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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.

SYVER, n., v. Also siver (Dmf. 1922 Rymour Club Misc. III. 100), cyver (Gsw. 1884 H. Johnston Martha Spreull (1930) 50), syvor, -our, suivre; ¶syther (Gsw. 1744 Burgh Rec. Gsw. (1911) 173); and, without v, sire, syer (Gsw. 1740 Burgh Rec. Gsw. (1911) 60), sayer (Gsw. 1741 Ib. 81), ¶soyer, seier, sayre. The form seyd given by Jam.1 is appar. a mistake for seyr. [′sɑe(v)ər; ne., s.Sc. səi(ə)r]

I. n. 1. A ditch, drain, water-channel, specif. a field-drain lined with stones, and gen. covered in to form a small culvert (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Ork., n.Sc., Wgt. 1972). For rumbling syver, see also Rummle, v., 2. (4) (ii). Comb. syver-hole, the hole by which a field-drain flows through a wall.Abd. 1719 Third S.C. Misc. I. 37:
Ridding the Syr and ditch.
Slg. 1759 Session Papers, Wallace v. Morison (15 Jan.) 36:
The lentil on the head of the syver-hole through the stone-dyke.
Bnff. 1792 Trans. Bnff. Field Club (1889) 59:
The soyer was more a water run for springs and under water than a surface drain.
Lnk. 1795 Stat. Acc.1 VII. 145:
The manse lies in a swamp, the inconvenience of which the present clergyman has remedied by sivers, as they are here called.
Sc. 1821 Scott Pirate xv.:
Leaving a fur in the ground would carry off water like a causeyed syver.
Sc. 1829 G. Robertson Recoll. 592:
Drains on this plan, in the rumbling suivre system, by narrow ditches filled with small stones.

2. A street gutter (Sc. 1825 Jam.; Rxb. 1942 Zai, syre; Dmf. 1962 Stat. Acc.3 191, syre; m. and s.Sc. 1972). Also attrib. Comb. syre-water, the rain-water, etc. flowing in the gutter, fig. rubbishy talk, balderdash.Edb. 1701 Town Council Proclamation (19 Dec.):
The Magistrats have appointed the middle part of the Street betwixt each two Closses, a little beyond the Syre, to be the common place for laying down the Filth and Ashes of both Closses.
Gsw. 1718 Burgh Rec. Gsw. (1909) 22:
Severallis of the neighbourhead there do gather middens upon the streets and in the gutters and sayres.
Slg. 1739 Slg. Burgh Rec. (1889) 247:
Throwing in redd, rubbish, or nastiness, into or so near by the syvours.
Wgt. 1810 G. Fraser Sketches (1877) 81:
The streets, pavements, syvors, or vennels of the Burgh.
Fif. 1862 St Andrews Gazette (12 Sept.):
To creep an' crawl like a jackall, or a siver rotten.
Ags. 1888 Barrie Auld Licht Idylls ix.:
Catching the porter in a pan as it ran down the sire.
Ayr. 1889 H. Johnston Glenbuckie xxiv.:
These guileless laddie-weans, sitting by the syver-edge.
m.Lth. 1894 P. Hunter J. Inwick 62:
Stan'in wi' their boynes an' pails at the siver.
Dmf. 1903 J. L. Waugh Thornhill 162:
Syrewater, most utter rot, infernal impudence.
Arg. 1906 N. Munro Daft Days xiii., xvi.:
He stood on the syver-side. . . . The gulls that quarrelled in the syver sand.
Rxb. 1925 E. C. Smith Mang Howes 19:
Streets clairty wui creeshy glet threh fooel seier an brander.
Fif. 1931 Glasgow Herald (8 Aug.):
Staundin' alang the syver like a clutter o' doos on a rone-pipe.
Edb. 1938 Fred Urquhart Time Will Knit (1988) 102:
... while he was emptying the old water down the siver at the door and preparing to go to the well for more.
Ayr. 1989:
My grannie and mother always referred to the gutter running along the pavement edge as the 'siver'.
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. 1997 Herald 4 Jan 23:
Do I miss those nights of howling gale when I lay in bed worrying that one giant limb would come crashing through the roof? No. Do I miss the embarrassment of having acres of fallen blossom stop up all the sivers in the street and cover all the neighbouring lawns? No.
Sc. 1998 Herald 3 Jun 17:
As much money as anyone could wish was poured into the direct labour organisation of North Lanarkshire. Did this give the district's hapless citizens the services they deserved? It just went doon the syver, as the plumber on £54,000 a year might say.
em.Sc. 2000 James Robertson The Fanatic 96:
'Man, thon was fierce times,' Tammas continued. 'There was mair bluid in the syvers than ye'd see on a mercat day. They werena aw hingit, of coorse. There was some puir bastarts that set oot tae walk jist frae Dumfries tae Edinburgh that niver stopped till they reached Barbados. ... '

3. The opening of the drain-trap in a street gutter, freq. including the grating which covers it (Cai. 1904 E.D.D.; Per. 1915 Wilson L. Strathearn 266). Gen. (exc. Sh.) Sc. Also attrib.Fif. 1845 Stat. Acc.2 IX. 168:
In under draining, we put into the trench a mass of stones, two feet in depth, having a siver.
Ags. 1946 “D. Twitter” Tales 15:
I luit my hei fa' doon a sire.
Edb. 1960 Sc. Daily Express (12 Sept.):
Choked “sivers” near St. Bernard's Bridge.
Ork. 1971 Orcadian (11 March):
He had gone over a sire cover in Finstown.

4. A mill-stream, a side-channel for ascending salmon in a river, a grille or salmon trap on this (Bnff. 1860).

5. A kitchen-sink (Bwk. 1942 Wettstein).

II. v. To cut a drain or water-channel.Ayr. 1776 Session Papers, Fergusson v. Earl of Cassillis (21 Dec.) Proof 51:
The workers appear to have syvered the level while it was in the clay.
e.Lth. 1782 Session Papers, Darg v. Nisbet (26 Feb.) App. 2:
Driving a level to the limestone . . . Syvering and filling it up.

[O.Sc. scyoure, 1513, sivour, 1538, syre, 1553, drain, prob. from a Mid. Fr. dial. form of O. Fr. essavier, essevour, a drainage channel, Late Lat. *exaquaria < exaquatoria, id. Cf. Mod. Fr. dial. essivière, essaivoir, id. Eng. sewer, of the same ultim. orig., corresponds to Old North. Fr. dial. se(u)wiere, Late Lat. seweria. The Sc. form would appear to be an independent borrowing from Fr.]

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"Syver n., v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 25 Apr 2024 <>



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