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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1941 (SND Vol. II). Includes material from the 1976 and 2005 supplements.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

BREEK, Breik, n.1 Also brik. Trousers; rarely used in the sing. Like Eng. breeches, breeks may cover the whole of the leg down to the ankle. [brik(s) Sc., but Abd. + brɪks]

1. Examples of the sing. use.Ork.(D) 1880 Dennison Orcad. Sk. Bk. 75:
The man was seurly fairly left, tae come tae the hoose o' Geud wi De'il 'e rag o' breek or troosers on.
Ags. 1871 W. Adamson Abbot of Aberbrothock (1886) x.; Ags.1 1935:
Had ye been a wheen half-nakit Heelandmen withoot a breek on yer hurdies, I wad hae thocht naething o' yer rinnin' awa'.
Knr. [1886] “H. Haliburton” Horace in Homespun (1925) 190:
An' weel he kens it's no' the Indies That ane may scaithless want the breek, An' sae he seeks the chimla-cheek.

Hence (1) breekens, breeches; (2) breekless, (a) without trousers, i.e. too young to wear trousers; (b) “wearing a kilt” (Bnff.4 1912; Bnff.2 1935); (3) breeky, clad in “breeks.”(1) (Highland) Sc. 1818 Scott H. Midlothian li.:
How is the lads to climb the praes wi' thae tamn'd breekens on them?
(2) (a) Ags. 1834 A. Smart Rambling Rhymes 162:
When our grand-daddies ower the braes O' blooming heather, Ran breekless.
(b) Sc. 1821 Scott Pirate v.:
Heard ye ever a breekless loon frae Lochaber tell his mind and his errand mair deftly?
(3) w.Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B. s.v. maer:
Breeky maer, playfully applied to a boy on his unusual appearance in his first pair of trousers.
[For maer, see Mae.]

2. Also underpants. Examples of the pl. use. Gen.Sc.Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 54:
A Wife knows enough, who knows the good Man's Breeks from Weilycoat.
Sc. 1814 Scott Waverley (1817) xlviii.:
“Why,” said he, “you know, Baron, the proverb tells us, ‘It's ill taking the breeks off a Highlandman.'”
Sc. 1998 Scotsman 31 Jan :
Rasputin was hardly a saint. He could have been if he had buttoned his breeks, corked his bottle and used the talents God gave him.
Sc. 2000 Herald 7 Mar 19:
In line with the dress code for other classical instruments, says Mr Ross, pipers should wear black trousers and a white shirt, with or without tie. On more informal occasions a polo neck sweater may be worn with the black breeks.
Ork.(D) 1880 Dennison Orcad. Sk. Bk. 6:
The laird hed tae sit doon on de knockin steen, whill sheu poo'd aff his stockins an' breeks.
Ork. 1995 Orcadian 23 March 4:
Earth-hooses an' ferm-museums're aal very weel, bit thir herdly labour-intensive, an' ah kinna see the Orkney economy supported by a labour-force aal gaan aboot in navy-blue breeks an' gansies.
Abd.7 1925:
“His breeks lies gey near his hip,” said of one who is mean or parsimonious.
Abd. 1995 Flora Garry Collected Poems 41:
Syne oot he spangs, his sark an cwyte an hat again he siks
An tirrs up tull his middle, castin wivven draars and briks.
m.Sc. 1992 James Meek Last Orders 82:
Few of them rubbed their hands together or put them inside their shirts, they kept them hanging by their sides, or hooked by the thumbs into the tops of their breeks so the hiring men would see them and see the hands were hard.
em.Sc. 1992 Ian Rankin Strip Jack (1993) 182:
' ... Get your breeks on and I'll buy you a pie and a pint.'
Fif. 1985 Christopher Rush A Twelvemonth and a Day 44:
'A good dollop of hot Stockholm tar up your behind, and you won't be worrying about piles any more,' she said. 'Go on, get your breeks down!'
Edb. 2003:
He wore nae breeks under his kilt.
wm.Sc. 1954 Robin Jenkins The Thistle and the Grail (1994) 219:
... whether an unhappy woman remembering in tears or the stubborn, daring little girl about to clamber up, heedless that the boys saw her breeks.
wm.Sc. 1980 Anna Blair The Rowan on the Ridge 31:
"... I'll gie you jist time to get up, put on your breeks and be ready to come wi' me for a day's work at the mill. ... "
Ayr. 1786 Burns Scotch Drink xxi.:
Fortune, if thou'll but gie me still Hale breeks, a scone, an' whisky gill, An' rowth o' rhyme to rave at will, Tak a' the rest.
sm.Sc. 1979 Alan Temperley Tales of Galloway (1986) 5:
She did not know - perhaps no-one in the village knew - that any payment for his labours infallibly drives a brownie away, even a gift so poor as a pair of rotten breeks.

3. Phrases: (1) it (i)s no(t) in your breeks (breiks), “used, in low proverbial language, in relation to ability, but always in a negative form, as addressed to one who boasts that he can do this or that; It's no in your breiks, man” (Sc. 1825 Jam.2; Abd.2, Fif.10, Slg.3 1935); (2) to fill one's breeks, to be big or stout; (3) to have riven breeks, a riven breek, to have something to conceal (Bnff.2 1935); (4) to pull up one's breeks, to prepare or gird oneself for action. Gen.Sc.; cf. Eng. slang, to pull up one's socks; (5) to wear the breeks, to be master, to dominate (applied to a wife). Gen.Sc.(1) Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 220:
It is not in your breeks. An allusion to Money in our Pockets; signifies our Inability to effect, or procure such a Thing.
(2) Abd.(D) 1917 C. Murray Sough o' War (1918) 25:
As I grew up an' filled my breeks, fyow market days we saw.
(3) Abd.(D) 1785 R. Forbes Ulysses' Answer in Sc. Poems 30:
I dinna hing my lugs, like ane That has a riven breek.
Ags.(D) 1894 J. B. Salmond My Man Sandy (1899) v.:
Them that hae riven breeks had better keep their seats.
(4) Ayr. 1887 J. Service Dr Duguid 43:
A period when it was needful for me to pull up my breeks, and when Ambition touched me on the arm.
(5) Ags. 1889 Arbroath Guide (5 Oct.) 4/3:
Ye maun ken that I've nae desire to gar folk believe that Marg'et wears the breeks.
Edb. 1828 D. M. Moir Mansie Wauch (1839) xiii.:
Poor Alick Bowsie married to a drucken randie, that wore the breeks.

4. Combs.: (1) breek-brother, -bridder, — brither, “a rival inlove” (Sc. 1825 Jam.2). This is also present in O.Sc. (see D.O.S.T. s.v. breik-brother); (2) Grey Breeks, a nickname formerly given to some Scots regiments. The Royal Scots Fusiliers were the “Earl of Mar's Grey Breeks.” The Perthshire Light Infantry were the “Perthshire Grey Breeks” (see W. M'Millan Scottish Symbols, pp. 260, 266).(1) Sh. 1914 Angus Gl.:
When two men are courting the same woman, each of them is breekbridder to the other.
Ork.(D) 1880 Dennison Orcad. Sk. Bk. 97:
The Twa Breek Brithers, and their Ae Nicht's wooin'.

5. Also in combs. fore-breek and efterbreek, the breast hook and crutch in the bow or stern of a boat (Fif. 1975).

6. A forked stick such as is used for a catapult (em.Sc. (a) 1975); a fork in a tree (Ags., Fif. 1975). Ags. 1912 A. Reid Forfar Worthies 40:
Royal Indian tigers were often stalked, and shot from the "breeks" of its jungle trees.

7. Phr. a pair o' breeks, in curling: a situation in which the played stones lie in a V-formation at the tee. Ags. 1905 A. N. Simpson Bobbie Guthrie 108:
There's a fine pair o' breeks for ye. Come up quick an' send them ta baith sides.

[O.Sc. breke, breik, brekis, breeks, breeches, trousers (D.O.S.T.). N.Mid.Eng. breke, O.E. brēc, pl. of brōc, breeches; O.N. brōk, one leg of a pair of breeches, pl. brœkr (Zoëga). The form breekens is prob. for breekings, cf. Plaiden and Plaiding.]

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"Breek n.1". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 12 Jun 2024 <>



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