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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1941 (SND Vol. II). Includes material from the 1976 and 2005 supplements.

BURN, n. Exclusively Sc. usages of Sc. and Eng. burn, stream. Dim. burnie.

1. “Water, particularly that which is taken from a fountain or well” (n.Sc. 1808 Jam.; Abd.22, Lnl.1, Arg.1 1937).Edb. 1773 R. Fergusson Sc. Poems (1925) 27:
What makes Auld Reikie's Dames sae fair? It canna be the halesome air, But caller burn beyond compare.

2. “The water used in brewing” (Ork. 1929 Marw.; n.Sc. 1808 Jam.); “the water used in washing. In both cases it is generally understood to denote water warmed, although not boiling” (n.Sc. 1825 Jam.2). Cf. Broonie, n.2Mry.(D) 1806 J. Cock Simple Strains 134:
Nae doubt, fan dead and in his urn, She'd gang, fell blyth, and heat her burn, And brew o' ma't a dainty curn, That very night.
Abd.(D) 1867 Mrs Allardyce Goodwife at Home xlviii.:
An' I maun jist lat aff my burn, The maat's weel socht, I'm sere.
Ayr. 1786 Burns Scotch Drink ix.:
An' just a wee drap sp'ritual burn in, An' gusty sucker!

3. “Urine” (n.Sc. 1808 Jam.; Lnl.1, Lnk.3 1937); also dim. burnie (Ayr.4 1928; Kcb.9 1937). Gen. in phr. to mak one's burn.Sc. 1720 A. Pennecuik Helicon 79:
First she behov'd for to make her Burn.
Rnf. 1788 E. Picken Poems, etc. 118:
Auld Harry never thought it wrang To work a turn; Or stap the very haly sang To mak his burn.

4. Phr.: to gang ower the burn, to “cross the river,” to die (Ags.1 1937).Ags.(D) 1893 Brechin Advertiser (28 March) 3/5:
But auld Sandy Munroe has gane ower the burn langsyne.

5. Combs.: †(1) burn-bearer, a water-carrier. Both men and women formerly performed the task of carrying water from the wells to the inhabitants, but an order passed in 1580 forbade women this practice (see Jam.6, s.v. burnmen); (2) burn(ie)-becker, burnie baker, the water-ousel, dipper, water-piet, Cinclus aquaticus; the pied wagtail, Motacilla lugubris (Gall. 1887 Jam.6; Kcb.9 1937, burnie-becker); †(3) burnblades, “a large broad leaved plant, which is found growing on the banks of burns” (Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 103), Petasites vulgaris; (4) burn-brae, -broo, “the acclivity at the bottom of which a rivulet runs” (Sc. 1825 Jam.2; Abd.22, Kcb.9 (-broo) 1937). Also attrib.; (5) burn causeway, a river-rounded stone. See Causey, n., 4.; (6) burn-drawer, a water-carrier, = (1); (7) burn-fish, a fresh-water fish; (8) burngate, a small watercourse; (9) burn-grain, “a small rill running into a larger stream” (Lnk. 1825 Jam.2); see Grain, n.2; still known as place-name (Abd.2 1937); (10) burn-head, the source or upper waters of a stream. See Heid, n., 4.; (11) burn-sae, “a cask for carrying water. This is slung on a pole (the sae-tree) which two persons carry” (Cai. 1907 D. B. Nicolson in County of Cai. 67). See Sae; (12) burn side, the side or valley of a stream. Gen.Sc.; (13) burn-stand, a water barrel. See Stand, n.2(1) Sc. 1701–1731 R. Wodrow Analecta (Maitland Club 1843) III. 212:
The Provost and merchants . . . drove the weemen who had got a drumm, and were burn-bearers . . . doun the Sautmarket.
(2) Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 103:
The . . . water-pyet . . . keeps its body in continual motion — beck-becking — hence the name burnbecker.
Gall. 1933 J. Corrie in Gallov. Annual 85:
The dippers he loved . . . “Burnie bakers” the glen folk called them; a name quaintly appropriate and well describing the dapper, dark-brown birds with their snowy throats and breasts.
Dmf. 1988 W. A. D. and D. Riach A Galloway Glossary :
burney-baker a water ousel.
(4) Ags. 1846 A. Laing Wayside Flowers (1857) 40:
I'll wander alone by the lanely burn-brae.
s.Sc. a.1870 H. S. Riddell Poet. Wks. (1871) I. 144:
The hames that sent the reek asclent The burn-brae heughs aboon.
(5) m.Lth. 1885 J. Strathesk More Bits 95:
The market-place proper was paved with rough burn causeway.
(6) Sc. 1799 Edb. Weekly Jnl. (3 April):
William M'Minn, a burn-drawer in Drumfries.
(7) s.Sc. 1837 T. T. Stoddart Angling Reminisc. 140:
Fife grilses, and twenty-nine sea-trout, along with a score of finnocks and burn-fish.
(8) Dmf. 1832–1867 T. Carlyle Reminisc. (1881) I. 36:
My father had tried all these things almost in boyhood. Every dell and burngate and cleugh of that district he had traversed, seeking hares and the like.
Rxb. 1937 J. Byers in Border Mag. (April) 60:
Great indeed have been the changes in this burngate [Larriston Burn].
(10) Dmf. 1902 A.E.M. Lilts frae the Border 68:
Frae the burnhead The nicht lang ye miss na its sweet singing voice.
(12) Sc. 1724 Ramsay T.-T. Misc. (1876) I. 179:
Waly, waly yon burn-side Where I and my love wont to gae.
Sc. 1896 Eyre-Todd Sc. Poet. 18th C. I. 5:
Ramsay, with his burnside scenery and pictures of shepherd life.
m.Sc. 1986 Colin Mackay The Song of the Forest 29:
The rider moved slowly. They thought he was going to water his mount, for the roan wandered by the burnside, and over the howe of the bright water-grass it dallied.
Ayr. a.1796 Burns in R. Chambers Pop. Rhymes (1870) 60:
Wee Robin flew awa' till he came to a bonny burn-side.
Dmf. 1900 in F. Miller Poets Dmf. 316:
Fu' blythe the birdies sing doun by yon burnside!
(13) Abd. 1706 Abd. Jnl. N. & Q. VII. 28:
Putting on four irone girds and two irone handels upon a burn stand.

6. Phr.: an up and down the burn man, a rough and ready, plain, unsophisticated person. Sc. 1857 Tait's Mag. (May) 271:
I'm an up and down the burn man, more shame may be to me, an' short in the memory.

[O.Sc. burn, bourn, (1) a brook or stream (occurring in place-names as early as c.1170); (2) water, esp. for use in brewing (from 1509) (D.O.S.T.); O.E. burna, a spring, fountain; water from a fountain or well.]

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"Burn n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 23 May 2022 <>



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