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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 since then 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 25 Apr 2024 <>



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