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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1974 (SND Vol. IX). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

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). Also fig. 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.
ne.Sc. 1979 Alastair Mackie in Joy Hendry Chapman 23-4 (1985) 65:
Try to thole the worst
since even this will seem, mebbe, ae day,
only the sweer traffic o the cloods
ower the sea, teasin into toomness.

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.
Abd. 2000 Sheena Blackhall The Singing Bird 50:
In schules, guid-learnin is nae langer taucht,
Bit houghmagandie, merketin,
Industrial pedagogy o reality;
Moral sweirty,
Musical snoozlin.

Combs.: (1) sweir-drauchts, see quot. and (2); (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.
Abd. 1981 Christina Forbes Middleton The Dance in the Village 70:
The time cam for me tae be knipin' on
An' mak nae mistak, I wis sweer -
Bit I'd an early stairt the next day
Abd. 1996 Sheena Blackhall Wittgenstein's Web 3:
... Bunty Strachan fa cud hae wyled her pick o the loons fur miles aroon, hid she nae bin sae sweir tae pick a lad.
w.Lth. 2000 Davie Kerr A Puckle Poems 47:
He's sweir ti own the tear,
or bare the sair hert-tug
ti ithers, should they speir,
for he's a man an you were jist a dug.
Edb. 2004:
Ah'm sweir tae gaun oan ma ain.

(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. swǣr, lazy, oppressive, O.E. swǣrnes, 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 21 Jun 2024 <>



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