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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1968 (SND Vol. VII). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

PEERIE, adj. Also peeri, peery, pierie, pirie (Ork. 1891 Harvie-Brown and Buckley Fauna Ork. 23), pir(r)i (Jak.); perrie (Sh. 1918 T. Manson Peat Comm. 187), phs. a misprint. Also Superl. peeriest. Cf. Peedie. [′piri]

1. Small, little, tiny (Sh., Ork. 1808 Jam.; Fif., Lth. 1825 Jam.; Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928); Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; I.Sc., ‡Cai. 1965). Reduplic. forms peerie-weerie (Ork., Ayr. 1825 Jam.; Sh., Ork. 1866 Edm. Gl.), also used as a n., a tiny creature (Ayr. 1825 Jam.; Sh., Per. 1965); peerie-(weerie)-winkie, -wunk (Sh. 1825 Jam., 1866 Edm. Gl.), extremely small, “teeny-weeny”, also sim. used as a n. (Edb. 1876 J. Smith Archie and Bess 3, -wunk). See also 2. (14).Sh. 1871 R. Cowie Shetland 149:
The peerie steamer — as the natives call her, in contradistinction to the larger one trading to the south.
Ork. 1884 Crofters' Comm. Report App. A. LIX. 275:
The peerie t'ing — that is the baby — lies i' his mither's bosom, the ain next the peerie t'ing lies i' mine.
Cai. 1891 D. Stephen Gleanings 141:
The “Peerie bonnets” had a cow for sale, a proper enough looking beast.
Sh. 1891 J. Burgess Rasmie's Büddie 80:
An sün her peerie winkie haands O' cockaloories bricht wis fu.
Sh. 1899 J. Spence Folk-Lore 180:
Fur ta buy a bull's skin Ta row peerie weerie in.
Ork. 1907 Old-Lore Misc. I. ii. 62:
He bed i' a peerie bit o' tecket hoose abeun the Burn o' Villis.
Ork. 1929 E. Linklater White-Maa's Saga 72:
The warld's nae comin' to an end for a peerie while yet.
Ags. 1930 A. Kennedy Orra Boughs xxxvii.:
For hoo could ye be normal livin' aye in that peerie-weerie heid o' yours?
Sh. 1937 J. Nicolson Restin' Chair Yarns 91:
Bigger as a loose, Peerier as a moose.
Cai. 1955 Edb. John o' Groat Lit. Soc.:
Ma last story eboot coortan peerie Maggie.
m.Sc. 1982 Stewart McGavin in Hamish Brown Poems of the Scottish Hills 38:
the mists smoor
hale mountain waas
turn peerie craigs tae
inaccessible pinnacles
an sheddaes tae
bleezan bogles.
Ags. 1988 Raymond Vettese The Richt Noise 71:
The lang notes dwinnil or naething's heard
but peeriest soond an' syne nocht ava, ...
Dundee 1988 Ellie McDonald in Joy Hendry Chapman 54 29:
Yon peerie bairnies
chappin at yer door
ken a sang ye maun hae tint
lang years afore.
Abd. 1991 George Bruce in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 21:
I thocht o the bearers o the chyne o life
that would gang on and on or lang deid this haund,
and yet the mair I vrocht at thocht
the mair I kent hoo peerie was the thocht.
Fif. 1991 William Hershaw in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 168:
Afore we ken a peerie piece o our place,
O our circumstance, let the cruel cloods crak!
Sh. 1993 Herald (28 May) 3:
Peeved for "Peerie" [heading] ...Shetland Conservative Association honorary president Grace Halcrow was "disappointed" that Mr Lamont, known locally as Peerie Norrie (Little Norman), had gone.
Sh. 1993 New Shetlander Sep 21:
Peerie ting - small child.

2. Combs. and phrs.: (1) peerie breeks, (i) a nickname for a small child or for a person with short legs (Ork. 1965); (ii) a haddock roe, from the resemblance to a pair of trousers (Sh. 1965). Cf. haddo-breeks, id., s.v. Haddie; (2) peerie flitter, the wren, Nannus troglodytes (Sh. 1932 J. M. E. Saxby Trad. Lore 200); (3) peerie folk, the fairies, the Trows (I.Sc. 1965). Cf. little folk, s.v. Little, I. 2.; (4) peerie-ful's-korn, a type of millet, Milium (Sh. 1914 Angus Gl.). See Fool; (5) peerie guiser, a child masquerader at Uphellya (Sh. 1965); (6) peerie hawk, the merlin, Falco aesalon (Sh. 1899 Evans & Buckley Fauna Sh. 121, Sh. 1965); (7) peerie hoos(i)e, the child's game of houses (I.Sc. 1965); (8) peerie laird, a small landowner (I.Sc. 1965). See 1884 quot. and cf. bonnet laird, cock laird, pickie-, s.v. Bonnet, n., 4. Cock, n.1, Pick, adj.; (9) peerie pinkie, the little finger, see Pink, n.3 and cf. (14) below (I.Sc. 1965); (10) Peerie Sea, the name given to the small land-locked inlet on which the town of Kirkwall is built; (11) peerie summer, a spell of warm weather in the autumn, an “Indian summer” (I.Sc. 1965); (12) peerie tenant, a small tenant (see quot.) (Ork. 1965); (13) peerie whaup, the whimbrel, Numenius phaeopus (Sh., Ork. 1883 J. R. Tudor Ork. and Sh. 662; Sh. 1899 Evans and Buckley Fauna Sh. 174, Sh. 1965). (14) peerie-winkie, (i) the little finger or toe (Ayr. 1880 Jam.), always in the nursery rhyme alluded to in quot. (I.Sc., Rnf. 1965). Cf. also (9). This comb. may be orig. from a different source, being found more commonly in the form pirlie-winkie, see Pirlie. See also 1. above and etym. note; (ii) a hypocoristic alteration of Eng. periwinkle, the flower. Used attrib. in quot.; (15) peerie writ, a type of handwriting, small text-hand; (16) peerie wyes, adv. phr., with small, tentative movements, gropingly or hesitantly (I.Sc. 1965). In 1901 quot. quietly, furtively, in a subdued way; used as an int. = keep calm, don't get angry (Sh. 1965).(1) (i) Sh. 1886 J. Burgess Sketches 32:
“Peerie-breeks” and “scoor da buggie,” as Lowrie had contemptuously called him.
(3) Ork. 1920 J. Firth Reminiscences 74:
Sometimes as many as half-a-dozen women were called to the house . . . to keep away the “peerie-folk” — those unearthly visitants who were particularly busy when a new arrival came.
Ork. 1929 E. Linklater White-Maa's Safa 207:
My son Andrew says that he saw the Peerie Folk dancing there the last time there was a moon.
Sh. 1949 Scots Mag. (Jan.) 267:
In the autumn, at Hallowmass, folk had seen the ferry-kairds being parted, and the peerie folk, or trows, coming forth on their nightly travels.
(5) Sh. 1948 C. E. Mitchell Up-Helly-Aa 126:
Peerie Guizing was started by the universal desire of all children to ape their elders . . . till the day arrived when every band of Peerie Guizers . . . called on house and shop alike and “pleeped” out . . . their universal request of “Onythin' ta gie me da night”.
(7) Sh. 1957 New Shetlander No. 45. 8:
The places where I . . . played “peerie hoosie”.
(8) Sh. 1884 Crofters' Comm. Evid. II. 1404:
The possession of even four ures of land constitutes the proprietor a small, or, in the vernacular, “peerie” laird. . . . The purest Norse blood in the islands is to be found amongst these “peerie lairds.”
Ork. 1934 E. Linklater M. Merriman xxi.:
He was one of the many peerie lairds in the West Mainland, and his farm of Midhouse was as good as any in the parish.
Ork. 1956 C. M. Costie Benjie's Bodle 58:
Afore he kent whar he was the Peerie Laird wad be pitten tae the horn.
(9) Cai. 1903 E.D.D.:
A children's rhyme on the fingers, beginning with the thumb, runs thus:

“'Iss is 'e man 'at brook 'e barn, 'Iss is 'e man 'at carried'd awa, 'Iss is 'e man 'at tellt on 'em a', An' poor peerie pinkie paid for 'em a'.”(10) Ork. 1868 D. Gorrie Orkneys 12:
An Oyce or inlet, locally termed the “Peerie Sea.”
(11) Sh. 1888 U.P. Mag. (July) 301:
The brief time in the fall to which the Shetlanders give the name of “peerie summer”.
Sh. 1946 M. M. Banks Brit. Cal. Customs 12:
About the end of autumn, and before the winter has set in, there is looked for in Shetland a spell of fine weather known as the “peerie summer”. It is in the peerie summer that the coming of the whales may most confidently be looked for.
(12) Ork. 1884 Crofters' Comm. Report App. A. LIX. 270:
“Peerie tenants,” that is, small tenants holding farms from 10 to 50 acres.
(13) Sh. 1992 Bobby Tulloch A Guide to Shetland's Breeding Birds 44:
WHIMBREL (Numenius phaeopus)
SHET: Peerie Whaap or Tang Whaap
... In parts of the north isles both Whimbrel and Curlew are called Spooi.
(14) (i) Sh. 1932 J. M. Saxby Trad. Lore 63:
And dis is da peerie, weerie, winkie een 'at fell idda burn wi' da hallow o' straw, and peyed for a'.
(ii) Slg. 1886 J. G. Smith Strathblane 240:
Blue peeriewinkie stars were seen At back o' Parlane's schule.
(15) Sh. 1901 Shetland News (13 April):
I never was guid at da peerie writ.
(16) Sh. 1901 T. P. Ollason Mareel 83:
At dis point da lady wis heard ta giggle peerie w'ys, an' dan burst oot in a fit o' lauchin'.
Sh. 1961 New Shetlander No. 58. 25:
Tammie trivelled peerie wyes wi his staff.

3. Of speech: over-precise, fussy, finical, affected, in phr. a peerie wye o' speakin', an affected self-conscious accent (Cai. 1956). Cf. pan-loaf(ie), s.v. Pan, Kelvinside, Princes St. s.v. Prince, and Peedie.

[Orig. somewhat doubtful. The word is now current only in Sh. and Ork. and is usu. connected with Norw. dial. piren, niggardly, sickly, feeble, thin, spindly, Swed. dial. pirug, slender, little, and also Norw. pir, a small fish, Faer. píra, a miser, pirra, a little creature, all of uncertain orig., phs. ultimately imit. The mainland Sc. usages, chiefly in child-speech contexts and in reduplic. forms, may be of independent formation, suggesting connection with Eng. dial. pee-wee, tiny, peely-wally s.v. Peelie, q.v., and of a sim. popular or imit. origin.]

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"Peerie adj.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 12 Apr 2024 <>



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