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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1968 (SND Vol. VII). Includes material from the 1976 and 2005 supplements.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

PUIR, adj., n. Also pure (Mry. 1927 E. B. Levack Old Lossiemouth 40), pür (Sh. 1891 J. Burgess Rasmie's Büddie 100), pör (Sh. 1898 J. Burgess Tang 30), poer (Abd. 1790 A. Shirrefs Poems Gl.), power; peur (Ork. 1880 Dennison Sketch-Bk. 7), paer (Kcb. 1901 R. D. Trotter Gall. Gossip 19), pair (Per. 1835 J. Monteath Dunblane Trad. (1887) 32); ne.Sc. forms pee(i)r, peir, pear. Sc. forms and usages of Eng. poor (Sc. 1808 Jam.). [pø:r, py:r, pe:r; n.Sc. pi:r]

Sc. forms: Ork. 1952 R. T. Johnston Stenwick Days (1984) 26:
"That thoo stoll forty 'ear ago. Yaas, id's a metter o' principle, thoo sees. Niver let a swindler git awey wi'd. An' come wi' less aboot bein' a peur ould fermer. ... "
Sc. 1979 T. S. Law in Joy Hendry Chapman 23-4 (1985) 81:
Whan they puit it on tae the paer sowl
and he cannae bear it,
furst-aff, he'll gar a paerer yowl
wi a greetin share ot.
wm.Sc. 1986 Robert McLellan in Joy Hendry Chapman 43-4 31:
Puir sowl. We'll let him aff the lave. He's waik.
wm.Sc. 1985 Liz Lochhead Tartuffe 3:
Can you bring the wean up well
When you're scarce mair than a lassie yoursel'?
Her pair, deid, mither would turn in her grave
To see you spend, spend, spend what she scrimped to save.
m.Sc. 1991 William Neill in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 50:
Yon tartan laird in the picter wi his glessfu o whisky
an the bonnie pipers playin in yon kid-on Balmoral
cannae possibly be drinkin the selsame stuff
as yon puir gowk staucherin aboot the Gressmercat
slitterin an boakin his saul oot in the siver
inspired nae doot bi bauld John Barleycorn.
Sc. 1991 T. S. Law in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 34:
the neebor wurkin wi him was
the yin wuid gan til 's hoose because
altho laich-spreitit as be laith,
he'd hae tae tell the relict daith
haed whummelt-oot her paer man's braith.
Slg. 1994 Janet Paisley in James Robertson A Tongue in Yer Heid 32:
Ah don't mind the polis really. Ah don't mind o thum ever bein oan the spoat whin some pair sod's goat a knife it his throat.
w.Lth. 2000 Davie Kerr A Puckle Poems 11:
Zis heat no terrible hen.
Sen ye roun the ben
so it wid!
It plays hell wi ma puir feet,
aa this trauchlan up the street
an near made me want to greet,
so it did!
em.Sc. 2000 James Robertson The Fanatic 101:
'Is it you, James Mitchel? Aye, come in. He is here. We are baith here, lamentin that puir broken laddie.'

Sc. usages:

I. adj. 1. As in Eng. Derivs. puirish, puirly. Sc. combs. and phrs.: (1) puir bodie, a beggar (Sc. 1825 Jam.; Sh., Abd., Per. 1967). Cf. (4) below; (2) puir John, (i) “a cod [or ling] found in shoal-water in poor condition” (Sh. 1866 Edm. Gl., Sh. 1967). Obs. in Eng.; (ii) in Building: an auxiliary strip of wood used to bring a roof-rafter to the required height or slope (see quot.); (3) peer light, see (4) (ii). This form may either be for peer (man's) light, or a later analogous formation based on (a misunderstanding of) peer man, see (4) below; (4) puir man, peer —, (i) as in Eng., in Sc. specif. a licensed beggar or mendicant or one in receipt of poor relief who freq. performed small services in return for food or a night's lodging. Hence (a) poor man's boll, the potato, from its cheapness and usefulness as food. See also Boll; (b) puir man's clover, the plant self-heal, Prunella vulgaris (Bnff., Ags., Per. 1967); (c) puir man's fig, the castor oil plant, Ricinus communis (Ags. 1952); (d) puir man's pride, the London pride, Saxifraga umbrosa (Ags. 1967); (e) puir man's rig, ? a strip of corn the produce from which was reserved for the use of a pauper; (f) puir man's weather-glass, the woody night-shade, Solanum dulcamara (Bnff. 1880 J. F. Gordon Chron. Keith 287), the common pimpernel, Anagallis arvensis (Lnk. 1831 W. Patrick Plants 113); (g) phr. to ding on or rain puir men and pike staves (and the pike ends neathmost), to rain heavily, pour with rain (Abd. 1910; ne.Sc. 1967); (ii) a kind of candlestick used for holding aloft a smouldering fir-candle or sliver of resinous wood which provided light, so called because this function was reputed to have been performed in earlier times by a pauper in return for a night's lodging or alms; “it consisted of a stone with a hole in the centre into which was fixed a pillar of wood of about four feet high, with a cleft piece of iron into which the candle was fixed” (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 123; ne.Sc. 1967). Hist.; (iii) a dish made from what was left of a shoulder-bone of mutton served up a second time broiled. Also poor man of mutton, id. (Sc. 1825 Jam.). Cf. Eng. poor knight of Windsor; (iv) a contrivance of a platform moved by a pinion for lifting sacks or the like (Abd. 1967); (v) “a heap of corn-sheaves, consisting of four set upright on the ground, and one put above them” (Sc. 1903 E.D.D.), see quot.; (5) peer page, = (4) (ii) (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 123, ‡Bnff. 1927); (6) pure pride, “ostentatious grandeur, without sufficient means for supporting it” (Sc. 1825 Jam.); (7) puir pussie, see quot.; (8) poor willie, the bar-tailed godwit, Limosa lapponica (Sc. 1837 W. MacGillivray Brit. Birds (1846) 80; e.Lth. 1885 C. Swainson Brit. Birds 198); (9) to mak a puir mou(th), to plead poverty as an excuse for meanness, to claim to be poor when in fact one is quite well-off (Sc. 1825 Jam.). Gen.Sc. See Mouth, I. 2. (5). Hence puir-mou'ed, adj., mean, stingy (Edb. 1967).(1) Sc. 1776 D. Herd Sc. Songs II. 28:
I took ye for some gentleman, at least the Laird of Brodie; O dool for the doing o't! are ye the poor bodie?
Slk. 1807 Hogg Mountain Bard 19:
Now she had a' the poor bodies to lodge, As nane durst gae on for the ghost o' the mill.
(2) (i) Sh. 1949 J. Gray Lowrie 26:
He wis aa hed laek a Puir John.
(ii) Rnf. a.1850 Crawfurd MSS. (N.L.S.) P. 73:
Puir John: A piece of wood laid along the back of the cuppill to bring it all to the proper slope, the cupills being sometimes not very straight. The puir-John was applied (he being a leveller) to bring the cuppills to the proper slope of the roof.
(3) Ags. 1959 C. Gibson Folk-Lore of Tayside 36:
In farmhouse and cottage a “rosity stick” was much used — this being called a “peer-light”
(4) (i) Sc. 1783 J. Pinkerton Ballads II. 34:
They'll rive a' my meal pocks, and do me mickle wrang . . . Oh dool for the doing o't! Are ye the poor man?
Abd. c.1870:
A family had a dispute about the division of a goose when a beggarman arrived. He was asked for his advice and he replied in the following rhyme: The great gueedman, the gray goose-heid, The great gueedwife, the nibbock o't, The fower lads, the fower lyags, An' the peer man, the closhach o't.
(a) Highl. 1814 J. Sinclair Agric. Scot. App. II. 408:
The potatoe was found to be, and is still called, the Poor man's boll, as a proof of the high estimation in which it is held.
(e) Arg. 1896 N. Munro Lost Pibroch 135:
A poor man's rig was his at the harvest because of his Gift.
(g) Abd. 1832 W. Scott Poems 122:
An' I'se gae wi' you through the haughs, Tho' it sud rain peer men an' staves.
Abd. 1957 Bon-Accord (6 June) 8:
It'll be rainin' peer men an' pike-staaves neist.
(ii) ne.Sc. 1874 W. Gregor Olden Time 33:
The peer-man was placed by his [the reader's] side, and one to light the candles, fix them in the homely candlestick, and keep them trimmed, was close at hand.
Mry. 1897 C. Rampini Hist. Mry. & Nairn 307:
The rude iron frame which held the fir candle is locally known by the name of the peer-man, from the fact that when a vagrant begged and obtained food and shelter for the night he was expected to make himself useful in return by holding the fir candle while the household discharged their usual nightly tasks.
Abd. 1910 Abd. Jnl. N. & Q. III. 98:
The production of fire by artificial means being established, various materials were used for maintaining the light, among the first was the fir candle . . . The peer-man etc. were the articles used for preparing and burning the fir.
Abd. 1914 A. McS. The Bishop 11:
Mair licht, lassies. Pit anidder rush i' the cruisie, or we'll need to get a “peer man”.
(iii) Fif. 1715 J. Sinclair Memoirs (1858) 186:
I think I could eat a bit of a poor man.
Per. 1739 Ochtertyre Ho. Bk. (S.H.S.) 245:
Supper woodcocks rost . . . beefe collops and a poor man.
Sc. 1819 Scott Bride of Lamm. xix.:
I should like well would my wife and family permit me to return to my sowens and my poor-man-of-mutton.
Sc. 1832 Chamber's Jnl. (June) 173:
A leg of mutton, in its last stage of scraggism, is sometimes (in Scotland) devilled, or otherwise prepared for the table, and then bears the familiar title of “a poor man of mutton,” or more briefly, “a poor man”.
Gsw. 1849 Gsw. Past & Pres. (1884) I. 69:
The Lords of Justiciary, after holding dread state at the Cross Court-House during the day, treated the bailies and freeholders to a “poor man,” alias shoulder-blade of mutton, and oceans of claret at night.
w.Lth. 1892 R. Steuart Legends 39:
I'm as hungry as ma neebours, an' could hae taen a bite o' a puir man finely.
(iv) Abd. 1959 People's Jnl. (8 Aug.):
A sack hoist, known in the old days as a “puir man,” attracted the attention of many farmers — especially the older ones!
(v) Cld., Dmf. 1825 Jam.:
Puir-man . . . This is practised in wet seasons. The name might originate from the supposed resemblance of the figure, when seen at a distance, to a beggar covered with his cloak.
(5) Abd. 1847 Gill Binklets 83:
She sprang forward to make her exit by the lum, overturning a peerpage which held a rushlight on her way thither.
ne.Sc. 1874 W. Gregor Olden Time 20–21:
Light was given either by pieces of bog-fir laid on the fire, or by fir-can'les . . . fixed in a sort of candlestick, called the peer-man or peer-page.
(7)Ags. 1969 I. & P. Opie Children's Games 225:
Puir pussie. The game of Het hands, laying one's hands on top of another who can then withdraw his quickly and try to slap the other's before he can remove them.

II. n. 1. from a subst. use of the adj.: a poor person, a pauper, one in receipt of charity or public assistance; indicating in legal usage when prefixed to a person's name, that he had been given free legal aid in terms of the Act of 1424 because of his qualification as a pauper and the presence of his name on the poor's roll (see (11)). Now obs. The pl. puirs and possess. forms puir's, puirs', obs. in Eng. by the 17th c., survived much later in Sc.Wgt. 1702 Session Bk. Wigtown (1934) 32:
To require at least he would give in twintie three pounds Scots of the poors money that is in his hand.
Gsw. 1725 Burgh Rec. Gsw. (1909) 238:
To the loss, dammage and skaith of the saids trades and their respective poors.
Sc. 1751 Session Papers, Prott v. Brown (18 Feb.) 1:
Answers for Alexander Brown in Hillhead of Asleid to the Petition of poor George Prott, late Merchant in Old-Meldrum.
Bwk. 1783 Session Papers, Runciman v. Heritors of Mordington (18 Dec.) 1:
Payment of 1s. weekly out of the poors funds of the parish.
Sc. 1824 Scott Redgauntlet i.:
The Macer shouted, with all his well-remembered brazen strength of lungs, “Poor Peter Peebles versus Plainstanes.”
Sc. 1845 J. W. Carlyle Letters (Froude 1883) I. 315, 326:
You may fancy the difficulty experieneed by a finely organised human being, like me, in getting even a Scotch “poor's” minimum of sleep under such circumstances. . . . His glory consists in owning the Prince's Park, and throwing it open to “poors”.
Sc. 1931 Encycl. Law Scot. XII. 501:
The word “poor” must be prefixed to the name of the party on every paper lodged in process.

Special combs.: (1) Gude's pör, deformed or imbecile persons, regarded as specially deserving of help and consideration (Sh. 1967). See also 2.; (2) poor's agent, a solicitor or lawyer acting for a person on the poor's roll (see (11) (ii)); (3) poor-board, a panel or committee of persons set up, esp. in towns, to administer poor relief prior to 1845; (4) poor's box, a box kept by the kirk-session of a parish to hold the monies collected for the relief of the poor; hence the poor-fund itself. Phr. upon the poor's box, in receipt of charity; (5) puirshouse, peers- (ne.Sc.), a poorhouse, workhouse. Gen.Sc. Poorhouses were uncommon in Scot. till the passing of the Poor Law Act of 1845; (6) puir('s) inspector, a colloq. form of the official title of Inspector of Poor, an official appointed in each parish under the 1845 Act to investigate cases of poverty and to pay out relief (ne.Sc. 1965), his duties now being gen. taken over by a Social Security official; (7) poor's laws, the poor-law; (8) poor's list, a list or roll of paupers in a parish who received poor relief. Cf. (11) (i); (9) poor's property, see quot.; (10) poor's rates, the poor-rate; (11) poor's roll, (i) = (8); (ii) Sc. Law: a roll of persons officially recognised as qualifying by reason of poverty for free legal aid and representation in Court in terms of the Act of 1424; (12) poor's siller, the poor-funds, esp. those in the hands of a Kirk-session; (13) puir's stent, an assessment made by a magistrate in a burgh or rural parish for the relief of the local poor. See Stent; (14) puir's stock, = (12).(1) Sh. 1899 J. Spence Folk-Lore 110:
It was considered a good omen to meet an imbecile or a person deformed from the birth. These were called “Gude's pör,” and were suitable aamas bairns.
(2) Sc. 1931 Encycl. Laws Scot. XI. 506:
The Act of Sederunt, 1877, which requires that poor's agents shall assist in the defence of persons criminally charged before the Sheriff.
(3) Fif. 1842 Children in Mines Report II. 498:
I applied to the poor-board, and was allowed 4s. a month.
(4) Per. 1723 W. A. Gillies Famed Breadalbane (1938) 310:
The Poor's box having two locks and two Keys, wherein was of money not distribute.
Bnff. 1739 Trans. Bnff. Field Club (1891) III. 30:
They even “exoust” the “powers box” in the effort.
Dmb. 1795 Stat. Acc.1 V. 236:
Naturally averse at coming, (as they call it) upon the poor's box.
(5) Sc. 1745 Session Papers, Donaldson v. Home (3 July) 2:
Samuel Neilson, late Deacon of the Masons, Undertaker for building of the Poors House.
Ayr. 1786 T. Hamilton Poor Relief S. Ayr. (1942) 139:
A Committee appointed by the Quarterly Directors, of the Poors' House of Ayr.
Ayr. 1811 W. Aiton Agric. Ayr. 643:
Poors' houses seem to me to be best calculated for that purpose.
Edb. 1886 R. F. Hardy Within a Mile vi.:
The poors-house uniform of dull blue stripe setting off, as gracefully as silken drapery could have done, their childish forms.
Sc. 1923 T. Johnston Hist. Working Classes 35:
There were 30 hospitals or poorshouses from Turriff to the Lowlands.
Abd. 1930 Abd. Univ. Mag. (March) 108:
A wiz fear't 'at they micht 'a' sen't me t' the Peershoose at Maud an' separatit me f' ma bairns.
(6) Per. 1897 R. M. Fergusson Village Poet 48:
The Puirs' Inspector couldna get the hearse the day o' her bur'al; but he trysted baker Simpson's bread van an' hurl'd her to the kirkyaird like a braxy sheep.
(7) Sc. 1787 Session Papers, MacQueen v. Erskine (20 April) 11:
When the different statutes above referred to were passed, no regular poor's laws existed in Scotland.
Sc. 1817 S. Ogilvy Letter to Heritors, etc. Old Machar 5:
The only part of the Poor's Laws not now in force in this part of the Kingdom is that which enjoins Parochial Assessments.
(8) Abd. 1739 A. A. Cormack Poor Relief (1923) 67:
Given in to the Session this day 12s. Scots of the effects of Bessie Boddel, formerly in the poor's list.
(9) Sc. 1750 Abd. Jnl. N. & Q. I. 44:
Prior to the passing of the Poor Law Act for Scotland, funds for the relief of the poor were raised from various sources. Anything found within a parish graveyard was recognised as “poor's property”, and had to be sold to the best advantage.
(10) Bnff. 1752 Boharm Parish Mag. (Nov. 1895):
Session met in consequence of a call by letter from the Sheriff Depute desiring a joint meeting of the Elders and Heritors for stenting the poors Rates of the parish.
Lth. 1886 J. W. M'Laren T. Catchiron 15:
I'm sair eneuch fashed wi' police-tax, puirs-rates, street minstrels, . . . withoot haein' mair rent tae pey.
Abd. 1924 Trans. Bch. Field Club XIII. 26:
That's yer peer's rates.
(11) (i) Fif. 1700 D. Beveridge Culross (1885) II. 31:
Whosoever, getting charity from the session, does not observe the ordinances . . . shall have their name put out of the poors roll.
Rxb. 1767 Craig & Laing Hawick Tradition (1898) 243:
The said William Paterson . . . depones he . . . has been on the Poor Roll for several years past and gets a weekly supply of tenpence.
(ii) Sc. 1752 Bankton Institute II. 489:
Advocates for the poor. How is one admitted to the poor's roll.
Sc. 1829 Session Cases 123:
Whether a party be in such poverty as to claim the benefit of the poor's roll, depends on the circumstances of each case.
Sc. 1838 W. Bell Dict. Law Scot. 749:
Poor's roll. The roll of litigants who, by reason of poverty, are privileged to sue or defend in forma pauperis. This privilege is conferred by the Court, on being satisfied of the poverty of the applicant, and that he has probabilis causa litigandi, and the advantage of being admitted to the benefit of the poor's roll is, that the party has his cause thereafter conducted gratuitously by the counsel and agents for the poor.
Sc. 1931 Encycl. Law Scot. XI. 501:
The counsel and agent conduct the cause to its conclusion, or as long as the party remains on the poor's roll.
(12) Wgt. 1744 Session Bk. Glasserton MS. (20 May):
William Stewart is appointed to meet with John Ker and the minister for distribution of the poors siller.
(13) Ayr. 1783 A. Edgar Old Church Life (1886) 12:
A few of the heritors had not paid up their proportion of poor's stent for a few years.
(14) Ags. 1712 Dundee Kirk Session Rec. (29 Dec.):
The poors stock is not able to help the halff of the poor.

2. A mentally or physically defective person, a congenital imbecile or cripple (Sh. 1967). Cf. II. 1. (1). Also used in more general sense: a “poor thing”, feeble little creature. Dim. purie, “a small meagre person” (Ork. 1866 Edm. Gl.).Sh. 1898 Shetland News (29 Jan.):
Dy wir nedder füles or püirs.
Sh. 1899 Ib. (13 May):
Let alaene a creepin puir a' a twayer'ld.
Sh. 1908 Old-Lore Misc. I. vi. 232:
The peasant girl cast her child at his feet and said, . . . “An whan da son is no a “puir” may he geng ta his end wi' a flumpter.”

3. Phr. the puir o' March, a period of dearth or scarcity of fish in the Moray Firth in the month of March (Bnff. 1967).Bnff. 1959 Banffshire Jnl. (3 March):
The extreme scarcity of fish in the Moray Firth at present — known amongst the fishermen as the “puir o' March” — has driven a goodly number of the bigger seine-net boats from Banffshire ports to the West Coast.

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"Puir adj., n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 26 May 2024 <>



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