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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1956 (SND Vol. IV). Includes material from the 1976 and 2005 supplements.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

GIRSE, n., v. Also gerse, girs(s), gers(s); †giss (U. Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. Intro. 4; see P.L.D. § 143). Sc. forms and usages of Eng. grass. Also in n.Eng. dial. For other forms, see Garse, n., v.2, Gress. [n. and sm.Sc. gɪ̢rs, em.Sc.(a) gɛrs]

I. n. 1. As in Eng. (Per. 1915 Wilson L. Strathearn 249; Sh., Ork., Abd., ‡Ags., Slg., ‡Fif., ‡Kcb. 1954).Abd. 1768 A. Ross Helenore 9:
Back with the haelsome girss in haste she hy'd, An' tentyly unto the sair apply'd.
Ags. 1794 W. Anderson Piper of Peebles 6:
Nane but meadow girs was mawn, An nane but hamit linjet sawn.
Fif. 1827 W. Tennant Papistry Storm'd 83:
And down upo' the gerss they gat, And there in raws rejoicin' sat.
Ayr. 1887 J. Service Dr Duguid 258:
Nor deer, nor sheep, nor ony beast that bites the gerse will ever gang frae Eglinton to reid their well again!
Kcb. 1894 Crockett Raiders xviii.:
There's a handfu' o' girse to brew mair milk.
Mry. 1897 J. Mackinnon Braefoot Sk. 164:
San'ers' “girse” was away up the brae beyond the manse glebe.
Sh. 1906 T. P. Ollason Spindrift 53:
Flag-stanes an' stane wa's on every haand, an' never a blade o' girss ta be seen.
Rxb. 1925 E. C. Smith Mang Howes 10:
The bairns new oot o the skuil for leave, gaed lowpin an rinnin aboot deike an gerss.
Fif. 1929 St Andrews Cit. (9 Feb.) 9:
Like springs that trickle doon the gerse.
m.Sc. 1979 George Campbell Hay in Joy Hendry Chapman 23-4 (1985) 85:
Brecken will grow, docken will grow,
gerss will grow an' crofts will grow;
heather will grow an' blade o gerss will grow.
m.Sc. 1982 Douglas MacLagan in Hamish Brown Poems of the Scottish Hills 158:
'Twas a' to poo
Some gerse that grew
On Ben Mac Dhu
That ne'er a coo
would care to put her mouth till.
wm.Sc. 1985 Liz Lochhead Tartuffe 38:
See! Ya snake-in-the gerss ye! Ye dampt disease
ne.Sc. 1986 Peter Mowatt in Joy Hendry Chapman 43-4 156:
"Muckle need o't. Jimmy Tarves, dicht yer beets on the gerss afore ye gin in. Dinna haiver, jist dee't."
Abd. 1996 Sheena Blackhall Wittgenstein's Web 13:
... a chukken hid deed efter foonerin, ferfochen, in the lang girse, ...
m.Sc. 1998 Lillias Forbes Turning a Fresh Eye 32:
Smoorin' a licht
Fae the lamp o' day,
Wi her eerie skenklin
Ower tree an scaur
Ower flauchtrin een o' yowes
In their happin o' gerse i' the mirk.

Hence grassy, adj., providing good pasture.Dmf. 1845 Stat. Acc.2 IV. 541:
The farms are all what is termed grassy or strong land.

2. A stalk or blade of grass (Abd.27 1954). Obs. since 17th c. in this sense in Eng., although still found occas. in pl.Kcd. 1889 Stonehaven Jnl. (14 Feb.) 3:
Ye wadna hae seen a girse on the Bervie Braes for fowk.
Mry. 1897 J. Mackinnon Braefoot Sk. 120:
Sandy produced his “clay” from his waistcoat pocket and applied a light, but the result was unsatisfactory. . . “Pit a girse up 'er, Maister Macwhirter,” said the goodwife.

3. A term applied to all herbs having green leaves (Sh. 1806 P. Neill Tour 93).

4. Comb. and attrib. uses: (1) grass-beef, beef of pastured cattle. Found in 16th c. Eng. but now only dial.; †(2) gerse-cauld, grass-cold, a slight cold or catarrh to which horses are subject; (3) grass-chat, the whinchat, Saxicola rubetra (Slg. 1885 Trans. Slg. Nat. Hist. & Arch. Soc. 61). Also in n.Eng. dial.; (4) gress-corn, corn grown in a field after a root crop (Sh. 1964). See Clean, III.; (5) grass-crop, in Mining: the outcrop (Sc. 1886 J. Barrowman Mining Terms 33); (6) grass duck, the widgeon, Mareca penelope; †(7) girse-fouk, gerss-, girss-, = girse-men, see (19) (n.Sc. 1825 Jam.); †(8) grass freeman, see quot.; †(9) girse-gaw, a chap or crack between the toes (Lnk. 1822 G. R. Kinloch MS. W.-L.); hence girse-ga(we)d, of toes: cut or chafed between “through walking barefoot in newly-cut grass” (Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 230; Sc. 1825 Jam.; Mry.1, Abd.8, Ags. 1925); (10) girse-gedderers,, used humorously of the mouth or lips (‡Abd.15 1949); (11) girse-guide, = (13) (Sh.10 1954); †(12) gershapper, a kind of spring = Eng. grasshopper-spring; (13) girse-heuk, the hooked metal cross-stay set in the angle of the shaft and blade of a scythe (Ork.5, Abd.15, Ags.18 1950), Eng. dial. grass-hook; †(14) grass holm, pasture-land by a river, see Howm, n., 1.; †(15) girse-house, the cottage occupied by a girse-man (Ags. 1808 Jam., gerss-, girss-), see (20); †(16) grass-ill, (a) a disease amongst lambs, a form of Braxy, q.v.; (b) an illness amongst horses (Ags. 1916 Dundee Advertiser (24 May)); †(17) grass-keeper, a man hired to guard pasture-land from trespassing cattle, see quot.; †(18) gersslouper, a grasshopper (n.Sc. 1808 Jam.); †(19) grass-mail, -meal, payment for pasturage; †(20) girse-man, grass-, a sub-tenant of a farmer who in return for certain duties had the use of a cottage or grass-house and of grazing for a cow; “this word, though now not in general use, is perfectly intelligible to elderly people in Aberdeenshire” (Jam.2); †(21) grass-meal, see (19); (22) grass-nail, = (13) (Abd. 1835 Trans. Highl. Soc. X. 187; Cai. 1900 E.D.D.; Cai.7 (gress-), Ags., Arg.3, sm.Sc. 1954); common in Eng. dial.; (23) grass owl, the short-eared owl, Asio flammeus (Bnff. 1876 S. Smiles Naturalist 397); (24) girse (grass) park, a grass field, a pasture (Abd.4 1933, girse-; Bwk. 1942 Wettstein; Cai.7, ne.Sc., Kcb.9 1954); †(25) grass-pile, a blade of grass; (26) girs-puckle, a grass-seed (Sh.10 1954); (27) grass-reest, the swathe-board of a reaping machine (Kcb.10 1954); see Reest; (28) grass-ring, a mark on a horse's hoof due to infection caused by exposure to wet grass; (29) grass sickness, (a) = (16); (b) see first quot.; †(30) girse-strae, hay (Sh. 1866 Edm. Gl.); †(31) gerss-tack, “the tack or lease which a gerss-man has; sometimes, a lease in consequence of which the tenant has no benefit of the grass on the farm, for the first year” (Ags. 1808 Jam.).(1) Per. 1799 J. Robertson Agric. Per. 371:
These [cattle] are disposed of to English and south country drovers, for grass-beef, after being fattened, the same season, in gentlemen's parks and other luxurious pastures.
m.Sc. 1954 Scotsman (27 March) 3:
An excellent selection of well-bred West of Ireland Bullocks suitable for early grass beef.
(2) Dmf. 1812 W. Singer Agric. Dmf. 380:
There is a grass-cold, as the farmers call it, that seldom does much harm or lasts long.
(6) Arg. 1954 Bulletin (4 March):
The widgeon or “grass-ducks” could be heard cropping the exposed grass and duckweed.
(8) Sc. 1745 Elchies Decisions App. II. No. 22:
They also found that Grass Freemen, (as they were called,) i.e. Honorary Freemen, had no right to vote in the election of Deacons of Craft.
(9) Kcb. 1815 J. Gerrond Poems 81:
The herd's twa girsga'd taes are mend.
Kcd. 1853 Stonehaven Jnl. (24 May) 2:
“Hackit” heels and . . . “girse-gawed” toes.
Abd. 1915 H. Beaton Back o' Benachie 25:
I hiv girssgaws atween maist o' ma taes, an' a corn or twa, an' they are like tae sen' me fair daft.
(10) Bch. 1929 per Abd.1:
Yer curried rabbit perlag [trash] sud heat their girse-gedderers til them.
(12) Sc. 1832 Tait's Mag. (Nov.) 206:
A'm no sure but a ha'e an auld gershapper that may do a' the turn till ye win hame.
(14) Sc. 1818 Scott H. Midlothian xlix.:
It [money] wad be better laid out on yon bonny grass holms, than lying useless here in this auld pigg.
(15) Abd. 1722 Monymusk Papers (S.H.S.) 9:
The Grasse House possest by Jas. Anguse with the Byre . . . £5. 13. 4. Scots.
(16) (a) Sc. 1807 Trans. Highl. Soc. III. 351:
When about three weeks old and beginning to make grass . . . their food . . . a straggling lamb or two will sometimes die of what is called the Grass ill.
Bwk. 1824 Farmer's Mag. (Feb.) 84:
Both feeding Cattle and Sheep are making fair progress, and the store flocks are in medium condition. There has been almost no loss this season by what is called the Grass-ill or Braxy.
(17) Arg. 1795 Stat. Acc.1 XIV. 197, Note:
The particular situation of the country has given rise to grass-keepers or chasers. In many parts, there are no kind of march walls . . . The consequence is, that every farm is obliged to keep a man to look after the marches, without any other employment . . . Moor-herds are employed to look after their master's cattle in moors and hills; and his terms are generally the same with grass-keepers.
(19) Arg. 1722 Compt Bk. McNeill of Carskey:
Jany. 9th. I am to allow to Sd Lauchlan Tuo lib. Six Shill. Scots in pairt paymt of forsd grasmeal.
Gall. 1742 Session Bk. Penninghame (1933) II. 377:
Grass meal for two stots got from Samuel M'Clain . . . £2.
Dmf. 1779 Dmf. Weekly Jnl. (March) 23:
Black Cattle, Horses and Sheep, will be taken in on Grass-mail at Whitsunday, for the season.
Clc. 1795 Stat. Acc.1 XIV. 634:
The stipend consists of 24 bolls of barley . . . exclusive of 40 l. Scotch for communion elements, and 20 l. Scotch for grass mail.
Per. 1799 J. Robertson Agric. Per. 322:
The grass-meal of a sheep, as the lands are now let, is valued at two or three shillings.
(20) Abd. 1735 Monymusk Papers (S.H.S.) 32:
The said James Moore obliges himself and forsaids, not to allow or have any grassmen or crofters, nor any other families besides his own upon the said possession.
Abd. 1870 J. B. Pratt Buchan 23:
A grassman was allowed, in lieu of part fee in money, to keep a stirk along with the gudeman's herd. Another less common arrangement was, that the grassman, in addition to a house and kale-yard, had a cow fed, not with the farmer's cows, but with his herd of young cattle.
(22) Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 240:
Grassnail. A long piece of hooked iron, which has one end fixed to the blade of a scythe, and the other to the scythe's handle; so that (as mowers say), “her runt may sleep steady i' the den”.
Sc. 1844 H. Stephens Book Farm III. 850:
The blade [of the scythe] is . . farther secured by the grass-nail.
(24) Hdg. a.1801 R. Gall Poems (1819) 38:
— A brown stot That frae the grass park we ha'e brought.
Dmf. 1836 A. Cunningham Lord Roldan I. ix.:
As if she were fit for pasturage, and ye were portioning her into grass-parks.
Kcb. 1896 Crockett Cleg Kelly lv.:
The nineteen years' lease of Sandyknowes — its grass parks and its gardens.
(25) Sc. 1746 E. Erskine Wks. (1871) III. 320:
The rocks and trees and grass piles.
s.Sc. 1847 H. S. Riddell Poems 69:
The very grass-piles love to share The pressure of her feet.
(26) Sh. 1877 G. Stewart Fireside Tales 42:
Dere's da . . . kye never hed der stakes muved . . . nor a lempit taen fir gettin' a bone o' fish wi' . . . nor a girspuckle for da beas' meat at nicht.
(28) Sc. 1900 Trans. Highl. Soc. XII. 249:
The effect of this [heavy rain] on the hoofs is seen in the appearance of parallel rings, usually known as "grass-rings," running round the hoofs parallel to the coronet.
(29) (a) Rxb. 1914 Kelso Chron. (11 Dec.) 4:
On diseased land . . . the lambs begin to die daily of louping-ill, grass-sickness.
Dmf. 1915 Trans. Highl. Soc. XXVII. 87:
Lambs dying of grass sickness in May.
(b) Sc. 1923 Daily Mail (18 June) 7:
The disease in horses known as grass sickness which first appeared in Forfarshire in the summer of 1909. . . . The principal symptoms are paralysis of the palate and gullet, causing inability to swallow.
Sc. 1951 Trans. Highl. Soc. LXIII. 48:
The investigations upon which the Association has been engaged in recent years are being continued. These include grass sickness in horses. . . .

II. v. 1. To pasture, put to grass, esp. in (1) vbl.n. girsan, gersin(g) (Jam.6), grassing, pasturage, grazing, place for grazing cattle; also attrib.; (2) ppl.adj. girsin', “fit to be put to grass” (Gregor); also †(3) ppl.adj. grassed, of a golf-club (esp. a driver): having a spooned or backward-sloping face to give loft (Sc. 1887 Golfing (Chambers) 93).Ayr. 1767 Burgh Rec. Prestwick (M.C.) 100:
Having perambulate the pasturage ground belonging to Prestick, and haveing considered how many cattle may be grassed thereon.
Ayr. a.1851 A. Aitken Poems (1873) 100:
Wi' an auld worn-out mare, worth about five sterling pounds, Whilk he grass'd on the king's highway.
Kcb. 1897 66th Report Brit. Ass. 493:
Every Knowe Would grass a yowe.
Ayr. 1902 J. Macintosh Irvinedale 199:
The toon has grassed a cuddy, man.
(1) Abd. 1766 Aberdeen Jnl. (6 Jan.):
The Lands are of very great Extent, have a large good summer Grassing at their Back.
Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 63:
The fairmir sent's earals awa t' the girsan yesterday.
Abd. 1880 G. Webster Crim. Officer 38:
Fine weather for the crap — I haena seen a better girsin' sizzon for years.
(2) Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 225:
He hiz a puckle fine girsin' earals.
Abd. 1875 W. Alexander My ain Folk 99:
Aw'm gyaun doon to the market the morn to see foo girsin' beasts 's sellin'.
(3) Fif. 1857 H. B. Farnie Golfer's Manual 17:
The grassed driver is also used to effect distance when the ball happens to lie in one of three situations; when it is among soft grass; or on the downwards slope of a hillock; or when a hazard looms dangerously in front of the stroke. The peculiarity of this club is, that in addition to sending the ball well away, it raises it considerably in the air.

2. To turn out of office (n.Sc. 1825 Jam., girse, girss); “this term is well known in the Councils of Boroughs. When a member becomes refractory, or discovers an inclination to be so, the ruling party vote him out at the next election. This they call gerssing him; also, turning him out to gerss, or a gerssing” (Jam.2 s.v. gerss). See also Garse, v.2, and cf. 1902 quot. above where there is a play on both meanings.Sc. 1763 Scots Mag. (July) 380:
When they are not continued a second year, they are said to be grased, (a term of dishonour), if not elected into another office.
Ags. 1776 First Hist. Dundee (Millar 1923) 155:
The Provost . . . commonly is Two year in his Office, unless there were any malmanagement then they would bring him doun at the end of his first year, which is called girsing him, and choice a new Provost in his room.

[O.Sc. has gyrs, girs(e), gers(e), n., from 1375, v., to graze, pasture, from 1520, gerse beiff, 1545, gress hous, 1607, girs maill, 1490, gersman, 1359, gers pile, 1513; O.North. gers, O.E. gærs, græs, O.Fris. gers.]

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"Girse n., v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 22 May 2024 <>



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