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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1956 (SND Vol. IV). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

GIRN, v.1, n.1 Also girin, †gurn. [gɪrn]

I. v. 1. (1) intr. To show the teeth in rage, pain, physical effort, etc., to grimace, make a wry face; to snarl. Gen.Sc. Also fig. Also common in Eng. dial.Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 118:
Girn when ye bind, and laugh when ye lose . . . Bind your Sacks with Care and Cunning, and, at the Journey's end, you will laugh to see them all safe.
Edb. 1773 R. Fergusson Poems (1925) 45:
Then wi' a souple leathern whang He gart them fidge and girn ay.
Ayr. 1786 Burns Mailie's Elegy vii.:
It [rope] maks guid fellows girn an' gape, Wi' chokin dread.
Sc. a.1814 J. Ramsay Scot. and Scotsmen (1888) II. 418:
In the course of the altercation he twisted his mouth, which made the other say with great heat, “What, sir! do you girn at me?”
Rxb. 1821 A. Scott Poems 130:
Mang Russian dales where winter girns, Did Bonnie rashly stevel.
Sc. 1824 Scott Redgauntlet, Letter xi.:
And aye as Sir Robert girned wi' pain, the jack-an-ape girned too, like a sheep's-head between a pair of tangs.
Bnff. 1882 W. M. Philip K. MacIntosh's Scholars vi.:
If a littlin's girnin' i' the grips, they'll hardly let a grain o' pheesic intil its wime to clear oot the enemy.
Gall. 1901 Trotter Gall. Gossip 24–25:
The dog girn't at him, an snappit at his heels, till he wus gled tae pit the door atween it an him.
Sh. 1953 New Shetlander No. 35. 32:
I girned an' I bure it, fir what says da poet? “Dey're fish i' da sea at's wirt twa i da bush.”
Cai. 1992 James Miller A Fine White Stoor 108:
Every mouthful slid down his throat with a silken smoothness and in his brain all the dragons, kelpies, slithering beasties, bogles, warlocks, dinosaurs and brownies stirred and awakened, flashed their red eyes and girned, plotting mischief.
Rs. 1996 Alec John Williamson in Timothy Neat The Summer Walkers: Travelling People and Pearl-Fishers in the Highlands of Scotland 169:
Once he was working in his crofthouse when the door opened and a sea-otter came in. And it stood there girning, showing it's teeth.

Hence girner, a growling, snarling person or animal (m.Lth.1 1954).wm.Sc. 1854 Laird of Logan 195:
My certie, I hae pitten out thae tanker-mouthed girners [referring to dogs] in the trance, ance and again this day.

(2) tr. or quasi-tr. To show feelings (of disapproval, etc.) by making a wry face; to screw up, distort (the face); to gnash (the teeth) (Ork.5, Ags.18, m.Lth.1, Arg.3 1954).Ags. 1894 J. B. Salmond My Man Sandy (1899) xii.:
He floo back an' forrit, . . . girnin' his teeth like a whitterit. I raley thocht the man had gane skeich.
Kcb. 1894 Crockett Raiders xiii.:
I could only girn my teeth at him.
Dmf. 1915 J. L. Waugh Betty Grier 135:
Bang noticed the ripening acquaintanceship, and girned disapproval as we passed the butcher's shop.
Rxb. 1922 Kelso Chron. (19 May) 4:
He spreads white paper him before, Girns his face wi' spite.

2. (1) intr. To complain peevishly, to grumble, to express discontent; of children: to be fretful, to whine, whimper; to groan, to cry. Often followed by at or aboot (about). Gen.Sc. Also fig. Also in Yks. and n.Lin. dial.Sc. 1725 Ramsay Gentle Shep. iii. iii.:
What suggar'd Words frae Woer's Lips can fa'! But girning Marriage comes and ends them a'.
Ayr. 1786 Burns Ep. W. Simpson xxviii.:
Mysel, I've ev'n seen them greetan Wi' girnan spite.
Kcb. 1789 D. Davidson Seasons 1:
Who can wi' safety murmur at his lot, Or girn at Providence.
Fif. 1841 C. Gray Lays & Lyrics 54:
Pale Poverty and girnin Care, How lang will ye harass us, O?
Sc. 1868 G. Webster Strathbrachan 519:
Ye've done fint hait but girned since ever I cam up the stair.
Dwn. 1911 F. Crichton Soundless Tide 186:
It'd madden anny girl to hear her still girnin' on about the changes in the house.
Dmf. 1912 J. L. Waugh Robbie Doo i.:
Mary Ann, as usual, was in her bed, girnin' for her breakfast.
wm.Sc. 1928 J. Corrie Last Day 64:
Jock . . . girns aboot gettin ower much kale.
Abd. 1943 Scots Mag. (Feb.) 358:
But it was she who paid them [attentions] to him; and he accepted, though his heart girned at the need.
wm.Sc. 1980 Anna Blair The Rowan on the Ridge 31:
He stood over the girning boy.
"John!" he exploded. "Get up oot o' there. You're nothing but a great tumphie, 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. ... "
Uls. 1987 Sam Hanna Bell Across the Narrow Sea 65:
' ... He has a poor house, too many bairns to feed and a wife that's aye girning. ... '
Ags. 1988 Raymond Vettese The Richt Noise 27:
I'll cry for smeddum tae snap the tether-band
that hauds us, mane the wyegaun o Scots words,
girn at oor want o pooer, upbraid the wersh spreit
that's brocht us tae this, ...
wm.Sc. 1988 Robin Jenkins Just Duffy 181:
She had a pudgy face, huffy mouth, crafty eyes, and girning voice.
Sc. 1989 Scotsman 3 Jun 9:
A few purists may girn about one or two idiosyncratic spellings in the Scots; but even Shakespeare had his own orthography.
em.Sc.(a) 1991 Kate Armstrong in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 114:
The hoose door shoogles. She's iled it fer the skirl
O the girnin hinge, but it swings aye.
Cai. 1992 James Miller A Fine White Stoor 52:
'The hope is oursels. We waste far too muckle breath complaining and girning about politicians and taxes and what not, when all we have to do is get our arses off the chair and do what we want to do. ... '
em.Sc. 1992 Ian Rankin Strip Jack (1993) 14:
Edinburgh, of course, was full of them, just as it was full of hills, biting winds, and people who liked to girn about things like hills and stairs and the wind ...
Abd. 1996 Sheena Blackhall Wittgenstein's Web 89:
"I canna see onything," she girned. "The tears are bladdin the glaiss. I canna dae it. Sorry." And she bedd there in the watter, greetin.
Uls. 1997 Belfast Telegraph 19 Jul :
"We gurn when there is no ceasefire, we seem to gurn even louder when there is a ceasefire."
wm.Sc. 1998 Alan Warner The Sopranos (1999) 34:
Missus, you don't need to know what words he's speaking; ah know the things that are raving through his mind all through the night. He's girning up at God saying, 'Take me now, take me now out of this sheer, fucking agony.'
em.Sc. 2000 James Robertson The Fanatic 168:
'That cuts baith weys. Whit exactly was he girnin aboot? Forget it, I dinna want tae ken. D'ye want a cup o tea?'
w.Lth. 2000 Davie Kerr A Puckle Poems 13:
Oor wee bit toun has bred her share
o cooncillors. Ne'er dauntit,
they monthly meet
ti girn an greet, -
then gan hame weel contentit.

Hence girner, a peevish, complaining person. Gen.Sc. Bnff. 1924 Swatches o' Hamespun 18:
Thick-heids, selfish chumps an' discontentit girners.
Sc. 1988 Scotsman 27 Aug 10:
It was surely only confirmed girners who belittled Bert Bissell's achievement this week in completing his 100th ascent of Ben Nevis at the age of 86 - and in rain and mist forby.
Sc. 1994 Herald 29 Jul 12:
Scotland being Scotland - a heathery haven for girners and mumpers - no-one should be unsurprised that this weekend's T In The Park mega-bash has attracted cynical comment.
Sc. 1997 Sunday Mail 3 Aug 15:
Ah'm tellin' you this, boy - Rab C. Nesbitt is back in town and you won't be allowed to forget it.
Yes, the Govan Girner has returned, and he's every bit as outrageous and funny.
Sc. 2000 Aberdeen Evening Express 4 Feb 13:
While his sister was a non-stop girner (not that she is now, I hasten to add, pet) who had to be rocked, walked and Calpoled to sleep, his happy heidie went doon for morning naps, after-lunch naps, pre-tea naps, and still be zonked by bedtime.

(2) tr. To say (or sing something) in a groaning, whining or snarling voice.Edb. 1843 J. Ballantine Gaberlunzie 24:
Or whan the auld wives idly girn out their lives.
Hdg. 1903 J. Lumsden Toorle 290:
Sae, Hansel Monday, here I am, Set doun to girn this forlorn psalm, And wail thy memorie.
Abd. 1924 Scots Mag. (July) 295:
The fermer nyatters steady on, An' girns oot, “O! fat neist?”

3. To grin; to show the teeth in a laugh or sneer (Cai. 1900 E.D.D.; Sh. 1914 Angus Gl.; Fif., Lth., Ayr. 1923–26 Wilson; Uls. 1934 Mid-Ulster Mail (1 Dec.); Rxb. 1942 Zai; Sh.10, Ork., Ags.19, Gall. 1954). Obs. in liter. Eng. since beginning of 18th c., but still common in Eng. dial. Also fig. Adv. girningly (Fif. 1845 T. C. Latto Minister's Kail-yard 105).Edb. 1773 R. Fergusson Poems (1925) 65:
Upo' their dwining country girn in sport, Laugh in their sleeve, and get a place at court.
Ayr. 1796 Burns To Col. De Peyster vii.:
Thy girnin laugh enjoys his pangs.
Sc. 1818 Scott H. Midlothian xx.:
And then they stretch out their faces, and make mouths, and girn at me, and which ever way I look, I see a face laughing like Meg Murdockson.
Fif. 1827 W. Tennant Papistry Storm'd 80:
You see them [idols] yonder, girnin' braw.
Lnk. 1838 J. Morrison M'Ilwham Papers 14:
The Rafrilan cheil cam intil the schule, an' hearin' the maister readin' my letter, laugh'd an' girn't like a showman's monkey.
Ork. 1880 Dennison Sketch-Bk. 47:
He also thought he saw her girning at him.
Dwn. 1913 F. Crichton Precepts Andy Saul 52:
She let a yell, an the young man got up on the ditch an' girned at her.
Lnk. 1923 G. Rae 'Mang Lowland Hills 71:
The coontenance owerspread Wi' girnin' glee.

4. Extended meaning: to gape, (1) “applied to any piece of dress, which is made so tight, that, when it is laced or buttoned, the under-garment is seen through the chinks” (Sc. 1825 Jam.; m.Lth.1 1954, -open); also in n.Eng. dial.; (2) applied to clayey soil which cracks from drought (m.Lth.1, Arg.3 1954), to a ploughed furrow slice which opens out instead of lying neatly against its neighbour (Arg.3 1954).(1) Peb. 1838 W. Welsh Peb. Cotter 34:
But dandie Kate was far frae neat, . . . Behind her coat was girnin out.
(2) Ags. 1859 C. S. Graham Mystifications 53:
Surroch Park, which James Dalgetty curses every time it's spoken about, and says, “It greets a' winter, and girns a' simmer.” The Doctor rubbed his hands with delight, and said that was the most perfect description of cold wet land he had ever heard of.

II. n. 1. A snarl, a showing of the teeth in rage. Gen.Sc.Sc. 1718 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. 79:
He ban'd, and gae a Girn; Ca'd her a Jade, and said she mucht Gae hame and scum her Kirn.
Ags. 1793 Sc. N. & Q. (June 1923) 94:
You're no sae cankert in the bite As in the girn.
Edb. 1828 D. M. Moir Mansie Wauch (1839) v:
With a girn that was like to rive his mouth, he twisted his nieve in the back of my hair.
Ayr. 1883 W. Aitken Lays 58:
Afore Rab had cause for a girn or a growl, The parritch was made.
Fif. 1895 “G. Setoun” Sunshine & Haar v.:
Just like the girn o' a whittret . . . a look to gar your flesh creep.
Edb. 1900 E. H. Strain Elmslie's Drag-net 94:
I mind the ill-faured girn o' him.

2. A whine, a whimper, a whining or snarling tone of voice; peevish fault-finding, grumbling, grousing. Gen.Sc. Also fig.Gall. 1796 J. Lauderdale Poems 80:
I put their girns an' glooms in rhymes.
Sc. 1814 Scott Letters (Cent. ed.) I. 476:
The copy . . . was returned to me by my order which will prevent gurn or dispute.
Sc. 1826 Wilson Noctes Amb. (1855) I. 161:
Lettin out the dry . . . apothegms wi' ae . . . monotonous girn.
Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 63:
The bairn ga' a girn or twa afore he fell asleep.
Fif. 1897 “S. Tytler” Witch-Wife i.:
I can thole his weary girn nae longer.
Abd. 1923 B. R. M'Intosh Broom Scent 44:
I hear the girn o' guns, lassie, The shriek o' shells in air.
Rnf. 1947 J. F. Hendry Fernie Brae i. ii.:
He could not understand her native girn. Like his grandmother's language, it was tribal and strange.
Sc. 1991 Scotsman 4 May 2:
Bound to be a lot more interesting than having to face all those dull girns you put up with every day.
Abd. 1993:
An aafu girn.
m.Sc. 1998 Lillias Forbes Turning a Fresh Eye 32:
A' soun', as weel, is stappit
By yon siller quine -
A' clash fae byre and barn
A' scart an scauld an girn
An warsel o' weary men.

3. A grin; a grimace (Sh. 10. Cai.7 1954). Also in Eng. dial.Sh. 1891 J. Burgess Rasmies Büddie 7:
“Ye're at haem wi da fire,” dan I says wi a girn.
Kcb. 1897 A. J. Armstrong Robbie Rankine 33:
Wi' a satisfied girn on his auld braid physiog.
Ayr. 1913 J. Service Memorables i.:
A girn on the face o'm that was something between a taivert lauch and an evendoon greet.
Bnff. 1924 Swatches o' Hamespun 81:
The hair o' his heid like birsels did stare, His teeth sae gashlet in a girn he did bare.
Rnf. 1947 J. F. Hendry Fernie Brae iv. i.:
His eyes screwed up behind his glasses in a girn of concentration.

4. Extended meanings: †(1) “a rent; a gape; particularly applied to a dress rent from being too tight” (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 63; Fif. 1954); (2) a narrow imperfectly-closed furrow (Bch. 1911 Abd. Weekly Jnl. (20 Jan.); Upp. Deeside 1916 per Abd.8; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; Fif., Arg.3 1954); (3) a grousing, fault-finding person (Abd., Per. 1954).

[A met. form of Eng. grin. O.Sc. has girn, gyrn, to show the teeth in rage, to snarl, from 1375.]

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"Girn v.1, n.1". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 23 Jun 2024 <>



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