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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1941 (SND Vol. II). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

CARLINE, Carlin(g), Cyarlin, Cairlin', Kerlin(g), Kerl, n. Used also attrib. and fig. [′kɑrlɪn, ′kjɑrlɪn, ′kɛrlɪn]

1. A woman, gen. an old woman and often in a disparaging sense; “properly a crone, but now generally in sense of a big woman” (Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928), kerlin, kerl). Known to Bnff.2, Abd.2, Fif.10 1938.Sc. 1712 J. Arbuthnot John Bull (ed. Colville 1920) iv.:
Then there's no living with that old carline his mother; she rails at Jack, and Jack's an honester man than any of her kin.
Sc. 1931 J. M. Barrie Farewell Miss J. L. in Times Suppl. (24 Dec.) 2:
It was eerie to reflect that to those two carlines, as we call ancient women, my study must still be more his than mine.
Sc. 1995 David Purves Hert's Bluid 26:
"A'm a richt auld wyfie, gittin," said his mither,
an whan Andrae gliskit, richt aneuch,
the war mair nor a bit o the kerlin about hir.
ne.Sc. 1881 W. Gregor Folk-Lore of N.-E. Scot. 109:
Aw sing a sang, aw ming a mang, A cyarlin an a kid.
Abd. 1998 Sheena Blackhall The Bonsai Grower 65:
... fin the time cam tae wynd up Granmither Mains, the contermacious auld carline stalled. Nae anither myout wis iver heard frae't again.
Fif. 1841 C. Gray Lays and Lyrics 178:
To Care, the carline, I ne'er crouch — The life o' man is barley-bree!
Ayr. publ. 1799 Burns Jolly Beggars (Cent. ed.) recit. iv.:
Then niest outspak a raucle carlin, Wha kent fu' weel to cleek the sterlin.
sm.Sc. 1979 Alan Temperley Tales of Galloway (1986) 98:
On the other hand it paid to keep in with the old carlin, for if prices were high and more eggs were wanted for the market at New Galloway, then she could arrange that equally well.
Slk. a.1835 Hogg Tales, etc. (1837) II. 331:
Plague on you for an auld cuttit, crabbit kerling.

2. A witch (Bnff.2, Abd.9, Fif.10 1938). Also attrib.Sc. 1923 Sc. Univ. Verses 1918–1923 17:
A haggard crooked cratur in a cloak that's lang an' grey, She's the auld carlin' wife o' the storm.
ne.Sc. 1830 J. Grant Kincardinesh. Traditions 46:
Like a maukin, I ween, might that carlin be seen Hirplin o'er dyke an' wa'.
Abd. [1768] A. Ross Helenore (1868) 199:
As she was riding on a windle-strae, The carling gloff'd, and cried out, Will awae!
em.Sc. 1988 James Robertson in Joy Hendry Chapman 52 68:
Auld carlines
Wuid wi wae gaed jiggin there,
Flung reels wi Hornie, memories
An fleyed the wits frae the feart.
Edb. [1756] A. Pennecuik Collection Sc. Poems (1787) 10:
Three clav'ring carlings o'er their pot, A' spewing fou.
Ayr. 1791 Burns Tam o' Shanter (Cent. ed.) ll. 147–148:
They reel'd, they set, they cross'd, they cleekit, Till ilka carlin swat and reekit.
Rxb. 1820 A.M. Pop. Superstitions of Teviotdale in Trans. Hawick Arch. Soc. (1912) 48:
The eiry deil himself was sitting in an auld muckle chair, and about hauf a score o' great big grey cats cam ane by ane . . . and takin' their tails in their teeth, tummlet heels owre head and startled up auld liart carlins (and transformed themselves into old grey headed witches).

3. The last sheaf of corn in the harvest field (see quots.). Known to Abd.22 1938. Also attrib. Hence, “the feast of harvest home” (ne.Ant. 1930 (per Uls.3)).Sc. 1922 J. G. Frazer Golden Bough xlv. 403:
In Scotland, when the last corn was cut after Hallowmas, the female figure made out of it was sometimes called the Carlin or Carline, that is, the Old Woman.
Abd. 1900 J. Spence in Trans. Bch. Field Club V. 217:
The Clyack was either known as the Maiden or the Carlin Clyack, the former when the harvest was early, leaving a long go o' hairst, and the latter when the harvest was late.

4. Proverbial sayings:Sc. 1862 A. Hislop Proverbs 206:
What carlins hain, cats eat.
Sc. 1896 A. Cheviot Proverbs 74:
Cats and carlins sit i' the sun, but fair maidens sit within.
Cai. 1916 T.S.D.C. II.:
A fisherman who catches nothing is said to “gang hame wi' the cairlin'.”

5. Combs.: (1) carlin-heather, “fine-leaved heath, Erica cinerea, Linn.; also called Bell-heather” (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Ags.1 1938); (2) carlinspurs, carline's —, “needle furze or petty whin, Genista Anglica, Linn.” (n.Sc. 1808 Jam.; 1886 B. and H. 89; Mry. 1839 G. Gordon Flora of Mry. 22, carline's spurs; Mry.1 1925; Abd.9 (Deeside) 1938).(1) Ags. 1848 W. Gardiner Flora of Forfarshire 119–120:
This heath is met with in abundance wherever there is a bit of moory ground, from the sea-shore to the highest summits of the Clova mountains. It is named “Carlin-heather,” and its blossoms are usually of a fine rich purple, though sometimes pale pink and white.
Ags. 1892 Brechin Advertiser (15 Nov.) 3/5:
Ye'll nae find a rowan tree on the head o' the hill, neither will ye find a tuft o' carlin heather growin' on the side o' Watter Esk.

[O.N. kerling, an (old) woman, -ing being the Norse fem. ending. O.Sc. has both kerling and carling, the latter being a later form prob. due to the influence of the masc. carl (see Carle, n.1).]

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"Carline n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 12 Jun 2024 <>



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