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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1971 (SND Vol. VIII).
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

SHEAR, v., n. Also sheer, sheir, shier; share, shaer (Sh., Ork.). Sc. forms and usages. [ʃi:r, I. and em.Sc. (a) ʃe:r]

I. v. A. Forms: Pr.t. shear, etc., as above; pa.t. strong shure (Ayr. 1789 Burns Robin Shure in Hairst i.; Slk. 1827 Hogg Shep. Cal. (1874) viii.); shoor (Rxb. 1821 A. Scott Poems 25; Abd. 1870 W. Buchanan Olden Days 109; Cai. 1904 E.D.D.); shuir (Mry. c.1850 Lintie o' Moray (1887) 30; s.Sc. 1873 D.S.C.S. 207; Ayr. 1923 Wilson D. Burns 184; Bwk. 1942 Wettstein; Rxb. 1942 Zai; Sh. 1970) [ʃø:r, ʃe:r; ne.Sc. ʃu:r], and anglicised shore (Gen.Sc.); weak sheared (Kcb. 1789 D. Davidson Seasons 65; em.Sc., Lnk. 1970); pa.p. strong shorn (Gen.Sc.); shore (Ags. 1790 D. Morison Poems 127; Edb. 1897 W. Beatty Secretar xlix.).

B. Usages: 1. As in Eng., to cut. Specif., tr. or absol., to reap (corn), to cut crops with a sickle, to ac as a harvester (Sc. 1799 W. Mitchell Scotticisms 76, 1808 Jam.; Uls. 1880 Patterson Gl.; Cai. 1904 E.D.D.; Per., Fif., Lth., Ayr. 1915–26 Wilson; I.Sc., Ags., Per. 1970). Now only dial. in Eng. Sim. used of peat-cutting (Ork. 1970). Phr. to shear aff, to finish the reaping of one's own rig. See Affshearing.Dmf. 1700 Trans. Dmf. and Gall. Antiq. Soc. (1933–5) 97:
Having engadged herself to shear near to Glasgow to win a fee.
Slk. 1744 Session Papers, Emmond v. Magistrates Selkirk (19 June) 33:
He shore to Bailie Scott two Days upon that Account.
Abd. c.1782 Ellis E.E.P. V. 772:
We wis shearin amo' the snaa.
Ayr. 1790 A. Tait Poems 302:
They shore and thrush, got horse “to ca”.
Rxb. 1808 A. Scott Poems 98:
For he shoor on the stibble han' Wi' Lizzie frae the ha'.
Sc. 1844 Queen Victoria Leaves (1868) 50:
A number of women were cutting and reaping the oats (“shearing” as they call it in Scotland).
Per. c.1850 Harp Per. (Ford 1893) 329:
A winsome young maiden, The maiden wha shore in the bandwin wi' me.
Edb. 1856 J. Ballantine Poems 87:
Last week on the hairst rig we shure side by side.
Inv. 1872 Trans. Highl. Soc. 19:
The crofters' crops are taken off the root by means of the sickle, and the tacksmen “shear” their barley with it, applying the scythe to the oats.
Slk. 1889 Blackwood's Mag. (Oct.) 560:
In sawin', sheerin', kirnin', Machines now bear the gree.
Abd. 1920 A. Robb MS. iv.:
The best men wis made crooners and they shore the croon o' the rig.
Rxb. 1922 Kelso Chronicle (27 May) 4:
Those were the days when the wife had to go to the harvest field and “shear for the hoose.”
Sh. 1947 New Shetlander (Aug.–Sept.) 19:
Dedzjaskit, a hairst time, wi' kruklin ta shaer.

Hence ‡(1) shearer, one who reaps corn, a sickleman, harvester (Sc. 1782 J. Sinclair Ob. Sc. Dial. 179, 1808 Jam.; Per., Fif., Lth., Ayr. 1915–26 Wilson; Sh., ‡Cai. 1970). Combs. (i) shearers' ale, beer given to shearers at harvest; (ii) shearer's bannock, -bap, -bun, a large roll of bread or bun used in snacks on the harvest field (Lth. 1926 Wilson Cent. Scot. 205, Lth. 1970, bap); (iii) shearers' bread, id.; (iv) shearers' market, a hiring fair for harvest hands; (v) shearer's rowe, = (ii) above; (vi) shearer('s) scone, id. (Ags., Per., Fif., Bwk. 1970); (2) shearin, (i) reaping or cutting, hence, by metonymy, harvest (Sc. 1808 Jam., Add.; Per. 1915 Wilson L. Strathearn 270; Uls. 1953 Traynor). Also attrib., as in combs. shearing claes, shearing heuk, a sickle, shearing silver, a payment made by a tenant to his landlord in lieu of service at harvest, shearing time, south shearing, harvest work in the south, in reference to the migration of workers from Bnff. to Ags. and Per. during this period of the year; by extension to peats, in peat-shairin, peat-cutting (Ork. 1970). Phr. he (or it)'s awa seekin shearin, said of any person whose whereabouts are for the moment unknown or thing which is temporarily lost or mislaid (Abd. 1970); to gae to the shearing, to go to harvest-work (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Sh. 1970); (ii) “the vertical cut which a miner makes in the coal preparatory to wedging or blasting it down” (Sc. 1886 J. Barrowman Mining Terms 59), the most advanced part of a working coal-face. Comb. shearin-nook, a niche for tools, etc., cut out in the coal-face.(1) Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 12:
An ill Shearer never got a good Hook.
Sc. 1756 Caled. Mercury (23 Sept.):
The Rev. Mr. George Whitefield preached in the Orphan Hospital Park, for The Benefit of the poor Highland Shearers and collected upwards of 60l. Sterling.
Bwk. 1794 A. Lowe Agric. Bwk. 54–9:
Shearers work in harvest from sun-rising to sun-setting. . . . The shearers in harvest get porridge and milk for breakfast, and ale and bread for their other meals.
Lth. 1829 G. Robertson Recollections 123:
In 1765 the wages of shearers in a harvest were 5d. to a woman, 6d. to a man, and 7d. to a banster besides their victuals.
Sc. 1864 M. Oliphant Katie Stewart i.:
Some of the fields are populous with merry companies of shearers.
(i) Peb. 1899 J. Grosart Chronicles 162:
No mason would engage to work with a master builder except on condition he got the harvest at a weekly wage of 10s., with porridge night and morning, and a shearer's hap and a bottle of shearers' ale.
(ii) Sc. 1897 Stevenson St Ives x.:
An inglorious form of bread, called “shearer's bannock.”
Bwk. 1927 R. S. Gibb Farmer's 50 Years 28:
A “Shearer's Bap” (about a pound of baker's or wheat bread).
(iii) Rxb. 1820 Scots Mag. (April) 347:
A want of meal for shearers' bread.
(iv) m.Sc. 1841 Edb. Ev. Courant (4 Sept., 6 Oct.):
At Stirling shearer's market, on Monday, there was a good attendance, particularly of men. . . . The Lauder shearers market on Monday last passed over without any renewed disturbance.
(v) Rxb. 1895 J. B. Webber Rambles 169:
Now, baker, bring a shearer's rowe.
(vi) Lth. c.1910 People's Friend (22 March 1952) 17:
I used to look forward to my father coming home from the harvest field with his “shearer's scone” tied in his red and white hanky. It was a custom in those days for the farmers to distribute large scones every day to all the harvesters.
Fif. 1962 Scots Mag. (June) 210:
For dinner it was a shearer scone and a quart bottle of light beer.
(2) (i) Sc. 1712 Trial of Scot & Mackpherson (1737) 7:
Almost cut off one of the said Servant his Fingers with a Shearing Hook.
Inv. 1736 Trans. Inv. Scientif. Soc. III. 105:
Any servant living in the countrie who can get service at Whitsunday, and suspends his engagement until the shearing time.
Sc. 1800 Edb. Advertiser (18 Feb.) 112:
The Lands of South and North Ardchonnel hold few of Mr. Campbell of Lochnell, for payment of . . . 20 shillings in name of shearing silver, with a kain wedder.
Sc. 1818 Scott H. Midlothian ix.:
The sawing and the mawing, the shearing and the leading.
m.Lth. 1857 Misty Morning 271:
I tauld him the maister was awa seekin' shearin', an' that he wad be far to seek and ill to find.
wm.Sc. 1868 Laird of Logan 548:
O never, since Time took his scythe frae the post, An' truntled awa to the shearing, O!
Mry. 1898 J. Slater Seaside Idylls 29:
Maybe he's awa sikin' shearin' for fear o' a late hairst.
Ork. 1931 J. Leask Peculiar People 128:
We aye breu a peerie air i' da voar for wir pate shairin.
Abd.2 1933:
We winna win to Bartle fair unless we ha an eeran', But we'll win a' to Michael fair fan we get deen the shearin'.
Per.4 1950:
We'll hae tae lae the hay tae start the shearin.
Bnff. 1963 Scots Mag. (July) 353:
I was in my early teens when I first heard of the “South Shearing.”
(ii) m.Lth. 1770 Session Papers, Henry v. Clerk State of Process 15:
When he found the web of coal fifteen feet broad, he measured from the under hand of the level, to the shearing of the room above the level.
Lnk. 1866 D. Wingate Annie Weir 8:
In the shearing I was thrang.
e.Lth. 1887 P. McNeill Blawearie 126:
In the “shearin'-nook” I found a pick.

2. To cut meat or vegetables up small for cooking, to chop. Obs. in Eng. in 17th c. Gen. in pa.p. and ppl.adj. shorn.Sc. 1725 Ramsay Gentle Shep. ii. i.:
On the Haggies Elspa spares nae cost; Sma' are they shorn.
Dmf. 1837 Carlyle Fr. Revolution III. vii. vi.:
Three grilled herrings, sprinkled with shorn onions.
Sc. 1842 J. Aiton Clerical Econ. 227:
Hard eggs, chopped fine with crumbs of bread, or shorn nettles and oatmeal.

3. intr. To divide or separate, go in different directions, esp. in phrs. shearing of the waters, where (or as) wind and weather (or water) shears, (on) a watershed, (on) the highest grund between two valleys, common in early deeds defining a boundary along a hill-ridge (Sc. 1827 R. Chambers Picture Scot. I. 327); jocularly, the perineum.Rnf. 1724 Session Papers, Orr v. Earl of Crawfurd (14 Nov. 1759) 8:
That sort of Ridge from whence the Water descends, both the Eastward and Wesward, vulgarly called the Shearing of the Waters.
Sc. 1756 M. Calderwood Journey (M.C.) 224:
Upon what is called a mountain here, and the mountain de quater vents, equall to what we call with us “where wind and weather shears:”
Inv. 1808 J. Robertson Agric. Inv. 108:
The boundaries of different proprietors are ascertained on the opposite sides, by a common ridge of hill, or tops of mountains, as wind and water shares, which expressions are understood, with more accuracy, to refer to the tendency of water from rain or springs, as it flows to different sides, or as the words also denote, the lee and windward sides of the common ridge.
Sc. 1815 Scott Guy M. xxxvi.:
On the tap o' the hill where the wind and water shears.

4. In ppl.adj. shorn, †(1) carved, of a tracery window; (2) in phr. as wild as a shorn idiot, very wild or uncontrolled, from the old practice of shaving the heads of the insane (Ork. 1929 Marw.).(1) Gsw. 1719 Burgh Rec. Gsw. (1909) 56:
The shorn windows to be conform to the shorn windows in the Trone church.
Gsw. 1736 J. M'Ure Hist. Gsw. 285:
It is illuminated with curious shorn windows.

II. n. 1. Now only in pl.: (1) (a pair of) Scissors, in gen. Gen.Sc.; clippers, as for shearing sheep. Hence a pair o sheers, shear-blade, -grinder; shear-keavie, the species of crab, Cancer depurator (Lth. 1808 Jam.). See Keavie and cf. Eng. shears, †the pincer claws of a crustacean; shear-mark(it); shear-smith, a scissors-maker; shear-tail, the common tern, Sterna hirundo, from its forked tail (Ork. 1885 Swainson Brit. Birds 203, 1929 Marw.).Sc. p.1714 Jacobite Minstr. (1829) 132:
A lang-kail knifee, an auld sheer-blade.
Sth. 1717 C. D. Bentinck Dornoch (1926) 459:
Three men from Pulrossie were convicted by the Session of Creich in 1717 of having “divined by Sieve Sheer and Comb in order to find out something that was Stoln.”
Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 46:
“A good shape in the Sheer's mouth”. Taken from Taylors cutting of Cloaths, spoken when we are going about some new Project or Design.
Edb. 1722 A. Pennecuick Blue Blanket 16:
Smiths, Cutlers, Peutherers, Shear-Smiths.
Ayr. 1783 Burns Death of Mailie 40:
So may they [sheep], like their great forbears, For monie a year come thro' the sheers.
Sc. 1814 Scott Waverley xli.:
If there's a pair of sheers in the Highlands that has a baulder sneek than her's ain.
Dmf. 1831 R. Shennan Tales 33:
I heard the noisy auctioneers Loud crying razors, knives, and sheers.
Abd. 1851 W. Anderson Rhymes 206:
A cushion, a sheers, an' a pouch.
Fif. 1864 W. D. Latto T. Bodkin iv.:
To wield a sheer, or work a buttonhole.
Lnk. 1880 Clydesdale Readings 136:
Her wee roon bullet o' a head, a' sheer-markit like a clippit dug.
Ags. 1894 J. B. Salmond B. Bowden (1922) 97:
The sheer-grinder's cuddy.
m.Lth. 1894 P. H. Hunter J. Inwick 69:
In comes Ecky Blair, the herd at Toombucht, wi' his shears . . . to gie me a clip.
Abd.7 1925:
Of things that are done without much expertise it is said that they were done “as the shape fell in the shear's moo.”
s.Sc. 1947 L. Derwent Clashmaclavers 18:
She'd rax the shares, say: “Mexty me!”
Abd. 1965 H. Diack Village on Don 82:
You could have it [hair-cut] done at home, and be laughed at at school for having “shear-marks” on the back of your head.

¶(2) The blade of a knife, the guillotine.Arg. 1898 N. Munro J. Splendid xxx.:
I feel a tickling at the nape of my neck, as where a wooden collar should lie before the shear fall.

(3) gen. in pl.: (i) a piece of metal bent to form three sides of a rectangle or similar figure with holes at each end in which the axle-ends of a wheel or roller turn; the bolsters or beams of a farm cart between which the shafts are fixed (Per., Kcb. 1970). Used fig. in comb. sheer-bolts, a jocular name for the hip-joints (Ork. 1929 Marw.).Ork. 1747 P. Ork. A.S. XII. 48:
An Iron axle reach and sheir.
Per. 1795 Stat. Acc.1 XIX. 511:
Behind each conductor a small roller of 14 inches wide, and 4 inches diameter, moves in sheers to roll in the [turnip] seed.
Sc. 1858 H. Stephens Farm Implements 299:
Upon this extension of the axle, a light iron loop or sheers is loosely fitted, about 2 feet in length, and in the sheers is placed an iron wheel.

(ii) a sim. shaped piece of metal in which the pointer of a weighing beam or steelyard oscillates till equilibrium is reached.Ork. 1758 Session Papers, Galloway v. Morton (12 June) 4:
The Pundar is a Beam of about six Feet long, about three Inches Diameter at one End, tapering gradually to the other End; a Hook is fixed at the greater End, for suspending what is to be weighed upon it; about six Inches from that End the Tongue and Shears are fixed by a Staple; at the upper End of the Shears there is a large Iron Ring, through which a cross Beam is put, for suspending the Machine in Weighing.

(iii) the bifurcated metal socket of a garden digging fork which fits around the wooden shaft (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.).

(iv) the crossed sticks joined together near the top and set up as a rest for the ends of the spile-tree or bar on which fishing-lines are hung to be cleaned and unravelled (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 231).

(v) one of various contrivances for attaching coal-hutches to the haulage-rope in a mine, a haulage-clip (Sc. 1883 W. S. Gresley Gl. Coal-Mining 217).

(vi) fig. in phr. the lang shears, labour, parturition.Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.:
She's come throw the lang shears.

2. The act of cutting or shearing, now dial. in Eng.: (1) in gen.Sc. c.1715 R. Cromek Remains (1910) 145:
We've the trenching blades o' wier, Wad pass ye 'neath the claymore's sheer.

(2) specif.: the cutting of corn in harvest, reaping (Sc. 1825 Jam.; Sh. 1970).m.Lth. 1794 G. Robertson Har'st Rig (1801) 24:
The master dounae langer bear To see sae high and rough a shear.
s.Sc. 1809 T. Donaldson Poems 58:
I know not but I may come back: . . . An' help to gie your corn a shear.
Abd. 1950 Buchan Observer (15 Aug.):
Our great grandfathers in the days of the scythe would . . . have exclaimed, “a green shear's a terrible shak,” to the effect that to reap prematurely you failed to get plump and well-ripened grain.

3. (1) A cut or slice, a cutting (Cld. 1887 Jam.); a cut edge or face, esp. the cut end of a sheaf of corn (Mry., Abd. 1970). Comb. shear-feather, the wing or projecting part of the sock of the plough that cuts out the furrow (wm.Sc. 1825 Jam.; Ayr. 1970).Abd. 1951 Buchan Observer (11 Sept.):
The “toe” of the sheaf is the projecting rim which in combination with the heel, makes the shear of the sheaf.

Combs.: (i) shear-darg, a day's work in harvest performed as a feudal service to a landlord; (ii) shear-mouse, the shrew, called sometimes in Eng. “the harvest shrew”, Sorex araneus (Ork. 1880 E. R. Alston Fauna Scot. 9; Cai. 1904 E.D.D.; Cai., Ags., Per., Ayr. 1970). But se etym. note.(i) Sc. 1737 J. Drummond Memoirs Locheill (1842) 264:
Allow me to give one “Shear-darg ” to the King, my master.
Slg. 1756 Session Papers, Buchanan v. Loch (16 Dec.) 11:
His Rent was yeaarly five Pound Sterling of Money-rent, twenty-pence for Tilling, and two Shear-dargs or Ten-pence.
(ii) Per. 1898 C. Spence Poems 138:
The wagtail and the shearmouse cheepit.
Cai. 1962 John o' Groat Liter. Soc. 20:
Gon' is 'e dik 'at wis 'e hom' O 'e sheermoose an' 'e weasel.

(2) A notch or v-shaped portion cut out of the tip of the ear as a sheep-mark (Ork. 1887 R. Pococke Tours (S.H.S.) 140; Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928); Ork. 1929 Marw.; I.Sc. 1970). Comb. sheermark, id.Ork. 1730 Studies in Folk-Life (1969) 229:
Marked on the Sheare mark — of Lambes.
Ork. 1808 W. Mackintosh Glimpses Kirkwall (1887) 225:
A ewe marked sheermark on the right lug.
Sh. 1899 Shetland News (18 Nov.):
Da mark o' Brough, da right lug a shear, an' a hole.
Sh. 1952 Shetland News (2 April):
White Shetland ewe, marked shear in right ear, shear out before in right.

4. The ridge or crest of a hill, a watershed (Abd. 1825 Jam., the shear o' a hill). Cf. I. 2.Sc. 1876 W. F. Skene Celtic Scot. I. 10:
The great wind and water shear, which separates the eastern from the western districts.

[The conjugation was orig. that of a Class IV verb with the pa.t. shore developing in the 16th c. in place of share from the vowel of the pa.p., as also in the case of bore, tore, wore. In Sc. the conjugation has gone partially over to Class VI in imitation of Fare, q.v. prob. owing to the homophony of fare and shear in the 15th c. and still in certain dialects. O.Sc. has schorne, carved, 1547, as wynd and wodder scheris, 1556. For shearmouse, cf. O.E. scirfemūs, from sceorfan, to cut.]

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



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