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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.

SWIRL, n., v. Also -el, swurl, swarl, sworle, swirrle. [swɪrl, swʌrl]

I. n. 1. A whirling movement of water, an eddy, vortex, whirlpool, also transf. of wind, smoke, driving snow, etc., a spinning round (Sc. 1802 J. Sibbald Chron. Sc. Poetry Gl., 1808 Jam.) and fig. Gen.Sc., now also in Eng. Phr. to play swirl, to whirl, spin, spiral. Comb. swirrle-blast, an eddy.Dmf. 1794 B. Johnston Agric. Dmf. 74:
The square form of the houses occasions such swirrle-blasts, as very frequently unroof them.
Sc. 1818 Scott Bride of Lamm. xxxiv.:
She'll never see the Martinmas wind gar them [leaves] dance in swirls.
Ayr. 1823 Galt R. Gilhaize II. iii.:
A swirl of the crowd tore them asunder.
Sc. 1834 Wilson Noctes Amb. (1855) IV. 138:
But up wi' a swurl again flees imagination.
Sc. 1840 Carlyle Heroes i.:
A kind of backwater, or eddying swirl.
Kcb. 1894 Crockett Lilac Sunbonnet vi.:
The keen, acrid swirls of wood-smoke.
Dmf. 1894 R. Reid Poems 29:
The win' sae lown, Can scrimply gar the sky peat-reek play swirl.
Edb. 1900 E. H. Strain Elmslie's Drag-net 26:
The solid world gied a swirl wi' me at that word.
Bnff. 1926 Banffshire Jnl. (18 May) 8:
The currick in the sworles rose, An' swayed fae side to side.

2. A twist, twirl, coil, a twisted or tangled state (I.Sc., Cai., em.Sc. (a) 1972); a twist or knot in the grain of wood (Sc. 1825 Jam.; Ork. 1929 Marw.; Kcb. 1972).Ayr. 1786 Burns Twa Dogs 36–7:
His gawsie tail, wi' upward curl, Hung owre his hurdies wi' a swirl.
Edb. 1791 J. Learmont Poems 51:
The tricks o' ilka ill gi'en churle He brawlie tells, An, a, their deeds winds to a swirl Wi' logic spells.
Sc. 1823 Scots Mag. (May) 574:
Ripe corn shaken, and the green a' laid, an' blawn in swirls.
Sc. 1830 Wilson Noctes Amb. (1855) III. 82:
Roasted afore a clear fire to the swirl o' a worsted string.
Sc. 1844 H. Stephens Bk. Farm II. 217:
The hair . . . which, notwithstanding its different swirls, all tends from the upper to the lower part of the body.
Bwk. 1897 R. M. Calder Poems 96:
His stack has sic a swirl, 'Twill coup the first bit win'.

3. A tuft or curl of hair, a forelock, a quiff (Sh. 1972).Ayr. 1847 J. Fulton St Innan's Day 14:
In ringlets and in swirls.
Bwk. 1859 P. Landreth J. Spindle (1911) 29:
My hair had an unruly swirl i' the front.

4. A semicircular mark, wrinkle or the like on the skin. The reference in quot. is to a horse-shoe like mark on the brow of Grierson of Lag (“Sir Robert Redgauntlet”). See Scott Redgauntlet Let. xi.Sc. 1842 D. Vedder Poems 363:
A monstrous “swirel” . . . betwixt his eyes rendered his visage horrible.

II. v. 1. tr. and intr. (1) To (cause to) move round and round, whirl, spin, eddy, of water, wind, etc. (Sc. 1808 Jam.); to wave, brandish. Gen.Sc.Abd. 1754 R. Forbes Ajax 3:
Wha in a tight Thessalian bark, To Colchos' harbour swirl'd.
Ayr. 1785 Burns Winter Night ii.:
While burns wi' snawy wreaths upchoked, Wild-eddying swirl.
Rnf. 1790 A. Wilson Poems 61:
Mony a lum dang down — an' stack, Heigh i' the air up swirl'd.
Sc. 1818 S. Ferrier Marriage xxvi.:
Some withered leaves were swirled round and round, as if by the wind.
Sc. 1871 Royal Caled. Curling Club Annual 274:
Flick'ring snawdrifts, wildly swurling.
Ayr. 1890 J. Service Notandums 125:
Let him swurl his glaive wi' a' his micht.
Slg. 1901 R. Buchanan Poems 95:
October leaves are swarling lifeless through the air.
Rxb. 1925 E. C. Smith Mang Howes 21:
A luit eet gang, i swurlin cluds o stoor.
wm.Sc. 1998 Alan Warner The Sopranos (1999) 52:
The bus moved along loch sides, swurled like a compass needle at their bridged-heads and travelled down opposite banks, so's you could look, cross water and see where you'd come from.

(2) intr. Of the senses: to be in a whirl, be dizzy, reel. Vbl.n. swirling, giddiness, vertigo (Sc. 1825 Jam.).Slk. 1818 Hogg B. of Bodsbeck xii.:
We'll never mair swirl at the gelloch o' the ern.

2. (1) To give a twist or curl to, to coil, spin (as of rope). Used fig. in quot.Rnf. 1835 D. Webster Rhymes 107:
Just gie him a hair to mak a tether, He needs nae mair, But swirls awa without a swither His rhyming ware.

(2) To have a twist, be distorted or deformed. Ppl.adj. swirlin, -on (wm.Sc. 1825 Jam.).Rnf. 1807 R. Tannahill Poems 29:
Auld swirlon, slaethorn, camsheugh, crooked Wight.

[O.Sc. swyrl, an eddy, 1420, to whirl, 1513. Orig. Sc. but adopted by Eng. in the early 19th c. Orig. chiefly onomat., of freq. formation. Cf. Norw., Dan. svirra, to whirl, Norw. dial. svirla, Du. zwirrelen, id., Ger. schwirren, to whizz. See note to Swither, n.2, v.2]

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"Swirl n., v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 12 Jun 2024 <>



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