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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1934 (SND Vol. I). Includes material from the 1976 and 2005 supplements.
This entry has not been updated but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

BIRN, n.1 A burden, a load, usually one carried on the back; extended also to mean a group or crowd of people, animals or things; a race, a tribe. Lit. and fig. [bɪ̢̈rn, bʌrn, bɛrn]

1. lit.Sc. 1923 Sc. Univ. Verses (1918–1923) 93:
For Time' wi' his shearin' heucks, Devalls at the sicht o' my goon An' my birn o' buiks.
ne.Sc. 1881 W. Gregor Folk-Lore of N.-E. Scot. 24:
When one boy or girl made a present of “sweeties,” lozenges, or such like, to another, if only one or two were given, the following words were repeated: “Ane's nane, Twa's some, Three's a birn, Four's a horse laid.”
ne.Sc. 1996 Ian Middleton in Sandy Stronach New Wirds: An Anthology of Winning Poems and Stories from the Doric Writing Competitions of 1994 and 1995 40:
Nae modern-day machinery then ti ease the waichty birn, ...
Abd. 1768 A. Ross Helenore 106:
A witless littleane bred to herd the ews, Or whan they're fu' to pu' a birn o' cows.
Abd. 1988 Jack Webster Another Grain of Truth (1989) 82:
I doubt if aul Meg Pom would have chosen the Californian fantasy in preference to her orra birn o' rags and her auld clay pipe.
Mearns 1933 L. G. Gibbon in Scots Mag. (July) 265:
But the spinners had broken into the ring, a birn of them down to the farther end.
Ags. 1823 A. Balfour Foundling of Glenthorn IV. v. 120:
But I didna think that ever I could ha'e had a warm heart to ane o' their [niggers'] birn, as I ha'e to the poor fallow wha's sittin' butt the house there.
m.Sc. 1979 William J. Rae in Joy Hendry Chapman 23-4 (1985) 80:
Aince mair he wis flittin a birn o worms tae a new hidey-hole.
Edb. 1773 Fergusson Poems (S.T.S.) II. 187:
Menzies o' moths an' flaes are shook, Till in a birn beneath the crook They're singit wi' a scowder.

2. fig.Mry.(D) 1824 J. Cock Hamespun Days 110:
To hear ye sing o' Elgin town, My auld bit heart, that's now sair down, It helps to lift a wee aboon A birn o' years.
Abd.(D) 1917 C. Murray Sough o' War (1918) 9:
Gey short o' breath, but keen an' teuch, It's but his birn o' days.

Phr.: a load abeen a birn, used of an excessive burden or of something in excess of normality.Abd.(D) 1929 J. Alexander Mains and Hilly 5:
Weel, it's jist pittin' a load abeen a birn, an' aw'll be the waur o' 't.

[O.Sc. birn(e), byrne, berne, from end of 14th cent. Eng. dial. burn. O.E. byrðen, connected with O.E. beran, to bear.]

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"Birn n.1". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 10 Dec 2022 <>



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