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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.

BIRLIE, BIRLEY, Barley, Burley, Burrlie, Birlaw, Birla, n.1, in combs.

1. †Birlie-, Birlaw-court, also in reduced form burrlie, “a court of country neighbours to settle local concerns, etc.” (S.D.D.).

2. ‡Birlie-, Burley, Birla-, Birlaw-, Barley-, Birley-man, a man who estimates the value of a crop; hence, a petty officer appointed to settle local disputes, a parish arbiter; a member of the birlie-court. Given as obs. or obsol. in E.D.D.Sc. 1814 Scott Waverley xlii.:
Jamie Howie, wha's no fit to be a birlie-man, let be a baillie.
Bnff.2 1928:
I min' fin the vailyations for an oot-gyaan tenant wis deen by the birley man.
Abd. 1741–1744 Abdsh. Life in the 18th Cent. in Abd. Univ. Rev. (Nov. 1930) 28:
Invercauld had ordered three barleymen to divide the intown or the infield between the two tenants.
Abd.(D) 1877 W. Alexander Northern Rural Life in 18th cent. 13:
This principle of joint holdings . . . was well fitted to breed difficulties . . . and so the overlords had rules of “good neighbourhood” established under which the several tenants were bound to perform their respective shares of the farm labour at the sight of “birley men” chosen by themselves.
Bwk. 1897 R. M. Calder Poems 99:
When the Burrlie met to hire The herd anither year.
Peb. 1711 Peb. Burgh Records (14 Nov.) (1910) 183:
The Counsell nominats the persones following to be birlamen for the ensewing year.
Rnf. 1712 Family Papers Caldwell, Maitland Club (1854) i. 304–305:
Be sight of the laird and birlawmen.
Lnk. c.1779 D. Graham Writings (1883) II. 102:
The goodman being a sworn birley-man of that barony, came to survey the sowens before they went on the fire.
Ayr. 1710 Muniments Roy. Burgh Irvine (Ayr. and Gall. Arch. Assoc. 1891) II. 131:
They choose their dean of gild, treasurer, clerk, fiscall, officers, visitors of mercats, birlamen etc.
Slk. 1806 T. Craig-Brown Hist. of Selkirkshire (1886) II. 134:
Magistrates, burleymen, and attendants.

[Birlie, corrupted form of byrlaw (N.E.D.). “O.N. *býjarlǫg, law of a by or township and also district over which the by-laws held good. The term is not actually found in O.N. but has its parallel in Sw. byalag, village community, and must lie behind the common birlag, birlawe of medieval times and the Bierlow of several Yorkshire place-names, such as Ecclesall Bierlow” (A. Mawer Chief Elements in Eng. Place-Names 1924). D.O.S.T. gives four types combined with man and court — viz. bir —, bur —, bour —, bar —, the last being a north-eastern variant.]

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"Birlie n.1". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 16 Jun 2024 <>



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