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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.

STARN, n.1, v. Also starrin (Sh. 1891 J. Burgess Rasmie's Büddie 100), staarn-; stairn (Rxb. 1826 A. Scott Poems 43), stern (Peb. 1805 J. Nicol Poems I. 148), sterne (Sc. 1827 W. Motherwell Minstrelsy 27). Dim. starnie (Sc. 1825 Jam.; Lnk. 1888 R. Bennett Poems 28), stairnie (m.Sc. 1838 A. Rodger Poems 46), sternie (Slk. 1802 Edb. Mag. (March) 215; Rxb. 1847 J. Halliday Rustic Bard 199). [stɑrn, s.Sc. stern]

I. n. ‡1. A star (n.Sc. 1808 Jam.; Cai., ne.Sc. 1904 E.D.D.; Sh. 1914 Angus Gl.; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; I. and n.Sc., Lnk., Dmf. 1971). Obs. in Eng. since 16th c. Hence starnie, -y, sterny, starry, covered with stars (Sc. 1808 Jam., a starny nicht; Per. 1915 Wilson L. Strathearn 268; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; Ork., Abd. 1971), starnless, sternless, starless (Watson). Combs. starnfa, the remains of stranded jelly-fish (Cai. 1888 Sc. N. & Q. (1st Ser.) I. 160), the alga tremella (Cai. 1971), cf. fallen-star s.v. Fa, v., 9. (5); ¶starn-keeker, a star-gazer, astronomer (Sc. a.1789 E.D.D.); starnlicht, starlight (Sh. 1898 “Junda” Klingrahool 52; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; Abd. 1971). Phrs. the red starn, Mars (Sh. 1971), the se(v)en starns, the Pleiades, the Seven Sisters, the yule starn, a bright star at Christmas (Sh. 1971).Sc. 1725 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) II. 134:
Frae 'boon the Starns, some Bard, descend.
Edb. 1772 Fergusson Poems (S.T.S.) II. 84:
Scarce a starnie blinkit frae the lift.
Abd. 1777 R. Forbes Ulysses 29:
The sin, meen, and sev'n Starns.
Ayr. 1790 Burns Elegy Capt. Henderson iii.:
Ye hills, near neebors o' the starns, That proudly cock your cresting cairns!
Slk. 1818 Hogg B. of Bodsbeck vii.:
The se'en starns hed gaen oure the lum.
Dmf. 1820 J. Johnstone Poems (1857) 86:
Or silver Cynthia, wi' her drift O' sterns sae bonnie.
Sc. 1825 Jam.:
“Put your finger in your ee, and ye'll see stern-light”; an absurd answer given to one who complains that it is dark.
Rnf. 1836 R. Allan Poems 167:
To look out on the starnless night.
Ags. 1853 W. Blair Aberbrothock 65:
Starnies pinkin' frae oot the sky.
Sh. 1886 G. Temple Britta 159:
Scarcely has the “Yule” or “red starn” reached its zenith.
Lnk. 1919 G. Rae Clyde & Tweed 57:
When the lichted starns are gleamin'.
Sh. 1933 J. Nicolson Hentilagets 11:
Nicht eftir nicht he staands coontin da staarns.
Abd. 1946 J. C. Milne Orra Loon 6:
I tyauved awa' hame by the licht o' the starn.
Ork. 1951 R. Rendall Ork. Variants 16:
The mune was up, and the starnie lift Luk'd doun wi' an errisome licht.
Sc. 1983 John McDonald in Joy Hendry Chapman 37 46:
The sneep o yer rauchan
leems ablow the sterns -
Slk. 1986 Harvey Holton in Joy Hendry Chapman 43-4 168:
granite glisten on rauch rock
sparklan as sternies in the lofty lift.
Ags. 1988 Raymond Vettese The Richt Noise 13:
Ae nicht I sat by mysel at the fire
and thocht. Nae soond in the street forbyes
the wun blawin thro the telephone wire.
A quarter-mune gied but sma licht, starns,
in clood, barely shone:
Edb. 1991 J. K. Annand in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 20:
Aneath a hap o snaw it derns
Deep in a dwam for maist the year
To burst throu in a bleeze o starns
Syne skail its flourish on the stour.
Abd. 1995 Sheena Blackhall Lament for the Raj 11:
Backwise inno their craft they gaed -
Twa wee men gyaun haikin
Back tae the sterny firmament
An their interstellar traikin.
Sc. 1995 David Purves Hert's Bluid 59:
An up abuin sweings aw the outlin sterns,
ferr brichter nor A've ever seen afore,
sprekkilt frae here until Infinitie,
skinklin thair lane throu aw Eternitie.
em.Sc. 1999 James Robertson The Day O Judgement 11:
The energies o space he shuik
An aw the starns cawed doun.

2. In various fig. uses of anything resembling a star: (1) a glittering spot, specif. a blob of fat or grease sparkling on the surface of a soup. Hence adj. starnie as in starnie-kail, broth with globules of fat swimming on the top (Rxb. a.1838 Jam. MSS. XI. 179). Cf. Ee, n., 2.(4).Edb. 1839 T. T. Stoddart Poems 55:
But ye may fin' a subtle trout, A' gleamin' ower wi' starn an' bead.

(2) the pupil of the eye (Dmf. 1894 Trans. Dmf. & Gall. Antiq. Soc. 155). Also phr. stern o' the e(y)e, id. (Slk. 1825 Jam.; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B., Rxb. 1971). Cf. Star, n.1, 1.(4).Edb. 1821 W. Liddle Poems 137:
It gart me backward dart my starns on times like thae.

(3) a spot or star-shaped patch of white hair on the forehead of a horse or ox (Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928), Sh. 1971). Cf. Eng. star, id. Derivs. sta(a)rna, -ag, -oo, a pet-name for an animal so marked (Sh. 1932 J. Saxby Trad. Lore 194; Sh., Ork. (starnoo), Cai. (starnag) 1971); starned, starnet, ppl.adj., with a white patch on the forehead (Jak.; Ork. 1929 Marw., of a horse).Cai. 1697 Old-Lore Misc. VIII. i. 9:
A black humbled starned steir.
Sh. 1898 Shetland News (13 Aug.):
I hankl'd up Staarna's teddir.

(4) a medal or decoration in the form of a star.Edb. 1791 J. Learmont Poems 64:
Duke Puerile thinks it nae disgrace, For a' his gartens, starns, an' lace.
Kcb. 1814 W. Nicholson Poems 145:
The lairdy langs for titles braw, For ribbons an' for starns.
Ags. 1815 G. Beattie Poems (1882) 161:
Modern Dux, wi' noddin' crest, An' starnies glancin' on his breast.

3. Freq. in dim. starnie: a grain, particle, a small amount of anything, orig. and specif. of some granulated substance, meal, sugar, salt, tea, etc., rarely of liquids (Sc. 1721 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. Gl., 1808 Jam.; Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 436; ne.Sc. 1971); also in extended uses. Gen. governing the following noun with omission of o. See O, prep., 1. (5). It is suggested that this sense develops from the star-like arrangement of such a substance when gathered together between the tips of the four fingers and thumb, a “pinch” (Ags. 1904 E.D.D.).Abd. a.1801 W. Beattie Tales (1871) 32:
We hae scarce ae starn O' fardel strae laid by 'gain Yeel.
Abd. 1832 W. Scott Poems 7:
Geordy, ye may gang an' draw yon starn thack.
Kcd. 1844 W. Jamie Muse 93:
The billies would not work a starn.
Bnff. 1844 T. Anderson Poems 45:
A wee starn wit, an' twa-three pence.
Abd. 1868 G. MacDonald R. Falconer ii.:
It's only a starnie o' drift.
Kcb.4 1900:
Gie me a starn o' meal to make the porritch wi'.
Bnff. 1917 J. Mitchell Tibby Tamson 5:
A starnie sugar for oor tea.
Abd. 1946 J. C. Milne Orra Loon 12:
Gie him his corn an' hay, a starnie girss.

4. The point of a needle (n.Sc. 1808 Jam.), or a hook.Slk. a.1838 Jam. MSS. XI. 179:
That heuk wants the starn.

II. v. To cover as with stars, to stud or bespangle. Liter.e.Lth. 1905 J. Lumsden Croonings 21:
O' greenest swaird, a' free o' whins an' broom, Starn'd owre wi' wild-flowers bonnilie.

[O.Sc. stern, 1375, starne, a.1400, a star, starnie, starry, 1587, Mid.Eng. steorrne, O.N. stjarna, id.]

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"Starn n.1, v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 30 Nov 2023 <>



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