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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1965 (SND Vol. VI). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

MIRL, v.1, n.1 Also mir(r)le; mer(i)l, merel; murl (Ork.). See also Marl, v., n.2

I. v. 1. To speckle, to spot, to become spotted, to make a marbled pattern (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 114; Per., Cld. 1880 Jam.). Commonly in ppl.adjs. mirled, mirlit, -et, murled, merled (Jam.), speckled, mottled, marbled, variegated (Cld. 1825 Jam.; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; Ork. 1929 Marw.; Ork., ne. and em.Sc., Gall., Uls. 1963); mirlin, id. Comb. blue-mirled, = blue-merle, adj., see II.Slk. 1816 Hogg Poetic Mirror (1874) 172:
Hir [cat] culoris war the merilit heuis That dappil the krene berrye.
Sc. 1820 Blackwood's Mag. (Feb.) 568:
The merled neck and smooth breast of the Maivis.
Bnff. 1853 Banffshire Jnl. (3 May):
Gowns milk-white, and spraing'd, and mirlin'.
Bwk. 1862 J. G. Smith Old Churchyard 78:
The bachelor's cat was merled wi' the hue That dapples the east when the mornin' is new.
Sc. 1885 Times (4 June) 10:
Exhibition of Collies . . . A curiously marked blue mirled and white specimen.

2. Of honey: to become sugary and gritty through having been stored too long, prob. from its brown and white mottled appearance when in this state. Hence merlie, merling, see quot.Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 340:
When honey is in this state, it is said to be merlie; when it is beginning to grow this way, it merles; and when it is let go on, it is merling.

II. n. 1. A speckled, marbled or variegated appearance. Comb. blue merle, applied to collies and Shetland sheepdogs: adj., of a blue colouring flecked with black; n., a specimen of this colouring. Orig. Sc. but now St. Eng. in usage. Sc. 1983 John McDonald in Joy Hendry Chapman 37 44:
A single-end
in a waalie close,
wi mirle, sclaffert, bleibs,
and a kirkyaird hoast.

Deriv. mirlie, mirl(e)y, merly, murly, (1) adj. (i) speckled, mottled, variegated, dappled, roan, applied esp. to the mottled markings on certain birds and animals (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; m. and s.Sc. 1963) or to the sky when flecked with cirrus cloud (Ork. 1929 Marw., Ork. 1963). Comb. mirlie-backs, cirro-cumulus cloud-formations. Cf. Eng. mackerel-back, of clouds; (ii) of wool or knitted garments: of a flecked or mottled colouring due to strands of two or more colours being spun together (Ork., Kcb. 1963); (iii) of land: bearing a thin yield of grass so that the bare earth shows through in streaks and patches. Hence merlie-merkeet, with patches of grassland and ploughed land alternating; (iv) indistinct, blurred, hazy (wm.Sc. 1963); (2) n. (i) a small shawl of flecked wool worn by female mill-workers (Slk. 1963); (ii) a name for a cow with mottled or streaked markings (Arg.1 1937, murlie).(1) (i) Rnf. 1790 A. Wilson Poems 188:
What dolefu' ill, alas! what woe Gars thee sit mourning here below, And rive thy mirley breast?
Abd. 1831 Aberdeen Mag. 431:
“The mirlie backs,” said James in a tone of exultation, “are awa, sir, and now that we've had a plump o' rain, it will be fine weather.”
Per. 1889 T. Edwards Strathearn Lyrics 59:
There first the throstle's maiden hymn Wells freely frae his mirly breast.
Lnk. 1893 J. Crawford Sc. Verses 108:
Where the lintie lilts blithely To his wee mirly mate.
Kcb.3 1929:
Dr. Jamieson has explained this term as “flecked or spotted with large spots”, but mirlie means the spots running into each other, or very minute.
Uls. 1931 Northern Whig (15 Dec.) 10:
Mirley hen, a speckled hen.
wm.Sc. 1932 A. I. Douglas Muckleyett Players Rehearse 5:
The mirlie coo's no' weel.
Ayr. 1999:
Her legs are aw murlie.
(ii) Gsw. 1788 G. Turnbull Essays 208:
My Sunday's coat and bonnet I'll put on, My mirlie stockings, which my mither made.
(iii) Sc. 1862 Chambers's Jnl. (14 June) 381:
The lea is pronounced bad for the most part — trampled, short, mirly.
Rxb. 1925 E. C. Smith Mang Howes 17:
Plewed rigs an planteens — reed-land an greenery — dinkin its merly-merkeet braes.

2. In pl., the measles (Abd. 1808 Jam.; ne.Sc., Ags. 1963). For comb. grave-merles, see Grave, n., Comb. (3).Abd. 1887 Bon-Accord (20 Aug.) 17:
It will be shunned like the rinderpest, and hearts shut against it like school doors in a time of “mirrles”.
Sc. 1939 Scots Mag. (March) 420:
Onless the mirrles is on the roun', Or some siclike infection.

[Ad. O.Fr. merellé, chequered, mottled, from O.Fr. merel, a counter, a kind of game of chequers, or morris, now used for hopscotch. See variant form Marl, v., n.2]

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"Mirl v.1, n.1". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 29 May 2024 <>



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