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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.

KIRN, n.2 Also kern.

1. A celebration with feasting and dancing, to mark the conclusion of cutting the corn or the end of harvest, a harvest-home (Sc. 1808 Jam.; m. and s.Sc. 1960); a festivity held at the end of the fishing season, a Foy; “any private jollification” (Kcb. 1941).Sc. 1736 Ramsay Proverbs (1776) 7:
I shall conclude with wishing you the happy seed-time and blyth kirn.
Ayr. 1786 Burns Halloween xv.:
An' aye a rantin kirn we gat.
Kcb. 1789 D. Davidson Seasons 126:
The sportive pleasures of the jovial kirn.
Sc. 1808 Scott Marmion iv. Intro.:
Who envies now the shepherd's lot, . . . His rustic kirn's loud revelry.
Knr. 1887 H. Haliburton Puir Auld Scot149:
The kirn . . . was the shearer's feast, and was held when the last stalk was cut.
Ayr. 1892 H. Ainslie Pilgrimage 175:
Maggie 's the queen o' the kirn.
w.Dmf. 1912 J. L. Waugh Robbie Doo v.:
Ye'll hae to look mair demurer afore ye can dae that, as the noo you're mair like a kirn than a kistin'.
Rxb. 1924 Kelso Chron. (5 Dec.) 2:
Once upon a time the removal of the [salmon-fishing] boats afforded a kind of festival — “the Kirn” it was called. Then sandwiches and whisky were in evidence and a rare joviality inspired the brotherhood.
Kcb. 1956 Dmf. and Gall. Standard (22 Sept.) 12:
Kirkbean Hall. — Harvest Kirn with Solway Band, Friday, 28th September. Dancing, Fun and Games. 9 p.m. to 1.30 a.m.

2. The last sheaf or handful of corn to be cut on the harvest-field (Sc. 1808 Jam.), which was freq. plaited and ornamented with ribbons or dressed up like a doll and, after the celebrations, hung up conspicuously in the house till the succeeding harvest (Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 304; Dmf. 1960). Cf. Clyack, Hare, Maiden.Sc. 1821 Blackwood's Mag. (Jan.) 400:
The Cameronian . . . reserved several handfuls of the fairest and straightest corn for the Harvest kirn.
Dmf. 1830 W. Bennet Traits Sc. Life I. 31:
The clustering ears of these garlands, or kirns, as they are rurally termed, bent downward around them in heavy luxuriance.
Kcb. 1897 66th Report Brit. Ass. 486:
In cutting the “kirn” it was the aim of the reapers to cut it below the plaiting of the ears of grain. The one that cut it carried it home. . . . A dish at the “kirn” feast is “beetlet praties” (mashed potatoes), which are always stirred in the form of the figure 8. Into this dish were put a ring, a thimble, and a button.
Uls. 1901 Northern Whig:
Another plan was to blindfold the shearers after they had seen the churn. They were then turned round, and led some yards from it, and, having been again turned with their faces towards the churn, they gradually walked until they thought they were close enough, when, with the hook, they essayed to cut it with one blow. Hence arose the term to “cut the churn”.
Bwk. 1922 J. G. Frazer Golden Bough (1929) 407:
At Spottiswoode in Berwickshire the reaping of the last corn at harvest was called “cutting the Queen” almost as often as “cutting the kirn”.

Hence kirnie!, a shout of triumph to celebrate the conclusion of reaping.Rxb. a.1860 N.E.D. s.v.:
The corn's shorn, the kirn's won, Kirnie, kirnie, coo-oo-oo!

3. Phrs. and Combs.: (1) bursen kirn, see Bursen, v., 2. (3); (2) kirn-baby, kern(a)-, the decorated female effigy made from the last sheaf or handful of corn to be cut (Lth. 1808 Jam.; ‡Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.). Cf. 2. and Maiden; (3) kirn-cut, the last handful of corn to be cut (s.Sc. 1825 Jam.); (4) kirn-doll(ie, -y), kern-, = (2) (Rxb. 1825 Jam., 1923 Watson W.-B.; Fif. 1960). Also attrib. Cf. Doll, n.2, 2.; (5) kirn money, money given to harvest-hands at the completion of harvest; (6) kirn-supper, the celebration held when the corn is cut (Fif., Dmf., Uls. 1960); (7) to cowp the kirn, to (hurry to) finish reaping the corn; with on: to (hurry or strive to) get through reaping before another (Sc. 1931 Weekly Scotsman (5 Sept.)). Cf. Coup, v.1, III. 17.; (8) to cry or shout the kirn, to give cheers on the conclusion of reaping (Lth., Teviotd. 1825 Jam.; ‡Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B. 192); (9) to win the kirn, to gain the honour of cutting the last sheaf; of a band of reapers: to finish one's final rig before the others (Watson).(2) Sc. 1850 J. Grant Sc. Cavalier xii.:
Two kirn-babies decorated with blue ribands, . . . appeared over the mantelpiece.
Bwk. 1861 Hist. Bwk. Nat. Club 110:
When I first came to this district every house in the rural parts of it had a kern babie or dolly.
Sc. 1884 A. Lang Custom & Myth (1901) 18:
The custom of the “Kernababy” is commonly observed in England, or, at all events, in Scotland, where the writer has seen many a kernababy. The last gleanings of the last field are bound up in a rude imitation of the human shape, and dressed in some rag-tags of finery.
(3) Dmf. 1810 R. H. Cromek Remains 259:
From the same pin depended the kirn-cut of corn, curiously braided and adorned with ribbons.
Sc. 1931 Weekly Scotsman (5 Sept.):
Some farmers still call the feast which marks the end of the harvest “the kirn,” but few to-day bother about the “kirn cut o' corn.”
(4) Edb. 1889 Folk-Lore Jnl. VII. 50:
Kirn-cut, kirn-dollie, kirn-baby, maiden, and bride, are names given to the last handful (or handfuls).
Bwk. 1902 Folk-Lore XIII. 178:
Two women on the Spottiswoode estate every year made “kirn dollies” or “queens”.
Rxb. 1919 Kelso Chron. (22 Aug.) 2:
The kirn-dolly on the last day of harvest.
Sc. 1931 Weekly Scotsman (5 Sept.):
On the last day of shearing the best woman shearer had to cut the last patch of corn. It was made into a sheaf known as the “kirn dollie,” which was decorated with ribbons and hung in the farmer's parlour until the next harvest.
wm.Sc. 1937 W. Hutcheson Chota Chants 8:
We'll hae daffin' galore and a muckle splore, And a routh o' kirn-doll fun.
(5) m.Lth. 1840 J. H. Oliver Brit. Agric. (1857) 9:
Paid harvest Kirn money . . . £1. 9. 0.
(6) Peb. 1805 J. Nicol Poems I. 140:
Now the kirn-supper claims your lays, Where monie funnie ploys were Beath night an' day!
Per. 1821 T. Atkinson Three Nights 35:
The appointed time of assembling to the Kirn-supper.
Sc. 1827 Scott Journal (26 Oct.):
We had the kirn Supper.
(7) Ayr. a.1851 A. Aitken Poems (1873) 91:
Hairst, when the shearers hae coupit the kirn.
(9) Sc. 1777 Weekly Mag. (8 May) 210:
What think ye o' a ranting dance at winning the kirn?
Dmf. 1820 Blackwood's Mag. (Dec.) 328:
Swain and maid were whetting their sickles for the certain strife of winning the Kirn.
s.Sc. 1836 Wilson's Tales of the Borders II. 209:
All were joyous with the expectation that the kirn should be won on the farm of Gowanbrae . . . An hour would be sufficient to terminate their harvest toils and win the kirn.
Uls. 1901 Northern Whig:
When . . . the reapers . . . reached the farmhouse they found awaiting them a churn with thick milk and cream on the top in the middle of the kitchen ready for churning. The shearers sat round, and, dipping in their mugs, they took up some of the cream, which they partook with oatcake. So the phrase arose “winning the churn.”

[Orig. doubtful. O.Sc. kirne, a.1598. The Eng. form is kern and suggests an original O.E. form *cyrn-, which seems to appear also in †Eng. kern, n., kernel, grain, v., to seed, of corn, O.Sc. curn, a grain (see Curn) and to be a mutated form of *kurn-, the source of Eng. corn. The orig. meaning therefore may have been “corn-seed”, “corn-spirit”, or the like, of which the last sheaf was the symbol. Ablaut mutations of the root are commoner in other Germanic languages, cf. Du., Ger. kern, O.N. kjarni, Norw. kjerne, kernel, core. In Uls. the word has been anglicised to churn by folk-association with Kirn, n.1]

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"Kirn n.2". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 16 Jun 2024 <>



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