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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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

BIRR, BIR, n.1, v.1 [bɪ̢̈r, bʌr]

1. n.

(1) “(Fair wind) strong, sudden breeze, now mostly a light, feeble breeze, a b[ir(r)] o' wind” (Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928); Sh.4 1934).

(2) Force, energy, enthusiasm, bustling activity. Gen.Sc.Sc. 1721 Ramsay Poems 293:
After ilk Tune he took a Sowp, And bann'd wi Birr the corky Cowp.
Ork.(D) 1880 Dennison Orcad. Sk. Bk. 28:
An' dan he gae a spret forewey wi' a' the birr i' his boday.
Abd.(D) 1916 G. Abel Wylins fae my Wallet 95:
I've aiven taen the poopit files, An' preached wi' verve an' birr.
Edb. 1917 T. W. Paterson Wyse-Sayin's o' Solomon xi. 14:
But whaur there's routh o' wyse coonsellors, things gang forrit wi' a birr.
wm.Sc. [1835] Laird of Logan (1868) 312:
Anent the music, I shall say, Kinnikame played his part with great bir.
Gsw. 1877 A. G. Murdoch Laird's Lykewake, etc. 33:
We'll hear the Smith, A man o' muckle birr an' pith.
Ayr. 1789 D. Sillar Poems 56:
Then steer thro' life wi' birr an' vigour, To win a horn, Whase soun' shall reach ayont the Tiber.
Wgt. 1880 G. Fraser Lowland Lore 108:
They are singing wi' their airt, an' I am singing wi' my hairt; an' I'll sing wi' a' my birr, 'at wull I.
w.Dmf. 1910 J. L. Waugh Cracks wi' Robbie Doo x.:
“That's no the Pope,” says she, wi nae sma' birr and an inklin' o' displeasure.

(3) Passion, angry excitement.Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928):
De(r) were [“there was”] a great b[ir] on him, he dashed away (or round, in a state of great excitement); he was much excited.
He is in a b[ir] on dee, he is embittered against you.

(4) Energy of pronunciation, especially of the strong trilling of the sound r whether on the point of the tongue or the uvula.Sc. 1821–1830 Lord Cockburn Memorials (1856) ii. 133:
What the Scotch call the Birr, . . . the emphatic energy, of his pronunciation.
Sc. 1826 Wilson Noctes Amb. (1855) I. 117:
I think Socrates maun hae had just such a voice . . . in its laigh notes there's a sort of birr, a sort o' dirl that betokens power.
[The meanings of Birr, n.1, (2) and n.2, seem to be combined in (4). It may be the Eng. burr in Sc. form; see P.L.D. § 60.1.]

(5) Used of a person of energy.Kcb.6 1914:
She's a rale birr o' a buddy. A lively child is a “wee birr.”

(6) A sneer, gibe, a harsh, sarcastic remark.Ayr. 1901 G. Douglas Green Shutters xv.:
Downing his opponent with a coarse birr of the tongue.

2. v.

(1) “To commence to blow, b[ir(r)] op; he begins to b[ir(r)] op; it begins to blow” (Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928)).

(2) “To sail before a fair wind; shø [‘she'] is birin alang, the boat or ship makes good headway” (Ib.).

(3) To move rapidly or energetically.Ags. 1824 Literary Olio (10 Jan.) 11/1:
The saut tear o' gratitude dimm'd his howe e'e And birr'd owre his time-furrowed cheek.
Edb. 1860 A. Wanless Poems (1873) 9:
Can we forget the summer days When we got leave frae schule, How we gade birrin' down the braes To daidle in the pool?

(4) “To be in a state of confusion” (n.Sc. 1825 Jam.2).Abd.(D) 1788 J. Skinner Christmass Bawing in Caled. Mag. 498:
The Swankies lap thro' mire and slike, Wow! as their heads did birr.

(5) To speak in a gruff sneering manner, to jeer. Only in Douglas. Cf. 1. (6) above.Ayr. 1901 G. Douglas Green Shutters xxiv., xxv.:
"Ay, ay," he birred, "a fine job you have made of him!" . . . "Set out the speerits, Jenny," he birred, when she wavered in fear.

[From O.N. byrr, a fair wind, hence a strong wind, hence impetus, rush; cogn. with O.E. beran, to bear.]

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"Birr n.1, v.1". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 6 Jun 2023 <>



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