Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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SWEIR, adj., n., v. Also sweer, swier, swear, swer-, †suire, ¶soor-. See also Sweirt. [swi(ə)r]

I. adj. 1. Lazy, slothful, indolent, disinclined to work (Sc. 1782 J. Sinclair Ob. Sc. Dial. 108, 1808 Jam.; Per., Fif., Lth., Ayr. 1915–26 Wilson; n., em. and sm.Sc. 1972). Sc. 1706  Short Survey Married Life 14:
[An] Idle, Lazie, Loubert, Leeped, Sweer, Tatter-tail'd Baggage.
ne.Sc. 1714  R. Smith Poems 61:
If my Pen shall turn as Sweir's their Purse.
Sc. 1736  Ramsay Proverbs (1776) 79:
Work for nought maks fowk dead swear.
Ayr. 1786  Burns Dedic. to G. Hamilton 96:
I'm baith dead-sweer, an' wretched ill o't.
Abd. 1871  W. Alexander Johnny Gibb xxxv.:
That sweer fangs o' servan' chiels o' his.
Fif. 1894  J. Menzies Our Town 35:
There never was a laddie sweirer at his wark in a' the warld.
Kcd. 1929  Montrose Standard (11 Jan.):
A sweir man's aye bodin' ill weather.
Abd. 1946  J. C. Milne Orra Loon 15:
The sweer souter's crookit tattie-dreels Bleezin' wi' yalla skellach.

Derivs.: (1) sweirness, sweer-, swear-, -nis, (i) laziness, sloth (Sc. 1808 Jam.; n.Sc., em.Sc. (a), Kcb. 1972); (ii) = sweir-draw in combs. below (Rxb. 1880 in Watson W.-B.); (2) sweerock, dim. form used as a nickname for a lazy girl in proverb; (3) sweirtie, -y, swe(e)rta, -y, laziness (Abd. 1825 Jam.; Sh. 1949 New Shetlander No. 16. 38; Sh., ne.Sc. 1972). See -Tie, suff. (1) (i) Mry. 1873  J. Brown Round Table Club 223:
Indulgin' sweerness.
Sc. 1920  A. Gray Songs From Heine 58:
Sweirness may bring no sorrow.
Kcd. 1929  Montrose Standard (21 June):
Sweatin' for sweirness like Brig o' Dye's women.
Abd. 1963  J. C. Milne Poems 55:
Sweirnis snorin i' the sun.
(2) Sc. 1736  Ramsay Proverbs (1776) 48:
Ketty Sweerock frae where she sate, cries reik me this and reik me that.
(3) Abd. a.1813  G. Smith Douglas (1824) 138:
I marvel much that sweerta lout ye speak.
Bnff. 1869  W. Knight Auld Yule 39:
In listless sweirtie, dozin' at the fit.
Kcd. 1932  L. G. Gibbon Sunset Song (1937) 200:
One was pulling and one held back, the one that had sheer sweirty.
Abd. 1949  Huntly Express (11 Feb.):
Sweerty winna lat the wives rise tae mak' the brakfist.

Combs.: (1) sweir-drauchts, see quot. and next; (2) swei(r)-draw, soor-, a game in which two people seated on the ground facing one another with feet pressed against feet, grasp a stick between them and tug so that one tries to pull the other to his feet (Mry. 1921 T.S.D.C., soor-draw; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B., swei-draw). Ppl.adj. sweir-drawn, used fig., reluctant, hesitating (Rxb. 1825 Jam.); (3) sweir-erse, -erce, -arse, = (2) (Ayr. 1928, -erse). Phrs. to draw sweirerce, pull the sweir-arse, to play at this game (Bwk. 1942 Wettstein, -pull-); (4) sweir-jinny, a contrivance for holding bobbins of yarn while these are being spun, a Sweerie, q.v., so called as relieving the spinner of extra labour (Sc. 1825 Jam.). Cf. Derivs. (2) above; †(5) sweir-kitty, id. (Ib.); (6) sweir-man in phrs. sweir man's lade or lift, an extra load taken by a person to avoid a double journey, hence a task which is more than one can easily cope with (Sc. 1825 Jam.); (7) sweero stick, = (2) (Ork. 1923 P. Ork. A.S. I. 66, Ork. 1972). The form is by association with sweero s.v. Sweerie; (8) sweir-pin, = (2) (‡Cai. 1972); (9) sweir-tree, (i) = (2) (Sc. 1808 Jam.; ‡n. and m.Sc. 1965), also the stick used in the game (Fif., s.Sc. 1825 Jam.). Phr. to draw, pull, or tak a rug at the sweir-tree, to play at this game; (ii) = (4) (Rxb. 1825 Jam.). (1) Rxb. 1825  Jam.:
Sweirdrauchts. The same with sweir-tree. The amusement is conducted in Tweeddale by the persons grasping each others' hands. without using a stick.
(2) s.Sc. 1897  E. Hamilton Outlaws xi.:
Chris and Archie was sweir-drawn at first to do mair nor just put you doun.
Rxb. 1925  E. C. Smith Mang Howes 18:
Sweerdrawn an laith tho A was.
(3) Sc. 1882  C. Mackay Poetry and Humour 350:
Sweer-arse . . . a sport among Scottish children, in which two of them are seated on the ground, and, holding a stick between them, endeavour each of them to draw the other up from the sitting posture. The heaviest in the posterior wins the game.
Uls. 1892  Ballymena Obs. (E.D.D.):
Get up, some o' you twa, an' feed the kye. You wud think you wur drawin' sweererce.
(5) Abd. 1742  Powis Papers (S.C.) 277:
A Sweerkitty and Rotten Trap.
Abd. 1923  Banffshire Jnl. (23 Jan.) 8:
Farm “teels”, like tweeslicks, wummels. and perhaps a sweerkitty or two.
(8) Cai. 1932  John o' Groat Jnl. (4 Nov.):
A'll gie them a' three a gey teugh poo at sweirpin.
(9) (i) Gall. 1824  MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 26:
I hae seen the day I wad hae pulled ony o'm aff their doups at the sweertree.
Abd. 1836  J. Grant Tales of Glens 93:
The strange and absurd diversion of the sweer-tree.
Ags. 1872  J. Kennedy Jock Craufurt 39:
To draw the sweer-tree, putt the stone, Or toss the caber on the green.
Abd. 1913  J. Allardyce Bygone Days 259:
They played ‘tackie' or took a ‘rug at the sweertree.'
Bnff. 1949  Banffshire Jnl. (15 Nov.):
Slinging the weight and pulling the sweirtree.

2. (1) Of persons: unwilling, reluctant, loath (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Per., Fif., Lth., Ayr. 1915–26 Wilson; Bwk. 1942 Wettstein; Rxb. 1942 Zai). Gen.Sc., more commonly Sweirt in m.Sc., used absol. or follow by inf. with to. The 1747 quot. has a quasi-double neg. construction. Adv. sweerly, reluctantly (Fif. 1875 A. Burgess Poute 19), phr. wi a sweir will, id. (Sc. 1808 Jam.). Sc. 1703  Queries to Presbytery Ork. 35:
Whether it will make a Gospel Minister sweer to Preach if he wants a Stipend?
Sc. 1721  Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. 23:
Wha aften, when their Metal cools, Turn sweer to pay.
Sc. 1747  Lyon in Mourning (S.H.S.) II. 98:
I was suire not to advise.
Edb. 1773  Fergusson Poems (S.T.S.) II. 158:
Binna sweer To ding a hole in ill-haind gear.
ne.Sc. 1791  Caled. Mercury (17 Sept.):
[To] court 'er in her hamely tung; Neit was she swier.
Slk. 1822  Hogg Perils of Man III. vii.:
My father will maybe be a wee sweer to take ye in.
Gall. 1824  MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 413:
Another man said of his friend's whisky, “that it was de'ils swear to gang down, nor wad it stay whan it was down.”
Sc. 1819  Scott L. Montrose iv.:
That's what makes him sae swear to come hame at e'en.
Abd. 1871  W. Alexander Johnny Gibb xl.:
Samie's wife was fell sweir to fash wi' the kyeukin' o't.
Sc. 1889  Stevenson M. of Ballantrae xii.:
I would be very sweir to return.
Arg. 1901  N. Munro Doom Castle xxii.:
I'm sweer to spoil it.
m.Sc. 1927  J. Buchan Witch Wood ii.:
She was sweir to leave Richie.
Slk. 1956  Southern Reporter (4 Oct.) 5:
In spite of the penalty on colouring of wool, the Border Leicester men are swear to give up the traditional yellow.

(2) transf. of things: difficult to produce, not forthcoming, in short supply. Edb. 1905  J. Lumsden Croonings 281:
The siller's sae sweir aye, an' hard to win.

3. Mean, niggardly, “as denoting one who is unwilling to part with anything that is his property” (wm.Sc. 1808 Jam.; Per. 1972).

II. n. A period of relaxation, “a short rest during working hours, such as field labourers take between meals” (Ags. 1887 Jam.).

III. v. To take a short rest during working-hours, to slack off or laze at work for a pause (Ags. 1887 Jam.).

[O.Sc. swere, lazy, reluctant. a.1400, swereness, indolence, a.1456, reluctance, 1533, O. North. swr, lazy, oppressive, O.E. swrnes, sloth, cogn. with Ger. schwer, heavy, difficult.]

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"Sweir adj., n., v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 20 Jun 2019 <>



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