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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 since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

BIRSE, Birss, Biss, n.1, v.1 Also Birsie (dim.)[bɪ̢̈rs, bʌrs Sc.; bɪs Ork.]

1. n. Gen.Sc.

(1) A bristle, hair.Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 338:
The Sowter gave the Sow a Kiss. Humph, quoth she, its [sic] for a Birse.
Mry.(D) 1897 J. Mackinnon Braefoot Sk. viii.:
The grave-digger picked up a “birse,” and suddenly busied himself redding his pipe.
Abd. 1990 Stanley Robertson Fish-Hooses (1992) 34:
Tessa got sic a fleg wi the auld man's ghost that haunted the place that she never ever worked late there again, even with ither workers roon aboot her. By the time Tessa wis finished ye could feel a birse rinning up yer spine.
Abd. 1993 Allan Massie These Enchanted Woods 53:
The buck watched as the others drank, dainty as ballerinas. Fiona and Caro also watched, from the fishing-hut across the angle of the water. Fiona laid her hand on Solomon's birse. 'Good dog, good dog.'
Per. 1895 R. Ford Tayside Songs 280:
It's saip them here, an' scrape them there — The case is really 'yont a' lauchter — Our toun-en's scarce o' hearts an' birse Thro' barber Willie's bonnie dauchter.
Lnk. 1887 A. Wardrop Poems, Songs, etc. 13:
The tousie-tailed collie lap richt on the tap o' me, cockit his birse, showed his white teeth, an' barkit like fury.

(2) The bristle fixed on the shoemaker's thread; sometimes the two combined.Ork. 1929 Marw.:
Biss, a bristle; spec. of a bristle on a pig and of the bristles used by shoemakers for fixing on the end of a thread.
Abd.(D) [1900] C. Murray Hamewith (1909) 21:
The cauper left his turnin' lay, the sooter wasna slaw To fling his lapstane in the neuk, the elshin, birse an' a'.
m.Sc. 1987 William Montgomerie in Joy Hendry Chapman 46 9:
Oh Saint Crispin!
what are we in thy sicht
but a set o easie-osie ulie-mooed bodies!
leather tae yark an leather tae bark
leather in o the hole an leather oot o the hole
inseam awls an ootseam awls
heel awls an peggin awls
bags o birse balls o roset
an batter i the neuk o the stool

(3) A sheaf or plume of bristles. In pl. with def. art., The Birses, a nickname for the Berwickshire Militia from the bristles in their caps (Sc. 1827 Blackwood's Mag. (June) 835).Lth. a.1885 J. Strathesk More Bits from Blinkb. (1885) 182:
A wee cockit hat on't like the birse on a yeomanryman's helmet.
Slk. 1886 T. Craig-Brown Hist. Selkirkshire II. vi.:
[In 1818] the Magistrates conferred the freedom of Selkirk upon all the members of the Royal Company [of Archers] who were present at dinner, observing all the ceremonies of the birse.

Phr. licking the birse. (See quot.)Slk. 1932 Times (20 June) 8/5:
The Duke of Buccleuch and his co-freemen [of Selkirk] went through the ceremony on Saturday of “licking the birse.” This is a sheaf of bristles from a wild boar skin and was used by the Souters in making their noted soled shoon. The Duke dipped the birse in wine and drew it between his lips. This was the symbol of his initiation as Souter.

(4) Beard.Abd.(D) 1928 J. Baxter A' Ae 'Oo' 32:
Watt wisna bonnie, be it said; Willie's birse ne'er bluntit blade.

(5) Anger, temper; by metonymy, an irascible person.Sc. 1816 Scott Antiquary xxi.:
He wad set up the tother's birse, and maybe do mair ill nor good.
Sc. 1794 "Tam Thrum" Look before ye Loup II. 11:
The birss of auld honest Britains was raised.
Sc. 1988 Scotsman (9 Sep) 10:
I suggest that a Scot is someone whose birse rises when patronising persons living south of Hadrian's Wall tell the barbarians how much they love the country ...
Sc. 1995 Scotsman (7 Feb) 13:
Take, for example, the declaration of "the birthright of everyone born in either jurisdiction to be part as of right of the Irish nation". This has set up the Unionists' birse, for it can be read, and therefore has been read, as an implicit recognition of Republican claims.
Ork. 1929 Marw.:
“To set up the b[iss],” means to get angry, show signs of ill-temper.
Cai. 1929 “Caithness Forum” in John o' Groat Jnl. (8 Nov.):
Ye've pitten Kirsty's birse up.
ne.Sc. 2004 Press and Journal (9 Feb) 12:
Weel, like the spleet-new tractor that got Mains's birse up, I wis seen "tae ken fit tribble meant", aa ower the heids o a paper clip an twa preen-heids for een that wis tae haunt ma computer screen.
ne.Sc. 2004 Press and Journal (7 Jun) 14:
Is't ony winner that those that cairry the deepest scars the day got their birse up fin the first meenister o oor Scottish Parliament decides that a fantoosh golf denner taks priority ower a visit tae Normandy tae pey respects tae those fa gave their lives that we micht live an tae acknowledge the sheer presence o the veterans fa waur tae mak that same hairtfelt journey?
Abd. 1824 G. Smith Douglas 41:
But ance his birse was raised, than wae to him That came 'aneath the knot e'en o' his thum'.
Abd. 1995 Flora Garry Collected Poems 18:
Bit fyles your birss begins to rise
An rummlins fae your thrapple birl
Ags. 1990s:
Ees birse is up: he's lost his temper.
m.Sc. 1920 “O. Douglas” Penny Plain xiii.:
But it's thae new folk that pit up ma birse.
m.Sc. 1979 Donald Campbell in Joy Hendry Chapman 23-4 (1985) 66:
Even as a teeny lass
ye tried my birse fu sair.
Sermons are as thowless as
the coorse clashin ye prefer.
m.Sc. 1982 Douglas MacLagan in Hamish Brown Poems of the Scottish Hills 159:
The Duke at this put up his birse,
He vowed, in English and in Erse,
That Saxon fit
Su'd never get
A'e single bit
throughout his yet
m.Sc. 1999 Rachel Yule in Moira Burgess and Donny O'Rourke New Writing Scotland 17: Friends and Kangaroos 159:
That was the sign for me tae gurr
Deep doon in ma thrapple;
Ma birse rose an ma fangs flashed.
They louped back, teeth chatterin.
'He's a one man dog,' my old boy smirked.
Arg.1 1932:
Tak my advice: dinna cross him when his birse is up.
Dmf. [1826] R. Chambers Pop. Rhymes (1870) 75:
This set up the wife o' Kittlerumpit's birse. In pl.
Sc. 1829 Wilson Noctes Amb. (1855) II. 175:
My birses being up, faith I challenged him . . . to rin him intil Embro' on shank's naigie.
Ayr. 1822 Galt Sir A. Wylie v.:
Ye're a deevil at a paik, when your birsies are up.
Kcb. 1893 S. R. Crockett Stickit Minister xiii.:
“‘Veesitor,' quo' she!” says John, with his birses up in a moment.
(6) A nickname for a small child with bristly hair. Cf. (3).Lnk. 1893 J. Crawford Verses 55:
Next is Babbie the birse, never kent to be blate.

2. v.

(1) To put a bristle on.Sc. 1896 A. Cheviot Proverbs 311:
That at auld St Andrews fair, A' the souters maun be there . . . And a' them that birse the thread; Souters out o' Mar.
Fif. 1909 Colville 134:
He [the sutor] beat the bend-leather on his lap-stane, drew his thread across the roset . . ., deftly birsed a fresh lingle end, or passed the gleaming elshon (awl) through his hair.
w.Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B. 57:
The shuimaker birsed his lingle-end.

(2) To flare up, get angry.Per. 1990 Betsy Whyte Red Rowans and Wild Honey (1991) 210:
I birsed a bit but said nothing.
Edb. 1828 D. M. Moir Mansie Wauch (1839) xxvi.:
“Haivers, haivers,” said Nanse, birsing up like a cat before a colley.
wm.Sc. 1988 Scotsman (9 Apr) 5:
I got equally birsed up with the word ascertain because my boss of the time was for ever asking me to ascertain this, that or the other.
Bwk. 1897 R. M. Calder Poems 205:
An' when taxed wi' the same we birse up defiant.

[O.E. byrst, bristle; Dan. börste; Du. borstel; Ger. borste; Sw. borst. For loss of r in Ork. biss cf. L.Bnff. hoss, puss, for horse, purse (see P.L.D. § 143), and also O.N. bust, a bristle (Torp), Norw. boste, id. Cogn. with Lat. fastigium, extreme edge.]

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"Birse ". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 16 Jun 2024 <>



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