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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1941 (SND Vol. II). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

BROONIE, Brownie, Brouny, Brunie, n.1 A benevolent household sprite, usually shaggy and of peculiar shape, who haunted houses, particularly farm-houses, and, if the servants treated him well, performed many tasks of drudgery for them while they were asleep; a goblin or evil spirit — in this latter sense approaching more nearly to brown man, see Broon, 2 (1). This sinister association seems to be common in Shetland. Gen.Sc., but now gen. accepted in Eng. [′bruni, ′brʌuni]Sh. 1701 J. Brand Descr. Ork., Zetland, etc. 112:
Not above 40 or 50 Years ago, almost every family had a Brouny or evil Spirit so called, which served them, to whom they gave a Sacrifice for his Service.
Cai. 1992 James Miller A Fine White Stoor 108:
Every mouthful slid down his throat with a silken smoothness and in his brain all the dragons, kelpies, slithering beasties, bogles, warlocks, dinosaurs and brownies stirred and awakened, flashed their red eyes and girned, plotting mischief.
Abd. 1879 G. Macdonald Sir Gibbie I. xviii.:
In a broken voice, low, and solemn, and fraught with mystery, she said, “Donal, it's the broonie!”
Ags. 1901 W. J. Milne Reminisc. of an Old Boy, App. 291:
Then neist cam a broonie, baith gruesome an' grim.
Per. 1990 Betsy Whyte Red Rowans and Wild Honey (1991) 81:
' ... Of course he's also asked them to stay for dinner. The bloody nerve of that man! Excuse me swearing, girls. He kens that I have more than enough to do tomorrow. Ella is a good help, but, God Almighty, we're not broonies. ... '
w.Sc. 1703 M. Martin Descr. Western Islands 67:
Below the Chappels there is a flat thin Stone, call'd Brownies Stone, upon which the ancient Inhabitants offered a Cow's Milk every Sunday, but this Custom is now quite abolish'd.
Ayr. 1809 W. Craw Poet. Epistles 45:
Mony a hellish fiend was there, Wi' brunies, spunkies, pair by pair.

Combs.: (1) brownie-bae, id.; (2) Brownie Clod, id.(1) Bch. 1804 W. Tarras Poems 3:
But there comes Robie, flaught-braid down the brae; How wild he glowrs, like some daft brownie-bae.
(2) Mry. 1887 J. Thomson Recoll. Speyside Par. xi.:
“Brownie Clod” does not appear to have had a local habitation. He was a wandering spirit that delighted to travel from place to place, and among poor folks, with his nightly pranks.

[O.Sc. brounie, brownie, brunie, the benevolent sprite or goblin so called, from broun, adj. (D.O.S.T.). Originally Sc., earliest date in D.O.S.T. c.1500; first genuinely Eng. quot. in N.E.D. 1847.]

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"Broonie n.1". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 8 Dec 2022 <>



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