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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1974 (SND Vol. IX). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

STEER, v.1, n.1 Also ‡steir, †ste(e)ar; and derivs. steerach (ne.Sc.), steerie, steerum. Gen.Sc. form of Eng. stir, to move, bestir, bustle, etc., used in all Eng. senses. The following are peculiar to or now more common in Sc. [sti:r]

I. v. 1. tr. As in Eng., to move (a part of the body), to bestir (oneself), in Sc. with fit (Gen.Sc.), shank, sturdy.e.Lth. 1801 R. Gall Poems (1819) 33:
E'en though it was as dark as pit, Whan ane can hardly steer their fit.
Peb. 1805 J. Nicol Poems II. 92:
But they may flyte, an' bawl, an' bluster, I'll never steer a fit the faster.
Abd. 1809 J. Skinner Amusements 102:
I'll never steer my sturdy for him.
Slk. 1829 Hogg Shep. Cal. (1874) ii.:
I'll trust the auld Jacobite for another shake wi' him yet, afore I steer my fit.
Gsw. 1889 J. Houston Autobiography 155:
I'm sae bad wi' rheumatics I canna steer a leg.
Edb. 1915 T. W. Paterson Auld Saws 56:
Unless he couldna help it — He ne'er wad steer a shank.

2. tr. To keep in motion, propel, rock. Obs. in Eng.Lth. 1760 Caled. Mercury (28 April):
The mother, who was stirring the cradle with another young one in it.
Sc. 1991 John McDonald in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 90:
A stowp stobbed i the steirin sauns
o the warl's indifference.

3. tr. To stir in cooking, fig. in proverbial sayings. To steer the roast, to rule the roast, exercise authority, hold the balance of power. Deriv. stearer, a stick for stirring.Sc. 1735 Occasional Tinclarian in a Letter to Sir John de Graham 13:
Who should steer the Rost, betwixt the two Brothers.
Ags. 1790 D. Morison Poems 121:
I doubt you've lost your brose for want o' steering.
Abd. c. 1830 Alex R. Buchan Port of Peterhead (1980) 138:
Cooks Stores: 1 Large Copper Pan. 2. Ladels. 1 Stearer.
Abd. c. 1830 Alex R. Buchan Port of Peterhead (1980) 157:
4 Ladles. 3 Scummers. 2 Stearers. [used in boiling whale-blubber]
Abd., Fif. 1954:
When a room is in a really terrible mess you say, “Ye could steer it wi a stick”. Sim. used of very thick darkness in Abd.
Ayr. 2004:
It wis an awfu mess. Ye coud steer it wi a stick!
Edb. 2004:
Ye could stir ma laddie's room wi a stick.

4. To plough, turn up land; specif. to replough in spring land already ploughed in the previous autumn, gen. by cross-ploughing or by splitting the former ridges (Sc. 1808 Jam.). Combs. steering-fur(row), -time.e.Lth. 1713 Country-Man's Rudiments 10:
The next Plowing or Steering as they call it, must be at or about Candlemas.
Sc. 1724 Treatise on Fallowing 16:
Barely, which will need no more than two Furrows in this Method of Labouring; by which Means you avoid the Danger of a wet Steering Time.
Sc. 1743 R. Maxwell Select Trans. 83:
In the Spring give a Steering-fur, as it is called.
Sc. 1778 A. Wight Husbandry II. 54:
[The land] is steared in April, harrowed till the mould be fine, and rolled.
Slk. 1794 T. Johnston Agric. Slk. 26:
The first of these furrows is given in autumn, the second or third, at the finishing of the oat seed, reversing the ridges, which is called stirring.
Abd. 1795 Stat. Acc.1 XV. 452:
The in-field land is generally all stirred after harvest.
Rxb. 1811 A. Scott Poems 62:
The turnip land it's a' to steer.
Bnff. 1812 D. Souter Agric. Bnff. 146:
On heavier soils, or such as are overrun with weeds, a ploughing is given, called the stirring furrows, and generally across the ridges, as early in the spring as possible.
Bwk. 1842 Proc. Bwk. Nat. Club (1849) 63:
The ground for the barley crop. indeed, required to be twice, or, at the utmost, thrice ploughed; once in the back end, and again in spring — the latter process being termed “steering the barley seed.”
Mry. 1884 Trans. Highl. Soc. 66:
The second ploughing, or ‘steering', as it is called, is begun immediately after the grain crops are laid down.
Ags. 1966 Scots Mag. (Oct.) 57:
I set him oot tae steer, an' say she, “Steer, whit's that?” an' I telt him, an' says he, “Ye mean cross pewin.”

5. tr. To disturb, trouble, molest, pester (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Abd., Ags., Per., Kcb. 1971). Obs. exc. dial. in Eng.Sc. 1776 D. Herd Sc. Songs II. 170:
But cout wad let nae body steer him, He was ay sae wanton and skeegh.
Lnk. a.1779 D. Graham Writings (1883) I. 173:
A hair of's head you durst not steer.
Ayr. 1785 Burns Holy Willie's Prayer viii.:
Or else, Thou kens, Thy servant true Wad never steer her.
Sc. 1816 Scott B. Dwarf xvii.:
I'll gar daylight shine through ye, if ye offer to steer him!
Sc. 1881 Stevenson Merry Men ii.:
He was a fearsome-like taed. But he steered naebody.
Kcb. 1896 Crockett Grey Man ix.:
Not a Crauford shall steer her.
Knr. 1905 H. Haliburton Excursions 14:
There's nae railway near it, An' there's deevil haet to steer it.

6. intr. To start off on a journey, to set out on one's way (Abd., Ags., Per., Lnk. (to steer awa), Kcb. 1971).Abd. 1768 A. Ross Helenore (S.T.S.) 107:
They made their py, an' aff together steer'd.
Ags. 1878 John o' Arnha' (Drama):
The fair is aboot to begin, sae I suppose ye'll need to be steerin'.
Abd. 1968:
It's time ye were steerin.

7. intr. Of persons or places: to be in a bustle, muddle or crowded state, to be hard pressed with work, etc., to work or go about in a confused, harassed manner (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Banff. 181). Gen.Sc. Occas. with about. Comb. steer-about, a bustling, energetic person.Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 181:
They steeracht oot an' in a 'day.
Rnf. 1870 J. Nicholson Idylls 54:
For a' she's sic a steer-aboot, sae fu' o' mirth an' fun.
Dmf. 1887 Modern Sc. Poets (Edwards) X. 333:
A' the world steers aboot amang the merry din.
Very freq. in ppl.adj. steerin, of persons, esp. children: active, full of energy, restless, lively (Sc. 1899 Montgomerie-Fleming): full of activity or crowded confusion, in a pother or tumult, muddling, unmethodical or slovenly in one's work (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 181, steerachin). Gen.Sc.Sc. 1713 R. Wodrow Analecta (M.C.) II. 181:
He climbs up, being a very restless, stirring boy.
Lth. 1849 M. Oliphant M. Maitland iv.:
The sending away to college of the stirring through-other boy.
Gsw. 1863 J. Young Ingle Nook 115:
Yon steerin' city noo.
Kcb. 1890 A. J. Armstrong Musings 142:
Wee Katie steerin' limmer, she Ramps on frae morn to e'en.
Ags. 1915 V. Jacob Songs 37:
'Tib, my auntie's a deil to wark, . . . Warslin', steerin' wi' hens an' swine.
Abd. 1922 G. P. Dunbar Whiff o' Doric 37:
Seen the fleer wis steerin' fu' o' lads an' lasses fair.
m.Sc. 1924 O. Douglas Pink Sugar xiv.:
It's a terrible steerin' place, near the road and the shop.
ne.Sc. 1929 M. W. Simpson Day's End 60:
Whiles thro' the steerin' day I maun forget.
s.Sc. 1947 L. Derwent Clashmaclavers 111:
I ken his thochts are unco steerin' An' far away.
Per. 1965 Perthshire Advert. (8 May) 16:
Having an elderly granny and steering youngster to cope with.
Abd. 1971:
The place was steerin wi folk. I'm fair steerin; I dinna ken fat tae dee first.

II. n. 1. As in Eng.: stir, movement, activity. Phrs.: ‡on (the) steer, astir, afoot, moving about (Kcb. 1971); †to take the steer, to become active, to get stirred up or started.Bwk. 1823 A. Hewit Poems 69:
Sin' good Sir Wattie's tain the steer.
s.Sc. 1847 H. S. Riddell Poems 12:
My auld wife here And me, just quietly on steer.
Gsw. 1865 J. Young Hamely Pictures 163:
Pilgrims like, aye on the steer.

2. A stirring or mixing, as of ingredients, deriv. steeroch; anything which has been or requires to be stirred; specif. a length of cloth in a dyeing vat. Combs.: cauld steer(ie), a dish of oatmeal stirred up in cold water, used esp. by drovers and shepherds when hot water was not available, cold Brose (n.Sc., Ags., Per. 1971). See Cauld, adj., 3.(9); steer water, the wake of a boat (Sh. 1904 E.D.D.).Ags. 1711 A. J. Warden Burgh Laws Dundee (1872) 570:
He that leaves a “fatt” with a steear of cloth, 2d. He that enters a “steear” without the ring, 2d.
Rxb. 1815 J. Ruickbie Poems 117:
But you may hae twa three steeries, O gude decent Scottish brose.
Dmf. 1822 A. Cunningham Trad. Tales I. 309:
Taxes and stents have made Scotland's crowdie thin, and turned her warm brose into cauld steerie.
Sh. 1899 Shetland News (4 Feb.):
I see da piltick i' da steerwater.
Abd. 1923 H. Beaton Benachie 179:
Johnnie an' Lizzie affen tak caul steer, or, as some o' ye micht ca' it, meal an' ale.
Abd. 1955 W. P. Milne Eppie Elrick ii.:
I'se jist gie them anidder bit steeroch an' saat 'em.
ne.Sc. 2003 Press and Journal (27 Oct) 12:
... fin it's a three tablespeens o oatmeal, a pickie o saut, a steer up wi caul waater fae aneth the tap tae haud awa fae the lumps, poor in the bilin waater, on tae the haet ring an steer like hell!
Edb. 2005:
Gie that sauce a wee steer.

3. As in Eng.: a bustle, commotion, hubbub, throng, confusion, muddle. Gen.Sc. Freq. in derivs. steerach, -och (ne.Sc.), steerie (Bwk. 1942 Wettstein), ¶steerum. Adj. steerfu, full of bustle, thronged.Sc. 1725 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) II. 288:
She keeps the hale House in a steer.
Sc. 1776 D. Herd Sc. Songs II. 217:
Wow, but the house was in a steery.
Per. 1808 Letters J. Ramsay (S.H.S.) 221:
Mrs Wilkie is making a wonderful steerie to have everything in order.
Sc. 1816 Scott Antiquary ix.:
Amang a' the steery, Maria wadna be guided by me.
Ork. 1880 Dennison Sketch-Bk. 27:
She pat a' the folk i' a steer.
Sc. 1887 Stevenson Underwoods 132:
My conscience! an' to raise a steer When a's ower late.
Ags. 1897 Arbroath Guide (27 March) 3:
Oor hoose was steer fu' o' neebors.
Abd. 1920 A. Robb MS. xvi.:
A bit o' a steerach aboot the place wi' folk gettin' ready for gaun hame.
sm.Sc. 1923 R. W. Mackenna Bracken and Thistledown 50:
“I want a' the chairs,” said the shirt-sleeved innkeeper, as he bustled about. “What's a' the steer?” asked the stonemason.
Edb. 1936 F. Niven Old Soldier xv.:
You've made an awful steer upstairs.
Ags. 1956 Forfar Dispatch (28 June):
I've a fine excuse for steerum — I'm noo flittit.
Bnff. 1968 Banffshire Advert. (6 June) 8:
Paris is aye in a steer.
ne.Sc. 1991 Alastair Mackie in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 68:
The thin weive
o the spinnly branches' shadda on the earth
bare-nakit still, pits me in a steer.
w.Lth. 2000 Davie Kerr A Puckle Poems 4:
There's a steer at the Plessey.
Accordin ti ma Aunty Jessie,
they cam aa the wey up fae Heathrow,
ti say wir jobs had ti go.

[O.Sc. stere, to stir, move, stir, movement, commotion, from 1375, Mid.Eng. stere, O.E. styrian, to move. For the vowel cf. Spier.]

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"Steer v.1, n.1". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 21 Jul 2024 <>



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