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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1952 (SND Vol. III).
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

CYARLIN, KYARLIN, n. Lit.: the witch whose spell binds the nets or lines, the spell being broken only when the first fish has been caught. [′kjɑrlɪn] Hence:

1. “A line or net that has not caught any fish” (Mry.1 1916 in T.S.D.C. II.). Cf. saying: to gang hame wi' the cairlin' s.v. Carline, n., 4.L.Bnff. 1938 (per Bnff.10):
“We've hauled the cyarlin,” we have got no fish on our lines.

2. “The first fish caught on a line or a net” (Mry.1 1916 in T.S.D.C. II.). Cf. Karlen Book.

3. (See quot.)Abd. 1898 Trans. Bch. Field Club (May) IV. 231–232:
The man [in a fishing-boat's crew] who has the least number of fish upon his line is fined sixpence, the second lowest threepence, while the rest go free. . . . The sum total of the fines is expended on viands for a feast for the crew. . . . The feast consists of beef-steak, buns, and jam. . . . The whole proceeding is called a Kyarlin; or is Kyarlin properly applied to the method of raising the fund?
[The term prob. applies particularly to the feast: cf. Carline, n., 3, the feast of harvest home.]

4. A straw effigy of the witch affixed to the chimney of the man with the poorest catch and burned at Aul' Eel (see Auld, adj., 5) (Bch. (Boddam) 1938 (per Abd.27)).

[The same word as Carline, n., 2. The word is not now in use but the equivalent expression The Aul' Wife is known in Buchan.]

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"Cyarlin n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 21 Jul 2024 <>



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