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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1960 (SND Vol. V).
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

HIRSEL, n.1, v.1 Also hirsle, hirsell, hersel; †hirdsel(l), †herdshal; hissel. [hɪrsl, hɛrsl]

I. n. 1. A flock of sheep, the number of sheep looked after by one shepherd or on one small farm (Per., Fif., Lth., Ayr. 1915–1926 Wilson; ne. and s.Sc. 1957); a drove of cattle (Ayr. 1812 W. Aiton Agric. Ayr. 692; Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 271; Mry.1 1925). Also fig. of a spiritual flock.Sc. 1728 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) II. 18:
Tenting his Hirsle on the Moor-land Green. [p. 70 hirdsell.]
Rxb. 1767 Craig & Laing Hawick Trad. (1898) 234:
If the Deponent's hirsel . . . did not fflee and make way for the Town's hirsel . . . Armstrong used to hound the Deponent's . . . hirsel very severely.
Abd. p.1768 A. Ross Works (S.T.S.) 194:
An' now poor Ken is on his travels keen. But first he ranks his herdshal o' the green.
Sc. 1773 Sc. Farmer I. 453:
To the ewe-hirsel, the richest pasture . . . the most highland part of the farm . . . for the yeld-sheep-hirsel . . . the management of the lamb or hog-hirsel.
Ayr. 1785 Burns To W. Simpson xxiv.:
This was deny'd, it was affirm'd; The herds an' hissels were alarm'd; The rev'rend gray-beards rav'd an' storm'd.
Sc. 1808 Lockhart Scott i.:
The old shepherd went carefully from drove to drove, till he found a hirsel likely to answer their purpose.
Lth. 1829 G. Robertson Recoll. 369:
He had the finest hirsel of beautiful cattle of his own rearing that I have seen.
Sc.(E) 1871 P. H. Waddell Psalms lxxviii. 71:
An' in Israel, his hirsel till keep.
Ags. 1890 A. Lowson J. Guidfellow xxi:
As the tender herbage . . . to the hungry hersel.
Kcb. 1897 T. Murray Frae the Heather 96:
Ae morn when oot viewing his hirsel Three tups short in number was he.
Lnk. 1919 G. Rae Clyde and Tweed 71:
Far frae this waefu' country fu' o' loss, Where nae sheep hirsel on the hill-taps feed.
Sc. 1948 Scots Mag. (Oct.) 36:
On such farms the ground to be covered is so extensive that the sheep-run is usually gathered in hirsels, or sections.

2. An allotted area of pasturage to be grazed by a flock of sheep under the care of one shepherd (Ayr.4 1928; m. and s.Sc. 1957). Also attrib.Sc. 1822 Scott F. Nigel xxvi.:
Like a poor lamb that has wandered from its own native hirsel.
Sc. 1879 A. B. Grosart in Fergusson Works 145:
The morning's “hirsel” is commonly near the Steading . . . In the after-part of the day the cattle are usually sent to the “outfield hirsel.”
Lnl. 1910 J. White Eppie Gray 9:
Frae Belstane up tae Blacklaws steep, Was ance a hirsel for the sheep.
Slk. 1922 Jnl. Agric. V. 283–4:
The “hirsel” is a range of pasturage occupied by one group of sheep, and each hirsel is a unit in itself . . . a “hogg hirsel” for about 600 ewe-hoggs.
s.Sc. 1938 Border Mag. (Jan.) 11:
Each house serves a big hirsel of high heathery moorland, and many anxieties are experienced when the weather is wild.
Bwk. 1955 Farming News (8 Oct.):
Mr J — E — . . . is of course most concerned in the breeding of the Blackface on four hirsels, each with its 30 score.

Comb.: hirsel-rinning, gathering sheep at a distance.Slk. 1829 Hogg Shep. Cal. (1874) xx.:
My uncle Hoy's kind were held in estimation over the whole country for their docility in what is termed hirsel-rinning.

3. A flock of anything, a large number or quantity, a multitude, a crowd (Ags. 1808 Jam.; s.Sc. 1825 Jam.; Uls. 1924 North. Whig (14 Jan.); Ags. 1957).Ayr. 1789 D. Sillar Poems 195:
He then roar'd out a hew an' cry, That a' the hirsle neerhan' by Wad muster up fu' speedily.
Sc. 1808 R. D. C. Brown in Ramsay Gentle Shep. (Scenery ed.) 712:
Sum gaed in hirsells, sum in pairs.
Slk. 1818 Hogg B. of Bodsbeck viii.:
Ye're just telling a hirsel o' eindown lees.
Ayr. a.1851 A. Aitken Poems (1873) 28:
Though hirsel on hirsel o' chickens were hatched.
Wgt. 1885 G. Fraser Poems 177:
There's the douce working man wi' a hirsel o' weans.

II. v. To arrange in hirsels; in gen., to classify, arrange in order (s.Sc. 1808 Jam.; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B., Rxb. 1957). Vbl.n. hirseling, the act of separating into hirsels (Sc. 1825 Jam.).Dmf. 1795 Stat. Acc.1 XIII. 573:
There is room to hirsel or keep separate, different kinds of sheep, which makes the want of fences the less felt.
Peb. 1802 C. Findlater Agric. Peb. 195:
The principles of hirselling are, to class into separate flocks such sheep as are endowed with different abilities.
Rxb. 1821 A. Scott Poems 94:
Whan a' the rout gat hirsel'd right, The noise grew loud and louder.
Hdg. 1885 J. Lumsden Rhymes & Sk. 168:
Clover Riggs an' Bunkum Ha', in the persons o' their lordly and carnivorous chiefs, wad herd and hirsel, or war an' worry, thegither that nicht in the ae den!

[O.Sc. hirsell, a flock, from a.1400; Mid.Eng. hirsill, 1366; O.N. hirzla, hirðsla, safe-keeping, from hirða, to tend sheep.]

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



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