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First published 1971 (SND Vol. VIII). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

SKIRL, v., n. Also skirle and met. form †skrille. [skɪrl]

I. v. tr. and intr. To emit a shrill, piercing sound, to scream, shriek. Gen.Sc.

1. In gen. To utter with a high-pitched discordant sound, to cry or sing shrilly, to raise a clamour. Gen.Sc. Derivs. skirler, a screecher, discordant singer; skirlie, skirly, shrill. Combs. skirlie-weeack, n., a shrill cry, a little person with a shrill voice, and as a v., to cry with a shrill voice (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 158). See Weeack; skirly-wheeter, the oyster-catcher, Haematopus ostralegus (Abd. 1933 Abd. Press and Jnl. (20 June); Bnff., Abd. 1951), also an ill-thriving, unhealthy-looking animal, a youth, youngster (Ork. 1929 Marw., skirly-wheeter, skelly-, Ork. 1970), phs. from the notion of puling or whining (see Wheet, and 2. below). But the Ork. forms may really represent a different word. O.Sc. scurliquitour, a term of abuse, a.1585, may be associated with this.Edb. 1773 Fergusson Poems (S.T.S.) II. 165:
[They] skirl out baul', in Norland speech, “Gueed speldings, fa will buy.”
Ayr. 1786 Burns Ordination iii.:
O' double verse come gie us four An' skirl up the “Bangour”.
Rnf. 1840 J. Mitchell Wee Steeple's Ghaist 118:
Sae I sat down, till through the town The watchmen “twa” were skirling.
Rxb. 1847 J. Halliday Rustic Bard 319:
The skirler's pitchfork unholily tings.
Wgt. 1880 G. Fraser Lowland Lore 163:
Somethin' near me said or skirl'd!
Slk. 1892 W. M. Adamson Betty Blether 58:
As skirly as the whistle o' a railway engine.
m.Lth. 1894 P. H. Hunter J. Inwick 131:
A' his notion o' preachin, was juist to dad the buik an' skirl his text ower an' ower again.
Ayr. 1901 G. Douglas Green Shutters v.:
Out came his mither like a fury, skirling about her hoose, and her servants, and her weans.
Lnk. 1904 I. F. Darling Songs from Silence 114:
Thae trashy foreign sangs ye're skirlin'.
Sh. 1930 Shetland Almanac 196:
“Doon wi' dee dis moment!” she skirled.
Abd. 1931 Abd. Press and Jnl. (11 Feb.):
Aboot Braid Scots o' fader's day I hear a skirlie-weeack.
Bnff. 1933 M. Symon Deveron Days 37:
The paper geat comes skirlin': “The Gordons in a Fecht.”
Cai. 1992 James Miller A Fine White Stoor 13:
' ... Your great grandad had a whisker and he used to grab us bairns and rub his face against us. Oh we used to skirl. ... '
Abd. 1996 Sheena Blackhall Wittgenstein's Web 7:
Davie Donald wis fair dumfounert. His een glowered that hard at the wee boolie, they near drappit ooto his heid.
"Ye spakk!" skirled he, clean bumbazed.

2. To scream, cry out with fear, pain or grief. Gen.Sc.Sc. 1715 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. 68:
Fouk wad threep, that she did green For what wad gar her skirle And skreigh some Day.
Abd. 1748 R. Forbes Ajax 10:
Syne, Paean's son, thou'd not been left On Lemnos' isle to skirle.
Sc. 1818 Scott H. Midlothian xxx.:
But then came in the story of my poor bairn, and my mother thought he wad be deaved wi' its skirling.
Slk. 1828 Hogg Shep. Cal. (1874) viii.:
Skirling as if something were cutting its throat.
Abd. 1836 J. Grant Tales 67:
There was a skirlin' aroun' as o' wulcats, and fumarts fechtin'.
Edb. 1866 J. Smith Merty Bridal 5:
Mawsey an' her fourteen weans, Whase skirlin' never ceast.
Ags. 1889 Barrie W. in Thrums xi.:
The women-folk fair skirled wi' fear.
Sc. 1896 Stevenson W. Hermiston i.:
A skirling Jezebel like you.
Abd.13 1923:
A lot o' skirlin for little woo' (Too much speech for all the action).
Ayr. 1927 J. Carruthers A Man Beset i. ii.:
Lounder him till he skirls for mercy.

Adj. skirly, addicted to screaming or yelling, puling, in comb. skirly-nackit, a small child. See Nacket, n.1, 2.Sc. 1935 D. Rorie Lum Hat 67:
The wee trachelt cratur's peelin' tatties by the fire Wi' her skirly-nackits fechtin' an' greetin'.

3. To shriek with excitement or laughter, to give vent to (a shrill laugh). Gen.Sc. Ppl.adj. skirlin, shrill-voiced, accompanied by excited cries.Ayr. 1786 Burns Halloween vi.:
He grippet Nelly hard an' fast; Loud skirl'd a' the lasses.
Edb. 1839 W. McDowall Poems 47:
Here todlin wee things skirl and scream, In a' the noise o' play.
Per. 1895 R. Ford Tayside Songs 229:
The bairns but the hoose the noo, Were skirlin' sae wi' glee.
Abd. 1906 Banffshire Jnl. (22 May) 10:
Slidin' doun the braes on snaw An' skirlin tackie, leest o' a'.
m.Sc. 1917 J. Buchan Poems 49:
Nae skirlin' dash frae goal to goal.
Rnf. 1925 G. Blake Wild Men i.:
Mill-girls skirling the rude, frank laughter of their kind.
wm.Sc. 1984 Christine Marion Fraser Return To Rhanna (1990) 161:
The ineffable joy of watching Kate, skirts held high to display long pink drawers, oblivious to all but the gaiety of the moment, skirling and hooching while the sun crept lower in the western sky, was something not to be forgotten in a hurry.
Ags. 1988 Raymond Vettese The Richt Noise 42:
The lads f'ae the Mairt
wi sharn on their feet
birl aboot the howff sawins,
(Tam on the moothie
Peem on the spoons),
heechin, skirlin, lowpin, fleein,
faain doon,
stotterin hame ...
ne.Sc. 1991 Lilianne Grant Rich in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 23:
Skirlin and lauchin, ilk wi spindrift weet,
At the waves' edge the bairns their taes try in

4. Of birds: to scream, utter a shrill cry, screech. Comb. skirl-crake, skirlie-, -krake, ¶skilricraig, the turnstone, Arenaria interpres (Sh. 1809 A. Edmonston Zetland II. 240, 1914 Angus Gl.); given also as the corncrake, Crex crex (Sh. 1932 J. M. E. Saxby Trad. Lore 199, skillricraig [sic]). See Craik, n. (3).Wgt. 1804 R. Couper Poems I. 194:
The yellow cock's unwelcome scream Skirls frae the bauk right tame.
Sc. 1818 Scott Rob Roy xxx.:
Like the scarts and seamaws at the Cumries, there's aye foul weather follows their skirling.
Sh. 1886 G. Temple Britta 35:
A' da birds comin' oot o' their nests an' fleein' aboot ye, a' skirlin', an' screamin'.
Abd. 1929 Sc. Readings (Paterson) 62:
Like craws skirlin' ower yer heids.

5. Of the wind: to blow with a shrill noise, to whistle. Derivs. skirler, a strong gale (Ork. 1929 Marw., Ork. 1970), skirlin(ie), a slight shower or fall of snow accompanied by high wind (Abd. 1970). Also vbl.n. Cf. II. 6. (ii).Bnff. 1878 Banffshire Jnl. (23 July) 2:
Fu' loudly lowed the harried steer That night upo' the skirling gale.
Ags. 1891 Barrie Little Minister iii.:
Blasts from the north skirled through the manse.
Abd. 1920 G. P. Dunbar Peat Reek 15:
March skirl't thro' haughs an' hichts an' howes.
Sc. 1923 Sc. Univ. Verses 17:
Harken! Harken! bairnies, Harken at the Wind, D'ye no' hear her skirlin' up the close?
Abd. 1950 Huntly Express (17 Feb.):
Around Huntly this last week we have got a skirlinie o' snaw.
wm.Sc. 1980 Anna Blair The Rowan on the Ridge 18:
Outside the wind began to sough and sigh but, work and weather-tired and soothed by the glowing, wheezing peats, they fell easily into sleep, and it was an hour or more before the rattling of the window boards and the shriek and skirlings of a storm disturbed them.

6. To creak, to make a crackling, screeching or whistling sound, as an object at high speed.Sc. 1827 Scott Chron. Canongate iv.:
The painted board that is skirling and groaning at the door.
Abd. 1909 J. Tennant Jeannie Jeffray 246:
Ye wud hae hard the brose gang skirlin' doon his throat.
Ags. 1918 V. Jacob More Songs 15:
It's deith comes skirling through the sky.
Abd. 1929 Sc. Readings (Paterson) 78:
Rheumatics is jist skirlin' in a' their j'ints.
Abd. 1962 Abd. Press & Jnl. (4 Jan.):
A “skirlin' frost.” Could anything be more expressive, for it actually did “skirl” when you walked on it or tried to shovel it?

7. Of a musical instrument, esp. the bagpipes, or its player: to produce shrill sounds (on), to play a shrill tune. Gen.Sc. Comb. skirl-bag, the windbag of the pipes (Abd. 1920).Ayr. 1790 Burns Tam o' Shanter 123:
He screw'd the pipes and gart them skirl.
Peb. 1805 J. Nicol Poems I. 145:
The piper's arm, wi' roarin glee, His chaunter set a skirlin.
Sc. 1819 Scott Leg. Montrose iii.:
Their damnable skirlin' pipes.
Edb. 1828 D. M. Moir Mansie Wauch ii.:
Playing as many pibrochs as would have deaved a mill-happer, — all skirling, scraping and bumming away throughither.
Sc. 1893 Stevenson Catriona v.:
It heartens me like the skirling of the Highland pipes.
Dmb. 1894 D. MacLeod Past Worthies 10:
None o' your wee, skirlin', godless fiddles.
Cai. 1902 J. Horne Canny Countryside 37:
He skirled his pipes again and blew us royally to the door.
Kcb. 1912 A. Anderson Later Poems 38:
Aye the bagpipes skirled an' played.
Mry. 1924 Swatches o' Hamespun 80:
The kilted ban' their feet hae faun, Are skirlin throwe the toon.
Sc. 1946 S. G. Smith Deevil's Waltz 9:
He skirls his pipes, he stamps his heel.

8. Of something very hot, esp. in frying: to sizzle, crackle, sputter (Per. 1915 Wilson L. Strathearn 266, Per. 1970). Deriv. skirler, a frying-pan (Crm. 1958). Combs. skirl-in-the-pan, the sound of frying fat, butter, etc.; any fried dish (Sc. 1825 Jam.), specif. oatmeal fried in fat with seasoning, also called Skirlie, q.v. (Cai., Ags., Per. 1970); a drink of whisky and ale mixed with oatmeal and heated in a pan, given to women attending at a birth (Kcd. 1825 Jam.); skirl-in-the-pottie (Bnff. 1930), skirl-the-fry, in the second sense above, also fig.Rnf. a.1810 R. Tannahill Poems (1900) 277:
Fried twa eggs wi' the ham she had skirlin.
Rnf. 1813 G. MacIndoe Wandering Muse 39:
This mixi-maxi, hug-mug skirl the fry O mish-mash blethers baken in a pye.
Sc. 1816 Scott O. Mortality v.:
I trow ye dinna get sic a skirl-in-the-pan as that at Niel Blane's.
Ags. 1826 R. Chambers Pop. Rhymes 280:
Lorntie, Lorntie, Were n't na your man. I had gart your heart's blude Skirl in my pan.
Clc. 1852 G. P. Boyd Misc. Poems 21:
Fryin' pans skirl here an' there.
Kcb. 1894 Crockett Raiders vi.:
Frying Loch Grannoch trout upon a skirling pan.
Sc. 1926 H. M'Diarmid Drunk Man 33:
Whaur elvers like skirl-in-the-pan sizzle.
Ags. 1934 G. M. Martin Dundee Worthies 21:
Which mak's his fryin' pan richt foo' To skirl baith nicht an' mornin'.
Bnff. 1935 Abd. Univ. Review (March) 121:
Destruction's broom wi' a michty swype Drieve a' the het drush skirlin'.
m.Sc. 1996 John Murray Aspen 9:
The first Lammas fires bank doun,
reek wimples up the lum
an grey coals that yince were reid skirl nae mair,

II. n. A shrill piercing noise, a scream, screech. Gen.Sc. Specif.: 1. A high-pitched utterance or way of speaking, shrill talk.Rnf. 1791 A. Wilson Poems 234:
Her skirle Sets my twa lugs a ringing like a gir'le.
m.Lth. 1884 J. Plenderleith Kittlegairy Vacancy 75:
They thocht he was a lunatic, he had such a gruesome look, and gave oot such eldritch skirls.

2. A scream or shriek of pain, anguish or fear; a squeal, of an animal. Gen.Sc.Sc. 1736 Ramsay Proverbs (1776) 82:
Ye have gi'en baith the sound thump and the loud skirl.
Sc. 1816 Scott Antiquary xxxv.:
That silly fliskmahoy has done naething but laugh and greet, the skirl at the tail o' the guffa.
Fif. 1827 W. Tennant Papistry 127:
His skrilles, and skriechs, and skellochs dreir.
wm.Sc. 1835 Laird of Logan 263:
Every note of the widow's gamut, from the dolorous sob to the hysteric skirl in alt.
Fif. 1895 S. Tytler Macdonald Lass vii.:
Though we were all killed outright You're not to give another skirl.
Knr. 1917 J. L. Robertson Petition to Deil 28:
The women let aff An angersome skirl o' scorn.
Abd.4 1928:
A' skirl an' nae 'oo; as the deil said fin he clippit the soo (a great outcry over nothing).
Sc. 1930 Scotsman (21 May) 16:
I h'ard your skirl o' pine and fear.

3. A shriek of laughter or excited merriment. Gen.Sc.Sc. 1718 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. 80:
The Wives and Gytlings a' span'd out Wi' mony an unco Skirl and Shout.
Edb. 1881 J. Smith Habbie and Madge 15:
The twinnies are rinnin' naked, an' makin' a bonnie skirl in the kitchen.
e.Lth. 1885 S. Mucklebackit Rhymes 23:
When skirl on skirl brak' on my ear Frae little lauchin' Jean.
Ags. 1921 V. Jacob Bonnie Joann 8:
Fine ye'll hear the skreichs an' skirls O' lassies wi' their droukit curls Bobbin' for aipples i' the pail.
  Cai. 1992 James Miller A Fine White Stoor 90:
'Oh ye canna see in the new year without a hooch and a skirl,' grinned Jonah.
m.Sc. 1998 Lillias Forbes Turning a Fresh Eye 24:
We had near forgotten this other tongue -
Rise up then for a riotous brave Scots birl
And some parley with these gulls on the chimney-tops
In a gabble of shout and skirl!

4. The loud cry, wail or whistle of a bird. Gen.Sc.Sc. 1816 Scott Antiquary vii.:
The skreigh of a Tammie Norie. I ken the skirl weel.
Edb. 1869 J. Smith Poems 32:
Wi' skirl eneuch to deave the house, My sweet canary birdie.
Abd. 1928 N. Shepherd Quarry Wood iv.:
Gulls screamed — a wild skirl against the drone of the firwood.

5. The shrill sound of bagpipes, or any instrument. Gen.Sc.Gsw. 1856 J. Strang Gsw. Clubs 144:
With a skirl as loud as ever roused the Sassanach from his slumbers, the piper, with the highest pressure on his bag, announced that an elegant entertainment was laid out.
Abd. 1871 W. Alexander Johnny Gibb xl.:
The skirl o' the pipes abeen a'.
Sc. 1964 Weekly Scotsman (16 April) 18:
The drums stopped and the skirl of the pipes began.
em.Sc. 1999 James Robertson The Day O Judgement 7:
In the how-dumb-deid, when aw the warld's
Fawn ower, lourd wi sleep,
The trumpet's sudden skirl will steir
Mankind wi'ts muckle threip.

6. (i) The high-pitched shriek or whistle of a strong wind; strong wind in motion, gusty weather. Gen.Sc.Abd. 1836 J. Grant Tales of the Glens 64:
The skirl o' the wind, man — a flaff o' the blast amang the auld trees.
Ayr. 1885 J. Meikle Yachting Yarns 50:
There must hae been a fine bit skirl o' win'.
Abd. c.1890 Gregor MSS.:
When wild geese are seen going either north or south the saying is: — “There'll be a skirl i' their arse”, i.e. stormy weather will follow.
Abd. 1929 J. Alexander Mains & Hilly 29:
Aw've seen owre mony blyaavin' days to be fleyt at a bit skirl like this.
Arg. 1949 Mitchison and Macintosh Men and Herring 105:
A skirl of wind from the nor'-east.

(ii) esp. when accompanied by hail or snow, a flurry of snow (Abd. 1825 Jam.; ne.Sc., Ags., Per. 1970), freq. in dim. skirlie, -ey (Abd., Kcd. 1921 T.S.D.C.).Abd. 1801 W. Beattie Parings (1873) 28:
I ken we'll hae a blash o' rain, Or else a skirl o' snaw.
Abd. 1826 D. Anderson Poems 5:
Bleak an' hollow win's blaw loud an' chill, An' aften brings a skirl o' skyting hail.
Sc. 1888 Royal Caled. Curling Club Ann. 401:
Gin the winter win' blaw thro' a skirlie o' snaw.
Abd. 1929 J. Alexander Mains & Hilly 32:
Yon skirlie o' snaw didna laist lang.
Abd. 1969 Huntly Express (26 Sept.) 8:
Always when we have a fine summer, there is a “skirlie” o' sna' in the back-end.

7. In various contexts, of a screeching whirring noise made by some mechanical means, a train whistle, the whistling of a missile at full speed, etc. Dim. or deriv. forms skirlag, a simple toy, consisting of a blade of grass placed lengthwise between the thumbs with the hands clasped, so as to form a musical reed which shrills when blown through (Cai. 1904 E.D.D.); skirlo, a toy propeller, a whirligig or child's wind-wheel (Ork. 1929 Marw.), a propeller of any kind (Ork. 1970).Ayr. 1879 J. White Jottings 223:
Just see him wi' his rod and creel, And watch the skirl o' his reel.
Cai. 1902 J. Horne Canny Countryside 13:
With an assisting wind, the skirl of the train at Wick can be heard.
Kcd. 1933 Scots Mag. (Feb.) 335:
The skirl of the stone as he'd whet the wet blade.
Ags. 1988 Raymond Vettese The Richt Noise 84:
Carties oot o orange-boxes
an' pram wheels. Auld bed-springs,
booncers, tethert til the feet.
Boolies knockit wi a skirl frae chalkit rings
an' beezer conkers crackt owre soon,
flin'ert on tirlin strings.
em.Sc.(a) 1991 Kate Armstrong in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 114:
The hoose door shoogles. She's iled it fer the skirl
O the girnin hinge, but it swings aye.

8. A hard, sudden blow, sc. “one that whistles through the air”. Cf. Sing, n.Kcb. 1789 D. Davidson Seasons 53:
The fu' pow'r o' Elspith's charms Gied his poor saul a skirl.
Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 200:
Fling the yirth af her whirl, O! strike her a skirl.

9. In phr. skirt of day, the crack of dawn, daybreak. Really a substitution of skirl for Skreich, a shriek, mistaken for its homophone screech, Skreek, q.v.Arg. 1914 N. Munro New Road v.:
I'm starting at the skirl of day myself.

[O.Sc. skirl, to shriek, 1508, a scream, yell, 1513, Mid.Eng. skirle, met. form of scrill, of Scand. orig. Cf. Norw. skryla, to wail, of a child, skrella, to shriek with laughter, cogn. with Low.Ger. schrell, the source of Eng. shrill.]

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"Skirl v., n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 30 May 2024 <>



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