Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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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.2 Mry.(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. 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) burngate, a small watercourse; (6) burn-grain, “a small rill running into a larger stream” (Lnk. 1825 Jam.2); see Grain; still known as place-name (Abd.2 1937); (7) 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. (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.
(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) 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].

[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 26 Jul 2021 <>



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