rattling noise.
Bnff. 1884 C. Neill in Bnffsh. Jnl. (11 Nov.) 2:
It broke the birlin in his throat.

(2) To move rapidly, hurry along. Sc. 1932 G. Rae in Border Mag. (Feb.) 23:
I maun be steppin' for the sun's gan birlin' doon.
Ags. 1824 Literary Olio (20 March) 81/1:
Ye'll soon birl inby, into that machine, and it's a braw nicht, sae I winna hae a nasay.
Kcb. 1789 D. Davidson Seasons 67:
Fast to the Kirk the callan birl'd, An' the door snack he quickly twirl'd.
Rxb.(D) 1925 E. C. Smith Mang Howes and Knowes 24:
It was nae teime owregane or oo war birlin owre the Trow Burn leike five ell o wund.

ppl.adj. birlin, bustling. Edb. 1915 T. W. Paterson Auld Saws 82:
Cast aff yer coat, an' buckle to the darg; Fauld up yer sleeves, an' till't wi' birlin speed.

(3) To toss a coin to decide as to who should begin a game or pay a score; to club money for drink; hence in gen. to spend money, esp. in phrases like birl the bawbee. Sc. 1721 Ramsay Poems, Gloss.:
Birle, to drink. Common people joining their farthings for purchasing liquor, they call it birling a bawbie.
Sc. 1818 Scott Rob Roy xxviii.:
I'll pay for another [tass of brandy] . . . and then we'll birl our bawbees a' round about, like brethren.
Sc. 1921 “K.O.S.B.” in Scotsman (18 May):
As a boy (only 25 years ago) I used the word “birl,” . . . as meaning to toss or spin a coin. . . . “Let's birl for sides,” [was] quite common.
Abd. 1770–1780 A. Watson The Wee Wifeikie (1921) 8:
I met wi' kindly companie, I birl'd my bawbie.
Fif. 1841 C. Gray Lays and Lyrics 178:
When I've a bawbee in my pouch, I aften birl it frank and free.
Edb. 1721 A. Pennecuik Streams from Helicon 79:
But the Farmers coming in to birle their Placks, We left the drunken Carles to their awn Cracks.
Lth., Rxb. 1825 Jam.2:
Children put half-pence on their fingers to birl them, as they express it, in the low game of Pitch-and-toss.

Hence birling, vbl.n., carousal; a drinking-match in which the drink is clubbed for. [Cf. Birl, v.2, 2.] Sc. 1824 Scott Redgauntlet, Letter xi.:
We are no ganging to the Laird's, but to a blithe birling at the Brokenburn-foot.

(4) To whistle. w.Sc. 1932 A. H. Charteris When the Scot Smiles 275:
“Birling” fiercely . . . at an imaginary Corporation tram that blocked the way.
Lnk. 1923 J. S. Martin Scottish Earth 39:
The bark comes aff, it's [whistle] hallowed oot, And birlin' like a train.

2. n.

(1) A turn, twist. Ayr. 1852 M. Lockhead Poems and Songs 95:
I'll hae a birrel at “Jenny's bee” [bawbee].
Uls.1 c.1920:
Birl, a quick turn.

(2) A rattling, ringing noise. Edb. 1895 J. Tweeddale Moff 18:
She exclaimed “Bang goes a guinea wi' a birl!”
Dmf. 1823 J. Kennedy Poems 88:
I've likewise got uncannie hotches Frae thoughtless Jehus driving coaches, Wha past me o'er wi' sic a birrel That made my vera back to dirrel.

(3) A brisk dance. Ags. 1879 J. Guthrie Poems 48:
The lassies noo wad like a dancc — They're aye keen for a birl.
Dwn.(D) 1886 W. G. Lyttle Sons of the Sod i.:
There's a lass hasnae had a birl yet; that chesnut yin wi' the white face.

(4) “A policeman's whistle” (Gsw. 1914 F.P. in T.S.D.C. I. 21; Ags.1 1934; Ayr.4 1928). Slg. 1932 W. D. Cocker Poems 138:
Then a big, feckless polisman birl't on his birl.

(5) A drive in a conveyancc; syn. “hurl.” Sc. 1921 J. B. Thomson in Scotsman (25 May):
While enjoying the drive in the horsebrake from Colinton to Craiglockhart car terminus, the driver revived a boyhood's word by remarking, “Oh, aye, it's a fine wee birl!”

(6) A thrust (in words). Dwn. 1912 F. E. S. Crichton The Precepts of Andy Saul (1913) 26:
A'm not wishin' ill till anny Catholic hereabouts, but A'd thravel miles till hear the Rev. Northey takin' a birl at the Pope.

[Prob. onomat. in origin. O.Sc. has birl-quheil, a spinning-wheel, 1612 (D.O.S.T.).]

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"Birl(e) v.1, n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 31 May 2020 <>



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