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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1960 (SND Vol. V). Includes material from the 1976 and 2005 supplements.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

HIRST, n., v. Also herst; hurst; hist. [hɪ(r)st]

I. n. 1. A barren, unproductive piece of ground, usually a hillock, knoll or ridge; the rocky summit of a hill (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; Ork. 1929 Marw.); in Ork. often applied “to a rocky or uneven patch of ground that is too rough to cultivate and is left in grass in the midst of a cultivated field” (Marw.).Ags. 1790 D. Morison Poems 158:
But up . . . I'll o'er the hirst.
Lnk. 1805 G. McIndoe Poems 139:
Out o'er the hirst, and cross the bent.
Sc. 1828 Scott Waverley xxxviii. note:
We are bound to drive the bullocks, All by hollows, hirsts and hillocks.
Rxb. a.1860 J. Younger Autobiog. (1881) 92:
We'll hae'm enow or he make the bit hirst.
Mry. 1873 J. Brown Round Table Club 228:
I'm heich up abeen Moray, amon' a hirst o' stanes an' heather.
Per. 1890 Scots Mag. (Jan. 1956) 281:
Jock slipt doon ahint a hurst.
Ork. 1929 Marw.:
Often in phr. — “the hirst o' the brae.”

2. (1) A bank of sand or shingle in a river (n.Sc. 1808 Jam.); hence a ford or shallow (Ib.).Abd. 1754 Process Leslie v. Fraser (1805) MS.:
He knows the Herst or Bank of Sand called the barr of Aberdeen.
Gsw. 1764 Burgh Rec. Gsw. (1912) 187:
The hirst, a little below the Broomielaw, which is about 400 yards in length and about 110 yards broad.
Ags. 1794 Session Papers, Arbuthnott v. Scott (12 Feb.) 11:
To cast up hirsts in the water opposite to his lead, in order to deepen it, or bring water to the lead.
Gsw. 1820 J. Cleland Rise & Progr. Gsw. 113:
To remove the ford at Dumbuck, and some other prominent hirsts.
Kcd. 1845 Stat. Acc.2 XI. 197:
The stones accumulating from time to time, and forming the hirsts of pebbles.

(2) A bank or mound of stones, earth, etc.Abd. 1787 A. Shirrefs Jamie and Bess iii. i.:
Sae down she leans her birn upon a hirst, To hear the sang, tak' snuff and get a rest.

(3) Geol. An anticlinical fold of strata or ridge (Lth. 1789 J. Williams Nat. Hist. Miner. Kingdom I. 111).

3. A great number (of people), a great quantity (of things) (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 78), a heap or accumulation of objects (Mry.1 1925). Freq. in ne.Sc. in form hist (Ib.; Bnff., Abd. 1957); ¶hiest (Abd. 1919 T.S.D.C. III. 18).Abd. 1927 G. R. Harvey The Shepherds 8:
Unco clear, as 'ee say, A hinne seen siccan a nicht for lang: an' a gey hist o' stars, min.
Abd. 1932 R. L. Cassie Sc. Sangs 44:
A hedderie hirst, wi' breenge an' birst, Is thrangin tae the tuilzie.
Kcd. 1954 Mearns Leader (2 July):
Inside the Hallie, there wis a hist o' fouk, an' nae muckle room tae swing yer pertner aff her feet.
Bnff. 1955 Banffshire Jnl. (20 Sept.):
That hist o' bourtree berries an' a' the lave o' naiter's providin' for her wild craitters.
Abd. 1992 David Toulmin Collected Short Stories 124:
A' the warld afore ye and a hist o' geets.

4. A threshold, door-sill. Hence ¶hirstin, a dwelling-place (Sc.(E) 1879 P. H. Waddell Isaiah xviii. 4).Sc. 1821 Hogg Jacobite Relics 190:
But if serf or Saxon came, He cross'd Murich's hirst nae mair.
Abd. 1824 G. Smith Douglas 46:
Wi' grief I'm like to birst. The Danes, they say, are a' upon the hirst.

5. The part of the floor of a mill where the millstones revolve in their framework (Ork. 1929 Marw.). Cf. Eng. hurst, id.; a ledge beside the millstone on which sacks of dried grain from the kiln are placed in readiness for grinding; “a sloping bank, or wall of stone work formerly used in milns as a substitute for a stair” (Mearns 1825 Jam.).Sc. 1710 T. Ruddiman Gl. to Douglas Aeneis:
The Miln hirst, is the place on which the Cribs or Crubs (as they call them) ly, within which the mil-stone hirsts, or hirsills.
Mry. 1824 J. Cock Hamespun Lays 26:
As lang's your coat's besmear'd wi' dust, An' ruth o' sacks upo' the hirst, Ye need na fear nae want.
Ork. 1912 Old-Lore Misc. V. i. 34:
At the same time he had to do a large share of the work himself in carrying the grain up the stone stair to the hirst, where the mill-stones were located.
Abd. 1920 A. Robb MS.:
A kin' o' a ledge aboot twa yairds lang an' ane wide wis ca'd the hirst, an' wis used for haddin the secks o' corn fan it cam aff the kiln.

II. v. To gather into heaps.Mry.1 1925:
When fishermen gathered mussels into heaps for removing they said they “hirsted” them.

[O.Sc. has hirst, = 1., c.1420, = 2., 1557, = 4., 1513, = 5., 1645, Mid.Eng. hurst(e), O.E. hyrst, a copse. For the sense development, cf. the cogn. Du. and Ger. dial. horst, thicket, hillock, dry elevated part of a bog.]

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



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