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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1934 (SND Vol. I). Includes material from the 1976 and 2005 supplements.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

BAIRN, Bearn, Bern, n. and v. [bern, bɛrn]

1. n.

(1) A child, male or female; offspring of any age. Gen.Sc.Sc. 1725 Ramsay Gentle Shep. iv. i.:
'Tween a Herd's Bairn, and ane of gentle Blood.
Sc. 1909 Green's Encycl. Law Scot. 568:
In the law of succession, the Scotch word “bairns” means the children or issue of a person.
Sh. 1888 Edmonston and Saxby Home of a Naturalist 285:
When he cam to my side I pointed to oor bairn and I said, “She's the only thing o' the kind that we hae.”
Ork. 1952 R. T. Johnston Stenwick Days (1984) 1:
As they drew abreast of the Post Office Medusa said, "Wett for me a meenit, berns. A'm gaun in here."
n.Sc. 1743–1744 D. Cameron of Lochiel in Gael. Socy. of Inv., Unpublished Letters of Simon 12th Lord Lovat (1886) 368:
I beg leave to assure you and her, and all the lovely Bearns, of my most humble duty and affectionate respects.
Sth. 1996 Eddie Davies in Timothy Neat The Summer Walkers: Travelling People and Pearl-Fishers in the Highlands of Scotland 29:
We hadn't been there a day when a crofter came up and said to my faither 'I hope those bairns won't be making a noise on the Sabbath Day! ... '
Abd.(D) 1915 H. Beaton At the Back o' Benachie 95:
Cricky, 'oman, bit they are mair sharp nor the very minister's bairns, an' them jist the scaddins o' the streets!
Abd. 1991 Douglas Kynoch in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 87:
Fan I was but a bairn, this big and bonnie quine
Wad gie's a smile an caa me owre aside her syne.
Ags. 1988 Raymond Vettese The Richt Noise 24:
I can tell hoo sair-duin-by Scotland is,
yet he's richt: he's got whit he needs
and it's a gey sicht mair nor monie anither.
Whaun bairns stairve whitna point in this?
m.Sc. 1997 Liz Niven Past Presents 11:
Whit kinna cratur
Canna let a lass
Mak claes fir her bairn?
m.Sc. 1999 Herald (18 Oct) 22:
Yes, you can get a haircut, buy a house, a newspaper and shoes for the bairn.
em.Sc. 2000 James Robertson The Fanatic 30:
One of the terrible Irishes from Montrose's army, who had burned and murdered their way from Aberdeen to Dundee to Kilsyth. They ate bairns. If they couldn't get enough Scots bairns to eat they boiled their own up in big pots and ate them.
Fif. 1985 Christopher Rush A Twelvemonth and a Day 217:
She was just a young thing, poor lass, her man at Yarmouth for three whole months, and a month old bairn that he'd never seen, lying sleeping in the crib on the floor.
Edb. 1894 P. H. Hunter J. Inwick 28:
I didna ken whaur I was, or what I was daein, nae mair nor a soukin bairn.
Edb. 1998 Gordon Legge Near Neighbours (1999) 88:
Says I've just to bother with myself and the bairns.
wm.Sc. 1987 Anna Blair Scottish Tales (1990) 13:
There was the gold pin he had bought when they'd been a year wed, the bracelet when Lilias was born, the pendant with a clear drop-crystal when they had lost a bairn.
Gsw. 1990 John and Willy Maley From the Calton to Catalonia 1:
Picture it. The Calton. Fair Fortnight. 1937. Full of Eastern promise. Wimmen windaehingin. Weans greetin for pokey hats. Grown men, well intae their hungry thirties, slouchin at coarners, skint as a bairn's knees.
Gsw. 1994 Alasdair Gray A History Maker 138:
" ... I had a wheen of bairns before I tired of housework. I was good at childbirth but never nursed the gets for more than a week because I didnae like small thoughtless animals. ... "

(2) Denoting the time of childhood; in childhood.Rxb. 1921 Hawick Express (27 May) 3/7:
Here leeved Betty Whutson, bairn an' wuman.

(3) Having the nature of a child.Sc. 1832 A. Henderson Sc. Proverbs 1:
Auld men are twice bairns.

(4) A peculiar extension of this word is used by fishermen in Orkney to mean the smaller of the two hills in taking their directions [Meeths] at sea. (See Marw.)Ork.1 1933:
We'll bring yin [yon] bairn in a line wi' the Brough o' Birsay.

(5) A term of contempt.Mry.2 1933:
Jock's naething bit a bairn, a big bullyin' breet.
Gall. 1898 A.W. in E.D.D.:
Bairn, is used sometimes in a pitying or semi-contemptuous sense, of a weak-minded or childish person.

2. v. To render pregnant.Abd. 1996 Sheena Blackhall Wittgenstein's Web 4:
God, mebbe Betty, their sister hid gotten hirsel bairned on purpose tae get hersel wed - ye cud unnerstaun yon; even the breets in the park meeved tae yon auld tune.
Slg.3 1917:
J. M. was bairning S. T.
m.Lth. 1993:
In the auld days ye wir bairned every ither year whether ye liked it or no.
wm.Sc. 1954 Robin Jenkins The Thistle and the Grail (1994) 103:
Hadn't he been heaved out of his post in the Sunday school by the young minister? And wasn't Lizzie Anderson spreading the tale she was bairned by him?
wm.Sc. 1977 William McIlvanney Laidlaw (1985) 215:
'I've had to ask a lot of questions. Not all the answers tell against that boy. Don't kid yerself! She hated you. And she was right. Feyther? Feyther's more than bairnin' yer wife. Feyther's more than you ever were.'
wm.Sc. 1988 Robin Jenkins Just Duffy 73:
Has Margaret got herself bairned? By Stephen Telfer? That'd be a laugh.
Arg. 1992:
He bairned a lassie.
Ayr. 1827 Burns ed. Merry Muses 14:
I've bairn'd the servants, gilpies both Forbye your titty Leah.
Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B. 47:
Bairn, to get (a woman) with child.

3. Combs.: (1) Bairn-clouts, a baby's clothes.Kcb. 1895 S. R. Crockett Men of the Moss-Hags iv.:
An' ye can help Jean to sew her bairn-clouts.

(2) Bairn-folk, children.Knr. 1891 “H. Haliburton” Ochil Idylls 57:
A lang array o' bairn-folk Thrangin' up was seen.

(3) Bairnrhyme, a poem for children.Sc. 1979 Maurice Lindsay Collected Poems 108:
Of Skunks and Men (A Bairnrhyme)
Sc. 1988 Joy Hendry in Joy Hendry Chapman 53 1:
Chapman 53 reopens critical discussion of William Soutar. Soutar the poet has been too much relegated the realm of his own bairnrhymes.
Abd. 2000 Sheena Blackhall The Singing Bird 57:
Bairn rhymes skip ben a clootie rug
That's aa the colours o the lexicon.

(4) Bairn's-bairn, a grandchild.Bnff.2 1932:
Gweed luck ta ye, ma lassie, an' may ye dandle yir bairn's bairns on yir knee.
Hdg. 1932 (per Edb.1):
Wee Annie is Elspeth's bairn's bairn.

(5) Bairnsmaid, a nursemaid. Cai. 1872 M. McLennan Peasant Life 170:
Here's a fairmer's wife wantin' a bairnsmaid.

(6) Bairnswoman, a child's maid or nurse.Ayr. 1823 Galt Entail ii.:
Eh! Megsty, gudeman, if I dinna think yon's auld Kittlestonheugh's crookit bairnswoman.

4. Phrases: (1) Bairn nor birth. (See quot.)Sc. 1879 Jam.5:
“She has neither bairn nor birth to mind,” denoting that a young woman is totally free of the cares of a young family.

(2) Bairns o' Falkirk, inhabitants of Falkirk.Slg. 1879 R. Gillespie Roundabout Falkirk 35:
The town coat of arms which had the well-known motto “Better meddle wi' the deil than the bairns o' Falkirk,” indicates a phase of temperament which will be better left unexplained.

(3) John Tamson's bairns, of one stock or family, friends.Lnk. 1827 W. Motherwell Minstrelsy, App. x.:
In the West Country . . . when a company are sitting together, sociably, and a neighbour drops in, it is usual to welcome him thus: — “Come awa, we're a' John Tamson's bairns.”

(4) Naebody's bairn, an untidy child (or occasionally adult) who looks uncared for, often an object of pity (Ags., Fif., Edb., Ayr., Dmf., Rxb. 2000s). Sc. 1998 Scotland on Sunday (25 Oct) 9:
Musselburgh, with only one win in the past four Saturdays, apparently embarked on mission impossible as rugby's Naebody's Bairns at top-of-the-table Gala. And so it proved. The Borderers went ahead 19-0 after 14 minutes on the way to a 38-3 victory.
Edb. 1985:
Can ye no wash yer face? Dae ye have tae go aboot like naebody's bairn aw the time?

(5) One man's bairn(e)s, meaning as in (3).Sc. 1706 First Earl of Cromartie in Earls of Cromartie (ed. Fraser 1876) II. 4:
Then, whate're parties or persons doe manage and cary it [the Union] on, they have my best wishes . . . and then I hope that wee shall be all one man's bairnes.

[O.Sc. barne, bairn, bern, etc.; O.E. bearn; O.N. barn.]

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



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