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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1971 (SND Vol. VIII). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

SORN, v., n. Also †soron-. [sorn]

I. v. 1. intr. To exact free board and lodging by force or threats, to act as a masterful beggar, to beg importunately (Sc. 1808 Jam.). Now hist. Freq. in phr. to thig and sorn, id. See Thig, v., 4. (1). Vbl.n. sorning, the act or process of exacting free lodging (Sc. 1797 D. Hume Descr. Crimes II. 345, 1825 Jam., 1838 W. Bell Dict. Law Scot. 932). Deriv. sor(o)ner, a masterful beggar, a begging vagrant (Sc. 1782 J. Sinclair Ob. Sc. Dial. 221, 1808 Jam.).Bnff. 1700 S.C. Misc. (1846) III. 178:
The Sheriff Deput finds the libell relevant, as declairing them to be holdin, known, and reput to be Egyptians, soroners and vagabonds.
Lnk. 1718 Minutes J.P.s (S.H.S.) 226:
Robert Scot and John Ker, passing under the name of tinkers was found sorning in the high country.
Arg. 1721 Stent Bk. Islay (1890) 274:
The frequent Thigging and Sorning of many people both from the Main land Countrey and also the Inhabitants of this Isle.
Sc. c.1750 T. Somerville Life (1861) 369:
Sorners”, who, though the name survives, have no modern representatives — persons destitute of a fixed home, and possessing slender means of subsistence, who used to lodge by turns, and for many days, or even weeks, at a time, at the houses of their acquaintances, and were treated with as much attention and generosity as if they had been capable of making a return in kind.
Edb. 1791 J. Learmont Poems 172:
Like ony tinkler out a sornin'.
Sc. 1820 Scott Monastery ix.:
The barons of Scotland are now turned masterful thieves and ruffians, oppressing the poor by violence, and wasting the Church, by extorting free-quarters from abbeys and priories. I fear me I shall be too late to counsel the Abbot to make a stand against these daring sorners.
Slk. 1822 Hogg Tales (1874) 656:
There is nae right nor law that says honest men should be eaten up wi' sorners.
Edb 1861 James McLevy McLevy Returns: Further Disclosures of the Edinburgh Detective (2002) 10:
Neither of these kinds of places of business, where the proprietor or partners lived and got drunk on the premises, was without the indispensable bully, or "fancy man" - that very worst example of degraded human nature, - always a thief outside, and a sorner on poor female wretches within - acting at one time the cruel hawk, preying upon small game, and at another the "dirty Andrew," living on the droppings of gulls as they fly over him.
 Kcb. 1894 Crockett Raiders xxxix.:
Many of these were put in hold by the Sheriffs of Ayr and Lanark as sorners and limmers.
Arg. 1901 N. Munro Doom Castle xiii.:
Robbery, thigging, sorning, pickery.
wm.Sc. 1987 Anna Blair Scottish Tales (1990) 16:
Other men who travelled the country, sleeping in empty barns or farm outbuildings, might have been unwelcome sorners but Jamie and his band were well-received and none ever thought to turn them out if they had helped themselves to a night's hospitality.
Sc. 1996 Scotsman (20 Jul) 17:
We walk up the Grassmarket, past a sturdy beggar ...
Of all the people in the city, says Sprott, these are the ones whose lives have changed least, the "sorners", the 18th century's very real and present and dangerous underclass, far more violent and vastly more numerous than their contemporary equivalents.

2. tr. with (up)on or absol.: to scrounge or wheedle free quarters (from), to sponge, abuse or trespass on one's hospitality, to get a meal out of someone, to act the parasite, to batten on (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Per., Fif., Lth. 1915–26 Wilson; n.Sc., Per. 1971). Derivs. sorner, a sponger, a self-invited guest, a parasite (Ib.), jocularly: a young scamp, rascal, ¶sornee, one who is looked to for hospitality, sorning, wheedling, sponging.Sc. 1725 Ramsay Gentle Shep. iii. iv.:
He gangs about sornan frae place to place.
Mry. 1740 Elchies Letters (MacWilliam) 123:
Giving both Mrs Grant and you trouble enough without going to sorn upon you.
Sc. 1797 Scott Letters (Cent. Ed.) I. 86:
As from being a sorner I am becoming a sornee, it is proper to acquaint you that my dwelling is No. 50 Georges Street.
Per. 1809 Letters J. Ramsay (S.H.S.) 255:
I was in hopes you would have sorned on Pitfour, whose wine by all accounts is better than his house.
Ayr. 1822 Galt Provost viii.:
He had a sorning way with him.
Bwk. 1862 J. G. Smith Poems 83:
There were crumpy farles o' cake an' souple scones to spare For a' the gaberlunzies, wha often sornit there.
Abd. 1875 G. MacDonald Malcolm xvii.:
Ye wad hae the impidence to deman' my warrant, ye young sorner.
Sc. 1876 A. Hislop Bk. Sc. Anecdote 69:
A Scottish Lady in the Highlands, noted for her profuse liberality, was sometimes overburdened with habitual “sorners.”
Kcb. 1911 G. M. Gordon Auld Clay Biggin' 90:
Keepin' open hoose, aye fillin' it wi' quality folk wha sorned upo' him.
Sc. 1947 Scots Review (May) 25:
The temptation to sorn on America is almost too strong to be resisted.

3. To scrounge (food), to forage. to feed on (Cai., Ags. 1971).Ayr. 1824 A. Crawford Tales of My Grandmother 275:
[He] brak' into the kail-yard, an' sorned there for the maist feck o' twa hours, to the utter destruction o' the fruit on my three airn-gray groset busses.
Sc. 1879 P. H. Waddell Isaiah lxi. 6:
Ye sal sorn on the walth o' the hethen.
Ayr. 1913 J. Service Memorables 24:
They had either to tether the beasts or let them sorn for their meat.
Lnk. 1922 T. S. Cairncross Scot at Hame 60:
He frae the almerie seeks to sorn.
Cai. 1992 James Miller A Fine White Stoor 150:
Bess sorned about, sniffing all the hillocks and tufts, going mad in a world of new smells.

4. To idle, loaf or laze. Only in Galt.Ayr. 1823 Galt R. Gilhaize I. vi.:
The stripling, who had been sorning about the door.
Ayr. 1834 Galt Liter. Life III. 40:
We maun let him sorn about the manse till the bodie's wick gangs out.

II. n. In phr. to be on the sorn, to be on the lookout for something for nothing, on the scrounge (Cai. 1971).

[O.Sc. sorryn, night's lodging, 1365, sorn, = 1., c.1460, = 2., 1575, sorner, 1449, an adaptation of the now only hist. sorren, the service of hospitality required of vassals towards their superiors in Ireland and Scotland, Ir. †sorthan, free quarters, living at free expense.]

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"Sorn v., n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 20 Jun 2024 <>



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