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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.

BIRR, n.2, v.2 Used extensively in Sc., less freq. in Eng.

1. n. A whirring sound, like that of a revolving wheel.Sh. 1914 Angus Gl.; ne., w.Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B. 56:
Birr, a low, whirring, chattering sound.
ne.Sc. 1979 Alastair Mackie in Joy Hendry Chapman 23-4 (1985) 63:
the whirrin birr o the golf-course tractor
the jet engine huggerin the blue,
and the showds on the north pier
atween the east win's breathin.
Ags. 1875 J. Watson Samples of Common Sense in Verse 62:
At times like thunder cam' a birr That garr'd the house a' dinnle.
Bwk. 1876 G. Paulin in Minstrelsy of the Merse (ed. Crockett 1893) 224:
I mind me fu' weel o' the blithe spinning wheel, An' the Covenant sangs o' the Auld Scottish Kirk; An' Aunty that sang to the birr o' her reel, I' the sweet gloamin 'oor 'tween the daylicht an' mirk.
Uls. 1923 J. Logan Ulster in the X-Rays (2nd ed.) vii.:
I was juist pittin' on the finishin' touch, when a horse an' car gangs past wi' a birr, an' turns again like a shot.

2. v. (1) To make (of animals and things) a whirring sound like that of a revolving wheel; or cause (of persons) such a noise to be made; to cause to whirr or vibrate (Sh., ne.Sc. 1975).ne.Sc. 1982 Alastair Mackie in Hamish Brown Poems of the Scottish Hills 66:
The totty cars birr north,
an assembly line on holiday.
ne.Sc. 1996 W. Gordon McPherson in Sandy Stronach New Wirds: An Anthology of Winning Poems and Stories from the Doric Writing Competitions of 1994 and 1995 19:
Aa wis leukin doon oot o ma windi in the front, the knock wis jist chappin five, fin a great muckle car stoppit fair anint's, o' the ither side o the road.
She birred twa-three times bit widna start.
Abd. 1873 P. Buchan Guidman o' Inglismill 45:
His puir Guidwife set doun the evenin' meal, An', by the fire, sat birrin' at her wheel.
Abd. 2000 Sheena Blackhall The Singing Bird 15:
This waddin's cost five thoosan poon,
A dauchlin guest did say.
An sae it sud! Like Hollywud,
The cameras birred and cleek't.
O photies wi their finery,
Thon fowk wad nae be swick't.
Ags. 1988 Raymond Vettese The Richt Noise 59:
Ayont the toon, in the bare cauld field,
a ribbit birrs up its lugs.
The moose scutters reechlin frae leafy bield.
m.Sc. 1838 A. Rodger Poems and Songs 251:
The pirn-wheel now maun be her fate To birr an' croon.
Fif. 1894 J. Menzies Our Town 10:
I liket the auld days best . . . when there were sax hunder shuttles birrin' in Oor Toon.
Wgt. 1804 R. Couper Poems I. 219:
Strong birrs the wheel. vbl.n. birring, a whirring noise. Gen.Sc.
Kcb. a.1848 R. Kerr Maggie o' the Moss (1891) 81:
O, hoo it strikes me to the heart And birrs the strings.
Bnff.(D) 1847 A. Cumming Tales of the North 54:
He moved off . . . leaving Sarah clattering and cursing the Covenanters like the birring of her ain muckle wheel.
Rnf. 1836 R. Allan Poems and Songs 113:
O weel I like to hear at een The birring o' the pirn.

(2) tr. To sing with energy. Edb. 1866 J. Smith Bridal 94:
Cling, clang, cling, clang, We've birred the "Lass o' Gowrie."

ppl.adj. birrin(g), whirring; used also of the sound made by partridges when they spring.Ayr. 1787 Burns Tam Samson's Elegy vii.:
Rejoice, ye birring paitricks a'.
w.Dmf. 1910 J. L. Waugh Cracks wi' Robbie Doo v.:
From the tone o' her voice and the birrin' way she was rubbin' at the bowls I could judge that Jeems . . . had a champion in Grizzy.
Rxb. 1916 Kelso Chron. (26 May):
As ilka chiel to birrin' reel His denty basket fills.

Hence adv. birringly, noisily.Fif. 1827 W. Tennant Papistry Storm'd 208:
Sae, out at ilka door, quiverin', quakin', They birringly did bicker.

Comb.: birnbeck, birr-bick, the call of the moorcock or grouse.Sc. 1876 S. Smiles Life Sc. Naturalist vii.:
The piping of the kittyneedy, the birnbeck of the muir-fowl.
Bnff.(D) 1918 J. Mitchell Bydand 8:
The Dev'ron's eerie sechin' sooch, the birr-bick o' the groose, Is mair to me than gowd or gear.

[Appears in O.Sc. 1513 Douglas Aen. ix. ix. 134. May be formed from the sound. Cf. Pirr.]

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"Birr n.2, v.2". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 6 Jun 2023 <>



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