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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1934 (SND Vol. I). Includes material from the 1976 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

BICKER, v.1 and n.1 [′bɪkər + ɪ̢]

I. v., intr. and tr.

1. intr.

(1) Of things: to move quickly and noisily; of rain: to pelt. Given in N.E.D. of the brawling of a stream and the pattering of rain, quots. 1748–1874, and also in the Concise Eng. Dict. but not in the Un. Eng. Dict. Prob. borrowed from n.Eng. and Sc. The E.D.D. gives it as Sc., Nhb., Cum., Wm.Abd.(D) 1920 C. Murray In the Country Places 16:
The frost-boun' burn nae mair is free To bicker by.
e.Lth. 1885 “S. Mucklebackit” Rural Rhymes 147:
While Tyne bickers doun sunny-star'd to the sea.
Rnf. 1810 R. Tannahill Poems and Songs (ed. Semple 1876) 57:
Sing her thousand siller streams, Bickering to the sunny beams.

ppl.adj. bickerin(g).Abd.(D) 1916 G. Abel Wylins fae my Wallet 35:
An' doon there comes on kwite an' hat The bickerin' rain.
Kcb. 1789 D. Davidson Seasons 155–156:
An' the once bick'ring stream, Imprison'd by the ice.

(2) Of living creatures: to move quickly, with clatter of feet, to run, to rush, to hasten.Cai. 1930 “Caithness Forum” in John o' Groat Jnl. (25 Oct.):
Ye wid see them makin' hame a' they could bicker.
Fif. 1931 J. Wilkie Bygone Fife xi.:
“The Thane” was wont to “bicker” (run) down to the great tree.
Ayr. 1803 Sir A. Boswell Poet. Works (1871) 118:
And he's seen a ewe, wi' a coal-black lamb, Bickering cross the heathery brae.
Wgt. 1804 R. Couper Poetry I. 86:
The lammies, on the bonny knowe, . . . They bicker oure the lea.
Dmf. 1830 R. Brown ed. Mem. Curl. Mab. 71:
When straight we bicker aff in haste To whare the ingle's bleezing.

(3) To fight (with weapons, stones, etc.); quarrel. To quarrel given by N.E.D. and Concise Eng. Dict., also by the Un. Eng. Dict. In Sc., it has also the special meaning of “to engage in a street or school fight.” Also tr. with the missiles as the object.Sc. 1818 Scott Rob Roy xxvi.:
Or the wild callants bicker there wi' snaw-ba's as they whiles do.
Abd.(D) [1788] J. Skinner Christmas Ba'ing in Amusements, etc. (1809) 46:
The cousins bicker'd wi' a clank, Gart ane anither sob, And gasp that day.
Fif. 1841 C. Gray Lays 197:
And 'mid the shouts and schoolboy clamours, I've bickered stanes wi' Doctor Chalmers.
Edb. 1704 Burgh Rec. Edb. (1967) 68:
Ane proclamatione to goe through the toun by touke of drum discharging bickering under the penaltie of twentie merks scotts.
Edb. 1743 Bk. Old Edb. Club XXVII. 167:
Several of the boys being catched by him in bickering and throwing stones at one another.
Edb. 1791 J. Learmont Poems 278:
An' parliamenters bicker i' the stower.

(4) To gleam, flicker; to sparkle, burn briskly; of water, etc., at the boil, to bubble quickly (Bnff., Abd. 1975). N.E.D. gives the first meaning, but as poet., with quots. from 1667–1876; so also the Concise Eng. Dict. but not the Un. Eng. Dict.Sc. 1819 Scott Bride of Lamm. xii.:
A bickering fire roared up the cooper's chimney.
ne.Sc. 1830 J. Grant Kincardineshire Traditions 47:
Till ten little deils, at ithers heels, Sprang out o' the bickerin' low.
Edb. 1822 R. Wilson Poems 8:
The moon ran bickerin' through the cluds.

(5) “To laugh heartily” (Mry.11925, Bnff.6 c.1920).L.Bnff. 1934 J. M. Caie Kindly North 31:
The fermer, stan'in' there, on openin's mou', Got files an anterin scoor that set me bickerin'.

2. tr. To pelt, attack with repeated blows.Sc. 1733 Session Papers, Petition D. Dickson (9 March 1763) 18:
A great many cadies following him, who were bickering him with stones.
Edb. 1851 A. Maclagan Sk. from Nature 237:
When 'mang the whins an' hedges We marched in whistlin' raws, An' bickered ither wi' fir-taps.

II. n.

1. A rapid and noisy movement, a short run. Given as Sc. in N.E.D. with quot. from Burns. Not recorded as a n. in this sense either in the Concise Eng. Dict. or in the Un. Eng. Dict.Abd. 1928 N. Shepherd Quarry Wood viii.:
Startin' aff like that at a bicker an' then haein' to stop.
m.Sc. 1870 J. Nicholson Idylls o' Hame 35:
An' when I closed ye wi' a bicker, Your spring play'd snap like ony tricker.
Ayr. 1785 Burns Death & Dr Hornbook v.:
Leeward whyles, against my will, I took a bicker.

2. A quarrel. Given in this sense in N.E.D. with Mid.Eng. quots. and one modern from The Academy 15th Sept. 1883, 175/2. In Mod.Sc. it is gen. used to mean a street or school fight with stones, staves, etc.Sc. 1752 Scots Mag. (Sept.) 461:
James Blackwood, for killing a boy at a bicker or stone-fight, to be banished Scotland for seven years.
Sc. 1825 R. Chambers Trad. of Edinburgh II. 235:
It was formerly customary with the boys of Edinburgh to have pitched battles, called bickers, in which stones were the principal or only weapons. . . . The time and place of a bicker was sometimes determined beforehand, while, in general, they were the immediate result of a challenge passed between the parties.
Edb. 1843 J. Ballantine Gaberlunzie's Wallet vii.:
The rough snaw-ba' bickers, the twa-fisted rows, The hard shinty peltings, an' bruised bluidy pows.
Edb. 1866 J. Smith Merry Bridal, etc. 36 Note:
These bickers commonly occurred in the long summer evenings.
Ayr. 1913 J. Service Memorables of R. Cummell ii.:
We had terr'ble stane bickers, too, wi' the callans frae the ither schules.
Rxb. 1847 J. Halliday Rustic Bard 304:
The wheelings o' that quirky bicker, Wherein the stronger trample doon the weaker.

3. A loud derisive laugh.Bnff. 1872 W. Philip It'll a' Come Richt 127:
A heard him i' the furth brak' oot intil a bicker o' lachter, and rin awa'.

4. “A quantity of work done with speed” (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D.Bnff. 217). “Busy toil” (G.W.).Rxb. 1847 J. Halliday Rustic Bard 304:
The lave at the bicker were bizzie [harvesting].

5. “The noise caused by a succession of strokes, or by rapid foot-steps” (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D.Bnff. 217).Bnff.2 1934:
A' at we hard [heard] wiz the bicker o' his feet in the laft abeen wir heeds.

6. (See quot.)Bnff. 1866 Gregor D.Bnff. 11:
Bicker, a person of rude, noisy manners; a big, stupid, bouncing person.

7. Phr. at the bicker, of a liquid: boiling briskly, starting to bubble (Bnff., Abd. 1975). Cf. I. (4) above.

[O.Sc. bikker, bicker, v., (1) tr. to assail with arrows or other missiles, Barbour, Dunbar; (2) intr. to skirmish with arrows or other missiles; to make skirmishing attacks, Wyntoun; also, n., an encounter with missiles, a skirmish, Blind Harry Wallace; Mid.Eng. biker, bekir, c.1300 (D.O.S.T.). Of obscure origin.]

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



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