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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1965 (SND Vol. VI). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

MIRK, adj., adv., n., v. Also murk; merk; mark (ne.Sc.). [mɪrk, mʌrk; mɑrk]

I. adj. 1. Dark, black, gloomy, obscure (Sc. 1710 T. Ruddiman Gl. to Douglas Aeneis; I.Sc., Cai. 1903 E.D.D.; Fif., Lth., Ayr. 1923–6 Wilson; Ork. 1929 Marw.). Gen.Sc. Also fig. Compar. mirker, superl. mirkest, markest.Sc. 1725 Ramsay Gentle Shep. iv. ii.:
When Hopes were sunk, and nought but mirk Despair. Made me think Life was little worth my Care.
Abd. 1754 R. Forbes Jnl. from London 27:
By this time it was growing mark, an' about the time o' night that the boodies begin to gang.
Ags. 1767 Dundee Kirk Sess. Rec. (18 March):
It was in “the glooming right mark” . . . and he did not see.
Edb. 1773 Fergusson Poems (S.T.S.) II. 115:
If they wad like to shun the Smells That buoy up frae markest Cells. [Ib. 141, mirkest.]
Ayr. 1790 Burns Guidwife, Count the Lawin i.:
Gane is the day, and mirk's the night.
Kcb. 1814 W. Nicholson Poems 12:
But wha can hae a mind sae mirk, . . . To think that he shou'd jog thro' life, Without the pleasures o' a wife.
Ayr. 1823 Galt R. Gilhaize I. ix.:
It was by this time the mirkest of the gloaming.
Fif. 1827 W. Tennant Papistry Storm'd 197:
The very wind o' siccan werk Blew down the mouse-webs black and mirk.
Bwk. 1856 G. Henderson Pop. Rhymes 40:
This is like Hilton kirk, It's baith narrow and mirk.
Rxb. 1868 Hawick Advertiser (14 March) 4:
Rosy cheeks, and snaw-brent brow Wi' mirkest tresses cluster'd o'er.
Sh. 1877 G. Stewart Fireside Tales 42:
Du'll be pleased when du sees . . . my head taen aboot i' da cauld mirk müld.
Kcb. 1897 A. J. Armstrong Robbie Rankine at Exhibition 36:
Feint o' me's gaun to bide here in the mirk hour o' nicht.
Mry. 1908 J. Mackinnon Braefoot Sk. 148:
'Twas dark an' mark by this time.
Sc. 1917 D. G. Mitchell Clachan Kirk 113:
The present day is mirk, an' the weeks a-heid mirker.
Sc. 1952 Scots Mag. (Dec.) 214:
The night was mirk, and a little girl had been sen with a lantern to see the curate home.

2. Of weather: overcast, lowering, dull.Sc. 1775 Weekly Mag. (26 Jan.) 209:
The day hads mirk and unco still.
Slk. 1818 Hogg B. of Bodsbeck iii.:
It was on a mirk misty day in September.
Rnf. 1878 C. Fleming Poems 230:
As loud as in days that were stormy and mirk.

3. Combs. and phrs.: (1) dead-mirk, as dark as death. Hence ¶dead-mirk dail, the Valley of the Shadow of Death; (2) mirk-dark; mirk-derk  (Rxb. 1990s; Bnff., Edb., Ayr. 2000s),  pitch-dark; ¶(3) mirk-dim, gloomy, overcast; (4) mirk-eyed, dark-eyed (Sc. 1911 S.D.D.); (5) mirk Mon(an)day, the 29th March 1652 (O.S.), a Monday on which a total eclipse of the sun occurred (Sc. c.1767 Archaeologia I. 230), subsequently referred to as a day of great supernatural darkness; (6) mirk night, the dead of night (Ags., Ayr. 1963). Cf. O.N. myrknætti, id.; (7) pick mirk, pitch dark (Abd. 1963). Cf. (1). See Pick; (8) pit-mirk, dark as a pit or the pit (of Hell). Gen.Sc. See Pit, n., v.2, I. 1. (6).(1) Sc. 1882 P. H. Waddell Psalms Intro. 1:
The bright light o' the lift, an' the dule o' the dead-mirk dail.
(2) s.Sc. 1837 Wilson's Tales of the Borders IV. 40:
But it will be mirk dark — an' there's nae moon.
Ags. 1977 Valerie Gillies Each Bright Eye 17:
It was mirk-dark by the time the hill came up.
(3) e.Lth. 1896 J. Lumsden Poems 22:
City streets, mirk-dim wi' smeak.
(5) Lnk. a.1779 D. Graham Writings (1883) II. 133:
“They ne'er counted how auld ane o' us was . . . but I hae mind o' the mirk Munonday.” “Hout, tout, woman, the mirk Munonday, I hae mind since there was nae Munondays at a'.”
Dmf. 1810 R. Cromek Remains 115:
They were wat by the priest i' the mirk Monday week.
Sc. 1815 Scott Guy M. vi.:
Ellangowan! that had been a name amang them since the Mirk Monanday and lang before.
wm.Sc. 1837 Laird of Logan II. 156:
I say, that it's as black a day to me as the mirk Monday was to the yirth we live on.
Sc. 1852 R. Grant Physical Astron. 365:
The day of its occurrence gave rise to the expression Mirk Monday among the people of Scotland, which is even still used in some parts of that country, although the eclipse itself has long ago fallen into oblivion.
(6) Sc. 1802 Scott Minstrelsy II. 253:
It was mirk mirk night, and there was nae stern light.
Sc. 1819 Scott Bride of Lamm. ix.:
They wad never think of his lordship coming back till mirk night.
n.Sc. 1891 A. Gordon Carglen 53:
The face . . . was a ghastly spectacle; I would not . . . have seen it in the mirk night in that solemn building for half-a-crown.
(8) Sc. c.1800 Child Ballads (1956) IV. 517:
The night is mirk, and vera pit-mirk, And wi candle-light I canna weel see.
Sc. 1815 Scott Guy M. xi.:
It's pit mirk — but there's no an ill turn on the road but twa, and the brigg ower Warroch burn is safe eneugh.
Sc. 1893 Stevenson Catriona xii.:
Yon place . . . was pit mirk from dawn to gloaming.
Bnff. 1934 J. M. Caie Kindly North 38:
The wid's pit-mirk, ye'll be unco fley'd A' yer lane far the bogles an' warlocks bide.

4. Derivs.: (1) mirklins, adv., in the dark (n.Sc. 1808 Jam.); (2) mirkness, markness (Abd.27 1948), darkness, night-time, gloom (Sc. 1818 Sawers; Sh., Ags. 1963); (3) mirksome, -sim, dark, gloomy, eerie (Sh. 1963).(2) Slk. 1820 Hogg Poems (1874) 289:
Poor Connel was blinded, his lugs how they sung! Then mirkness set over his e'en.
Abd. 1832 W. Scott Poems 197:
We'll shun them like a lion's den, An' shudder at their markness.
Abd. 1871 W. Alexander Johnny Gibb xli.:
It's a gweed thing for some o' 's to hae the markness o' nicht to fesh us hame files.
s.Sc. 1885 W. Scrope Salmon Fishing 120:
A sudden mirkness cam owre me, and I sat doon on the sod in a cauld sweet.
(3) Sh. 1891 J. Burgess Rasmie's Buddie 61:
It's mirksim daanderin da nicht.
Dmf. 1894 R. Reid Poems 62:
Athort the mirksome muir.
Abd. 1911 Kenilworth Mag. (Oct.) 86:
It was rale mirksome gettin', an' the fowk waur jist beddin'.
Sc. c.1925 R. Thomas Sandie McWhustler's Waddin' 45:
By this time it was gettin' mirksome an' they couldna see ocht.

II. adv. Darkly. Rare.Wgt. 1804 R. Couper Poems I. 154:
Yon thin-bosom'd spraing Lang ere the mid-day beam is sped, Will mantle mirk the sky.

III. n. Darkness, night (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Sh. 1914 Angus Gl.; Fif., Lth. 1926 Wilson Cent. Scot. 255). Gen.Sc.; the last stages of twilight (Cai. 1903 E.D.D.), gloom. Also fig.Abd. 1768 A. Ross Helenore (S.T.S.) 136:
To this auld Colen glegly gan to hark, Wha with his Jean sat butwards i' the mark.
Edb. 1773 Fergusson Poems (S.T.S.) II. 211:
Whare cheery day-light thro' the mirk ne'er blinks.
Ayr. 1791 Burns Tam o' Shanter 31–2:
Or catch'd wi' warlocks in the mirk By Alloway's auld, haunted kirk.
n.Sc. 1806 R. Jamieson Ballads I. 83:
He's throw the dark, and throw the mark, And throw the leaves o green.
Dmb. 1868 J. Salmon Gowodean 66:
How your deft haun' can help the mirk to clear.
Bwk. 1876 Minstrelsy Merse (Crockett 1893) 224:
I' the sweet gloamin' 'oor 'tween the daylicht an' mirk.
Ork. 1880 Dennison Sketch-Bk. 5:
Pleg on de dogs gin de soldiers deud no see him, a't'o he wus i' the mirk o the mornin.
Ayr. 1887 J. Service Dr. Duguid 70:
The times were kittle, and men's minds were but slowly struggling through the mists and mirks of superstition to the brighter day.
Arg. 1901 N. Munro Doom Castle xxxiii.:
It wad need to be somethin' rarer to get into Doom i' the mirk o' nicht.
Ags. 1952 Scots Mag. (Nov.) 99:
“Screech-martin” and “scream-devil” are two local names for swifts, and when they gather in the mirk and come streaking through the narrow streets and chimney pots, the names are well earned.
m.Sc. 1979 Tom Scott in Joy Hendry Chapman 23-4 (1985) 87:
Sall the bairns o the goddess that herried the mirk
Gie owre their battles for glory
m.Sc. 1991 William Neill in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 49:
an hears thir clansmen lauch an skraich
doun in the forest's mirk.

Comb. and derivs.: 1. mirk-fa', dusk, twilight, gloaming; 2. mirkless, murk-, bright, free from gloom; 3. mirky, dark, gloomy, sombre (Ork. 1929 Marw.). Gen. (; black, dirty. Superl. mirkiest. Also adv. in mirky dark, very dark, pitch black.1. Abd. 1923 B. R. M'Intosh Scent o' the Broom 33:
A' the lave o' the lads that at mirk-fa' wad meet.
2. Bnff. 1792 Archaeologia Scot. I. 453:
A merry heart, a murkless head; A conscience pure, an' void o' dread.
3. Edb. 1791 J. Learmont Poems 4:
To a religious drumlie sea, Or mirky shore.
Dmf. 1823 J. Kennedy Poems 50:
Afore the broom-light, bleezin high Thro' mirky cloud.
Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 124:
Ha, melancholy mirky wight, Grim Heckler o' the feeling soul.
Rxb. 1824 W. Wilson Poems 16:
Though the night was mirky dark.
Fif. 1827 W. Tennant Papistry Storm'd 98:
Mirky clouds in th' afternoon Come stowfin' up the west.
Rnf. 1835 D. Webster Rhymes 11:
Then Mungo wi' a mirky face, . . . Confirm'd a' true that he had said, Wi' a thump upon his study.
e.Lth. 1896 J. Lumsden Poems 94:
The mirkiest hour — whan there's nae mune — Precedes the day.
Bnff. 1918 J. Mitchell Bydand 59:
Bit I hinna jist been richt sin' a byous mirky nicht That I missed my fit, an' tummelt in the dock.
Ags. 1920 A. Gray Songs 32:
I sit by the winnock glowerin At the bowsterous, mirky sky.

IV. v., tr. To darken, to overcast, to besmirch. Hence ppl.adj. mirkin, -en, dark, dusky, twilight (Cai.3 1931); vbl.n. mirkin(s), dusk, nightfall, darkness (I.Sc. 1903 E.D.D.; Ork. 1929 Marw.; Cai. 1956). Also ppl. adj. mirkit.Sc. 1725 Ramsay Gentle Shep. iii. iii.:
And soon the sleety Clouds mirk a' the Skies.
Rxb. 1784 G. Caw Poet. Museum 45:
Where saughs and osiers mirk the face o' day.
Edb. 1791 J. Learmont Poems 22:
Their sordit sauls Mirk't Britain's glory.
Ayr. 1792 J. Fisher Poems 58:
An' at the mirking, wi' him gaed, To the auld mill.
Ork. 1880 Dennison Sketch-Bk. 36:
As he was bearan heem the barm, i the mirkin o the eenin.
Lnk. 1883 W. Thomson Leddy May 4:
In my he'rt love's licht Is mirked by sorrow's nicht.
Abd. 1923 J. Imray Village Roupie 42:
Let bonfire bleeze at mirken 'oor Upon the “Yallow Brae”!
Dmf. 1979 Ron Butlin in Joy Hendry Chapman 23-4 (1985) 35:
oor histories an prophecies aa yin
come tummlin frae a mirkit heaven
tae bleeze awhiles oor mirkit hell.

[O.Sc. myrk, adj., 1375, n., c.1520, myrknes, 1375, Mid.Eng., mainly North., mirke, O.N. myrkr, darkness, myrkva, to grow dark. Cf. O.E. mirce, darkness. The Eng. equivalents are murk, murky.]

Mirk adj., adv., n., v.

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"Mirk adj., adv., n., v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 21 Jun 2024 <>



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