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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1968 (SND Vol. VII). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

PREEN, n., v. Also prin(e), prein, prean; prenn. [prin]

I. n. 1. A metal pin (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928), prin, 1914 Angus Gl.; Dmf., Uls. 1925; Bwk. 1942 Wettstein; Rxb. 1942 Zai). Gen.Sc. Cf. Pin, n.Sc. 1717 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. 19:
She gae'd as fait as a new Prin.
Ayr. 1744 Sc. Journal (1848) I. 334:
A paper of Preins . . . 5s.
Slk. 1818 Hogg B. of Bodsbeck iii.:
A prinkling through a' my veins and skin like needles and preens.
Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 25:
He was ane clever chiel, and as sharp as a preen.
Abd. 1826 D. Anderson Poems 41:
Rings o' their fingers an' breast preens.
Sc. 1861 Chambers's Jnl. (9 Feb.) 84:
As the wise man says, “We'll no skirl afore the prin's jaggit us.”
Fif. 1886 A. Stewart Reminiscences 44:
It was considered an ill omen for a person to give another a pin for any purpose when they were about to part to go away any distance from one another, — for it was said that “preens pairt love!”
Sh. 1891 J. Burgess Rasmie's Büddie 5:
His een lookit at me as sharp laek as preens.
Ork. 1920 J. Firth Reminisc. 93:
A small figure of a man . . . stuck full of “preens” had been laid in a certain burn.
m.Sc. 1927 J. Buchan Witch Wood xvi.:
The pricker fand the Deil's mark on her back, and stappit a preen intil it up to the head and nae bluid came.
Ayr. 1939 J. H. Gillespie Dundonald I. 82:
Near Irvine Bar, on its south side there is a sand-hill called the “Preen Hull”, where toilet-pins have been found from time immemorial, and are still to be got.
Sc. 1950 F. D. Gullen Trad. Number Rhymes 47:
Dab a prin in my lottery book; Dab ane, dab twa, Dab a' your prins awa'. By extension and in deriv. preenack, a pine-needle (ne.Sc. 1966).
Abd. 1928 N. Shepherd Quarry Wood xiv.:
At every gust a light rain of preens blew through the firwood.
Abd. 1932 D. Campbell Bamboozled 20:
Man, Ian, ye're a muckle capercailzie wi' a heid fu' o' preenacks.
em.Sc. 2000 James Robertson The Fanatic 69:
' ... But this Jonet Douglas lass ... discovers the auld wife's son John tae hae made a second doll oot o clay, and when they gang tae the cottage they find it where she tellt them tae look, ablow the bolster in his bed, wi three preens intil it. ... '

Combs. and phr.: (1) preen-cod, -cud, a pin-cushion (Sc. 1785 Grose Dict. Vulg. Tongue; Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 385, -cud; Per., Fif., Lth. 1915–26 Wilson; Ork., Cai., em.Sc. 1966). See also Cod, n.1; (2) preen-heid, n., (i) the head of a pin, a pin-head (Gsw. 1877 A. G. Murdoch Laird's Lykewake 22; Ags. 1934 G. M. Martin Dundee Worthies 117). Hence as the type of something of very little value or consequence (Sh., ne.Sc. 1966). Cf. 2. below; (ii) transf. the fry of the minnow (Ayr. 1890; Rxb. 1915 G. Watson Nat. Hist. Lists iv.; m. and s.Sc. 1966); (iii) ppl.adj. preen-heidit, of persons: stupid, nit-witted, having very little intelligence (Abd. 1926 Trans. Bch. Field Club XIII. 89; ne. and em.Sc.(a) 1966); of the shoulders: very narrow and sloping (Cai. 1966); (3) preen-scart, the scratch of a pin; (4) stiff prin, a principal or leading figure, a man of importance and power, a “high heid yin”; (5) to be sittin on preens, fig., to be in a nervous apprehensive state, to be “on pins and needles”, on tenterhooks. Gen.Sc.(1) Kcb. 1789 D. Davidson Seasons 78:
The Widow Broddy by the slap, Wha sauld the tartan preen-cods.
Lnk. 1813 Dunlop Papers (1953) III. 175:
Ye hanna left me a preen in a' my preen cod.
Ags. 1895 Arbroath Guide (5 Jan.) 8:
Whaur did you lay the preen cod, min?
Sc. 1928 J. G. Horne Lan'wart Loon 11:
Had you been made a leevin' preen-cod, You'd socht a mowdie-hill to fa' on.
(2) (i) Sc. 1793 “Tam Thrum” Look before ye Loup 5:
Will aw your wise heads convince ony man that has a grain of mither wit, that the country's a prin-head the better for takin the fo'k awa frae their necessary employments?
Sc. 1825 Jam.:
“No worth a prein-head,” a phrase commonly used to intimate that the thing spoken of is of no value whatsoever.
Abd. 1880 W. Robbie Yonderton xix.:
It didna mak' a prein heed to him ae wye or anither.
Bnff. 1953 Banffshire Jnl. (17 Nov.):
Happy lads an' lasses, oot for the day an nae carin' a preen-heid fat happent.
(ii) Rxb. 1925 E. C. Smith Mang Howes 7:
A cood sei sic a gliff as A gien the baggies an preenheids whan A shot ma dish inti the waeter.
Rxb. 1958 Trans. Hawick Arch. Soc. 21:
At the waitterside oo gumpeet baggies and katiebairdies and catched preenheads.
(iii) Abd. 1871 W. Alexander Johnny Gibb xxxiv.:
Fat's that preen-heidit ablach deein there, Tam?
Abd. 1926 M. Argo Makkin' o' John 9:
Try on yir lees on some fowk mair preen-heidit than me.
(3) Sc. 1826 Wilson Noctes Amb. (1863) l . 224:
Some wi' big scars on their face, Point out a prin scart on a frien'.
(4) Lnl. 1771 J. Finlayson Marches Day (1814) 102:
The stiff prins in the council are arm'd at points against you.
(5) Bnff. 1882 W. M. Philip K. McIntosh's Scholars xi.:
He was sittin on preens the hail nicht, and gled fan' they lat his heid oot o' the branks.

2. As a symbol of something of very little value. Gen.Sc. Cf. I. 1. (2) (i).Sc. 1725 Ramsay T.-T. Misc. (1876) I. 178:
And for twice fifty thousand crowns, I value not a prin — O.
Abd. 1768 A. Ross Helenore (S.T.S.) 11:
Speak my ain leed, 'tis gueed auld Scots I mean; Your Southern gnaps I count not worth a preen.
Ayr. 1786 Burns To W. Simpson xix.:
My memory's no worth a preen.
Sc. 1815 Scott Guy M. xxv.:
Ye ken yoursell I am never a prin the waur o' my rambles.
Gall. 1888 G. Sproat Rose o' Dalma Linn 104:
An' see if the loons that ye treatit yestreen 'Ill treat ye the day when ye're puir as a preen.
Ayr. 1901 G. Douglas Green Shutters v.:
He never cared a preen for her.
Ork. 1908 Old-Lore Misc. I. VIII. 319:
[She] made adeu 'at she dudna mind a preen, the ald hedal 'at sheu waas.
Rxb. 1913 Kelso Chron. (24 Jan.) 2:
Nane o' the ither members has a bairn at the schule, an Aw'm thinkin' they dinna care a preen what gangs on in't.

3. In pl.: a game played with pins or in which pins were the stakes (see 1903 quot.). Also Christmas prins, Yule prins, id., when played at Christmas, as a stake in the game of teetotum (Kcd. 1880 W. R. Fraser Laurencekirk 208).Abd. 1801 W. Beattie Parings (1813) 3:
An' lads, an' lasses dress fu' genty, To play at prins.
Lnk. 1806 Session Papers, Macbeth v. Alston (27 June) 13:
[She] has asked the deponent if she could play at prins.
Kcd. 1819 J. Burness Plays, etc. 290:
Into the peat-nook a' do cour An' play at the Yule prins.
Ags. 1824 J. Bowick Characters 108:
An' Christmas preens, sae clear and sma', The stake lay roun'.
Bnff. a.1829 J. Sellar Poems (1844) 12:
They tak the totum an' the preens.
Ags. 1896 Barrie Sentimental Tommy xiv.:
Monypenny was willing to let him join in . . . the preens . . . or whatever game was in season.
Ags. 1903 E.D.D.:
A circle was made on the ground and each player put a pin in it. They played in rotation. The player wetted his thumb and pressed it on a pin. If this made the pin adhere to his thumb till the hand was clear of the ring, the pin became his property and he played again, and so on until he failed, when the next player got his chance. The pin often fell as it was being withdrawn from the ring.

4. A fishing hook (Sh. 1966). Comb. preen-hook, id.Sh. 1897 Shetland News (2 Oct.):
Shü's juist left me da upper preen o' mi new gut-flee.
Sh. 1901 T. P. Ollason Mareel 60:
Fishin' tackle o' a' descriptions frae a preen hook till a troot waand an' Zulu flee.
Sh. 1903 E.D.D.:
I flang by me grain o' hoe-busk an' me preens an' guid for da door. “Can ye tell me, gudeman, what dis is 'at ye're claedin your preens wi?”

II. v. 1. To fasten with a pin, to pin. Gen.Sc. Also fig. Vbl.n. prinin.Sc. 1706 Foulis Acct. Bk. (S.H.S.) 445–6:
He is to prune and prin up the wall trees.
Sc. 1725 Ramsay Gentle Shep. v. ii.:
Prin up your aprons baith and come away.
Sc. a.1743 D. Herd Sc. Songs (1776) II. 231:
She took the dish-clout aff the bink, And prin'd it to her cockernonie.
Dmf. 1810 R. Cromek Remains 241:
An' she has prenned the broidered silk, About her white hause bane.
Ayr. 1828 D. Wood Poems 49:
What state is Jean in — Has onything begun to steer, Aneath the prinin'?
Rxb. 1847 J. Halliday Rustic Bard 190:
Then oot a pickle woo' Tam draws, And preens't unto his bonnet.
Abd. 1871 W. Alexander Johnny Gibb xlii.:
Weel, man, I canna ha'e the bairns aye preen't to my tail.
Ork. 1880 Dennison Sketch-Bk. 60:
Her pettico'ts wur pieces o' kelter preened taegither wi fish beens.
Kcb. 1913 G. M. Gordon Clay Biggin' 4:
A wife likes her man til pay her a bit compliment tho' no expectin' him til aye be preened til her coats.
Ags. 1918 V. Jacob More Songs 32:
He'd gie them a' to get the preen That preened the flowers in till my hair.
Sc. 1928 J. G. Horne Lan'wart Loon 10:
For Tammy's breeks were gapin' 'hint 'im, An' Dod wi' preenin' didna stint 'im.

Combs. and phrs.: (1) preen-tae, -til, n., something loosely attached or stuck on, an appendage, e.g. of a building, a lean-to, a pent-house (Fif. 1966); also fig. of persons, one who constantly accompanies another, a “shadow” (Edb. 1966); a partner in an illicit sexual relationship, a mistress, paramour (Fif. 1930; wm.Sc. 1966). Cf. Clash-tae, Bide-in; (2) preen-tail day, the day following All Fools' Day when paper tails were attached to the backs of unsuspecting persons as a joke (Bwk. 1942 Wettstein; Bwk., Rxb. 1966); (3) to preen a lozen, see quot. and cf. Pin, v., 4.; (4) to preen one's lugs back, fig. (i) to listen carefully, pay great attention, cock one's ears. Gen.Sc.; (ii) to prepare oneself for a hearty meal or the like, to be ready to tuck in. Cf. Lug, n.1, 8. (19); †(5) to preen one's mou, to keep silence with an effort, stifle one's laughter or emotion; (6) to preen something to one's sleeve, to make a special effort to remember something, to take a mental note of something (Abd. 1925; Mry., Abd. 1966).(1) Fif. 1962:
It was said of “linked charges” that one is considered to be the main church and the other jist a preen-tae.
(3) Fif. 1933:
Preen a lozen refers to a Halloween prank at one time very popular among boys in villages and country towns. On Hallowe'en two or three young rogues sally forth after dark armed with a stout pin made fast to the end of a piece of thin twine having a light weight attached about six inches or so from the pin. Having selected their victim, they cautiously approach the cottage, silently insert the pin in the wood-work of a window-pane and, concealing themselves on the other side of the road and pulling slightly on the twine they set up an unearthly tap-tap-tapping on the glass.
(4) (ii) Fif. 1964 R. Bonnar Stewartie i. v.:
She told him to preen his lugs back and take it straightaway, and that there would be plenty of time to get washed and changed after he had something nice and warm in him.
Rxb. 1966:
“He has his teeth sherpit and his lugs preened back,” said of one ready to go to a social occasion.
(5) Ags. 1833 J. S. Sands Poems 98:
Ilk friend and crony prin their mou, Or gies a cough or sober haugh, For fear o' lattin' out a laugh.

2. refl. To dress oneself up, to take excessive pains with one's appearance, to “titivate”, in phr. to prick and prin oneself, to “do oneself up”, Primp. See also Prick, v., 6.Sc. 1776 D. Herd Sc. Songs I. 159:
She's prickt hersell and prin'd hersell, By the ae light o' the moon.
Lnk. a.1779 D. Graham Writings (1883) II. 55:
Ay scraping and washing at hersel, pricking and prining.
Ags. 1790 D. Morison Poems 81:
Ne'er price a weardless, wanton elf, That nought but pricks and prins herself.

3. Of water: to be just at boiling-point, to simmer, emit small spurts of hot water. Cf. Needle, n., 3. (2).Sc. 1901 Scotsman (20 Aug.):
The water had to be just at the boiling-point, called preening, when full of bubbles like pin-points shooting to the surface.

[O.Sc. prene, a pin, a.1400, preyne cod, c.1500, pryn, v., to stitch up, 1513, pren, to fasten with a pin, 1572, O.E. prēon, a pin, brooch. Cf. med. Lat. premuld, dim. of *prema, id., Du. priem, Ger. pfriem.]

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"Preen n., v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 15 Jun 2024 <>



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