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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.

CHITTER, v. and n.1 Prob. a variant of Eng. chatter. Also chitterin', vbl.n. and ppl.adj. Found in Eng. dial. but not so widely distributed as in Sc. [′tʃɪtər]

1. v.

(1) To tremble, shiver with cold, fear, etc. (Abd.2, Fif.10, Slg.3, Edb.1, Arg.1, Kcb.1 1940). Also fig.Sc. 1991 William Wolfe in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 64:
But gin the Spirit werena swack
The Strath no geylies fu
Heiven'd whummle an yird'd faa
Giean life a chitteran grue.
Abd. 1998 Sheena Blackhall The Bonsai Grower 78:
A fylie, an the guidfowk o Martullich blew on their neives an trampit their brogues, an chittered in their plaidies, an ruggit their bunnets doon ticht aroon their lugs ...
em.Sc. 2000 James Robertson The Fanatic 46:
'Naethin,' Mitchel said. 'It is silent. I never saw him in life, but when I was a bairn he had Scotland chitterin on its knees, and folk fleggin ye wi tales o his army. But when I look noo I'm no feart. ... '
Per. 1933 W. Soutar Seeds in the Wind 16:
But, fegs, when baes are in the fauld, An' burds are chitterin' wi' the cauld, He coosts aff a' his claise.
Edb. 1917 T. W. Paterson Wyse-Sayin's o' Solomon i. 8:
I'll geck at you, Whan ye're chitt'rin wi' dreid.
wm.Sc. 1987 Anna Blair Scottish Tales (1990) 126:
She had more difficulty with a hall-servant, but she held her ground. Now she stood before the Earl of Lauderdale himself, surprised to find herself chittering with nerves, but giving her spiel just as she rehearsed it.
Gsw. 1984 James Kelman The Busconductor Hines 113:
... get crunching to your fucking place of work, the poor auld punters by christ they await, they stand chittering at bleak outposts, their pitiful attempts to retain body heat while where is the blooming bus.
Gsw. 1992 Jeff Torrington Swing Hammer Swing! (1993) 217:
Warily I mounted the stairs. I was chittering and my arm was louping some, especially when a coughing spasm seized on the old bronchial tract, the bone-deep pain would shoot agonies into my crippled wing.
Lnk. 1919 G. Rae 'Tween Clyde and Tweed 85:
The sparreys thinkna o' the chitterin' years.
Ayr. 1887 J. Service Dr Duguid 118:
The wife, who was aye . . . blae with the cauld . . . was aye chittering when you met her.

Hence chittery, adj., shivering with cold (Abd.9 1940). Comb. chittery bite, = Chitterin' bit n.comb.Sc. 1995 Daily Record (28 Jun.)  13:
After you'd been in the sea, though, you always needed a chittery bite — I suppose it was called that because you always shook with the cold while you ate it.
Bnff.2 1930:
I steed sae lang in the caal that I wis aa chittery.

(2) Of the teeth: to chatter; of metal substances: to rub against each other. Known to Bnff.2, Abd.2, Fif.10 1940. Vbl.n. chittering.Sc. 1755 Session Papers, Primrose v. Primrose (24 Nov.) 8:
He was seized with a Chittering of his Teeth.
Abd. 1991 W. S. Milne in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 159:
Them forjeskit bodies nitteran,
whicht an drainit, esh-like stude;
at Charon's tongue teeth estert chitteran.
Lnl. 1896 E. Oliphant in Poets and Poetry of Lnlsh. (ed. Bisset) 96:
If the game was for fun or the medal was local Oor teeth never chittered at auld Jocey Hume's.
wm.Sc. 1988 Robin Jenkins Just Duffy 112:
To her amusement her hand was gripped by Mick's. His was cold and stiff, and his teeth were chittering.
Rxb. 1918 Kelso Chron. (7 June) 2/6:
He . . . grew annoyed at the rattling of a multitude of coppers in his pocket. . . . He stopped, drew forth the handful of offending coins, looked at them solemnly, and remarked in serious drucken sobriety — “Wait till Aw get ye tae Birgham, an', be Jove, Aw'll take the chitterin' aff ye.”

(3) Used to indicate any intermittent motion, as the flickering of light, or the fluttering movement of a winged creature.Sc.(E) 1925 H. McDiarmid Sangschaw 2:
Ae weet forenicht i' the yow trummle I saw yon antrin thing, A watergaw wi' its chitterin' licht Ayont the on-ding.
Sc. 1934 The Bat in Scotsman (25 Aug.) 10:
A silly baukiebird alang The deid-quate ruifs is chitterin.
Edb. 1928 A. D. Mackie Poems in Two Tongues 19:
By the chitterin' lowe o' a candle or twae I see, Auld freend, that ye're settled and quate at last in your kist.
wm.Sc. 1965 Alan Sharp A Green Tree in Gedde (1985) 76:
In over the roofs they came, like enchanted gusts of leaves, filling the evening and her mind with a chittering fluttering release, ...
wm.Sc. 1998 Alan Warner The Sopranos (1999) 99:
... a scorching-looking black coffee, the white steam chittering off it, vapour matching the white rim of the paper cup, above the undisturbed black liquid.

(4) Of birds: to twitter (Bnff.2, Abd.9, Fif.10, Kcb.9 1940); of persons: to chatter, gabble. Extended meaning: to complain, grumble (Uls. c.1920 J. Logan Ulster in the X-Rays (2nd ed.) vi.; Ant. 1892 Ballymena Obs.).Abd. 1927 M. Angus Sun and Candlelight 18:
The fouk that bides in the Deid Man's Cairn They chittered, chittered amang the fern.
Mearns 1934 “L. G. Gibbon” Grey Granite i. 55:
Peeking and chittering in your bedroom chair all about herself and her life.
Ayr. 1822 H. Ainslie Pilgrimage, etc. 227:
I thought yestreen, that I saw three yellow yoldrin's chittering on the tap o' a fa' dyke.
Kcb. 1789 D. Davidson Seasons 129:
To the sun's departing rays they spread Their little wings, an' chitter their farewell.

Hence chitterer, a twitterer, a bird. wm.Sc. 1854 Laird of Logan 195:
To put down yon wily-wing'd chitterers amang the cupples.

2. n. A chirp (Bnff.2 1940).Edb. 1828 D. M. Moir Mansie Wauch (1839) xv.:
And all looked bluish, dowie, and dreary, as if . . . the face of nature had at once withered. . . . Now and then the birds gave a bit chitter.

[O.Sc. has only the v. chitter, to cause to “chatter” with cold, a.1585 (D.O.S.T.).]

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"Chitter v., n.1". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 21 Jun 2024 <http://www.dsl.ac.uk/entry/snd/chitter_v_n1>

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