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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.

NIRL, n., v. Also nirle, n(j)ir(re)l, nurl, gnirl, knirl and in sense 2. norrels (Jak.); ¶gnarls (Uls. 1901 Northern Whig (8 May)). [nɪrl, Sh. njɪrl]

I. n. 1. A small knot or lump (n.Sc. 1808 Jam.), a broken-off fragment, a morsel, crumb, a small shrivelled-looking object (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Uls. 1964; Ork., Uls. 2000s). Also fig. Dim. or deriv. forms nirlin, id., nirlock, a small induration or swelling on the skin (Sc. 1887 Jam.).Bnff. 1853 Banffshire Jnl. (23 Aug.):
He just wad need a nirlin' o't.
Rnf. 1876 J. Nicholson Kilwuddie 119:
Ye micht bring something hame to me, wer't but a nirl o' cake.
Sc.(E) 1879 P. H. Waddell Isaiah i. 25:
No a nirl o' what's fause I'se lat stan'.
Sc.(E) 1916 T. W. Paterson Wyse-Sayin's xvii. i.:
Better wi' a nirl o' an auld bannock, . . . Than a hale hoosefu' o' galraivagin.

2. In pl.: a rash or pustular eruption, a tetter, specif. that of chicken-pox (Gsw. 1775 Bulletin (12 March 1935) 18; Sc. 1808 Jam.; Mearns c.1850; w.Sc. c.1900; Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928); Ork. 1929 Marw.; Uls. 1953 Traynor; Ork., Per., Lth. 1964). Comb.: nirl-pock(s), id. (Slg., w.Sc. c.1900). Sometimes confused with Mirls, measles.Sc. 1702 Atholl MSS. (7 July):
We sent yesterday to enquire, having heard your little girl there had the nurls.
Sc. 1706 Short Survey Married Life 7:
She'll make you look as if you were all nipped with the Nirles.
Sc. 1822 J. M. Good Study Medic. IV. 609:
Herpes exedens. . . . Like the measles of this modification, they are denominated nirles in some parts of Scotland.
Fif. 1886 A. Stewart Reminisc. Dunfermline 48:
Marigold tea was usually given to children suffering from the “nirles”.

3. A puny person, dwarf.Sc. 1823 Lockhart Reg. Dalton vii. ii.:
Why, he has nae mair calf to his leg than a greyhound — And sic a whey face! — a perfect nirl! as I sall answer.
n.Sc. 1825 Jam.:
A weary nirl, a feeble pigmy.

4. A cold, biting wind (Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928), Sh. 1964). Cf. v., 1.

II. v. 1. (1) tr. To shrink, shrivel, contract, to stunt in growth, to pinch with cold (Lth. 1825 Jam.; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; Sh., Fif., m.Lth., Cld., Lnk. 1964). Also fig. Ppl.adjs. n(j)irlin, nurlin, shrivelling, stinging with cold (I.Sc. 1964); nirled, nirlt, nurrilled, stunted in growth, shrunken, shrivelled (Lth. 1825 Jam.; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; Ork. 1964).Lth. 1813 G. Bruce Poems 95:
Misfortune came wi' nirling blast.
Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 476:
What skill has he about a nurrill'd stott.
Fif. 1831 Fife Herald (17 Nov.):
Between genteelity, lang hours, and ae nonsense o' restriction and anither, the creatures [gentry] ha'e been starved and nirled in their youth.
m.Lth. 1853–5 Trans. Highl. Soc. 12:
None of the stems ever attained the height of 6 inches, and the leaves were exceedingly small and “knirled”.
Fif. 1864 W. D. Latto T. Bodkin ii.:
The cauld nirled an' knawed at their heart-strings.
Ayr. 1879 J. White Jottings 205:
Their gruesome figures, lang and nirl'd.
Uls. 1892 Ballymena Obs.:
A dry nirlin' win' , or very nirlin' weather.
Fif. 1899 J. Colville Vernacular 52:
Gloomy alders, whereon hung last year's nirled cones.
Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928):
A n(j)irlin cauld. . . . A n(j)irlin (kind o' a) night.
Rxb. 1925 E. C. Smith Mang Howes 19:
The nurlin hackin clap o Jock Nipneb's nitherin sleeve.
Sc. 1935 D. Rorie Lum Hat 22:
Noo, at lang last the smith grew nirlt An' frail, an' fu' o' years.
Abd. 1945 Scots Mag. (Feb.) 378:
But the Spring o' the Year will thow the nirl't grun.
Abd. 1995 Flora Garry Collected Poems 23:
Bit the Spring o the year'll thowe the nirlt grun,
Slocken the gizzent gowan-reet, kennle the funn,

Hence nirlie, -y, n(j)irli (Sh.), (i) of animals or plants: dwarfish, stunted, shrivelled (s.Sc. 1825 Jam.; I.Sc. 1964), comb. nirlie-headed, of wheat: having small stunted ears (Jam.); (ii) of cold: pinching, nipping (Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928); Sh., Fif. 1964); (iii) fig. niggardly (Lth. 1825 Jam.).(i) Lth. 1825 Jam.:
That's puir nirlie grain as ever I saw.
Ags. 1868 G. Webster Strathbrachan I. iii.:
The plants turn nirly whenever the roots touch the cauld till.
Ags. 1894 A. Reid Songs 71:
Gang back the road ye cam', ye nirly troot.
(ii) Sc. 1887 Stevenson Underwoods (1900) 80:
Frae nirly, nippin, Eas'lan' breeze.
Ags. 1945 Scots Mag. (June) 219:
I could see the two youngsters in the Nethergate of Dundee, homeward bound from school on a nirly, nippin' December afternoon.

(2) intr. To shrink, shrivel up in oneself, cringe with cold (Sh. 1964). Ppl.adj. njirlin, shrunken, dwarfish.Rxb. 1847 J. Halliday Rustic Bard 284:
The frost in ilk place showed his cauld withering face, On ilka bleak hill sitting nurlin'.
Sc. 1860 Royal Caled. Curling Club Annual 223:
Aye, though the winds blaw cauld and snell, A' ither folk are nirlin'.
Sh. 1952 J. Hunter Taen wi da Trow 97:
A baand o ellit oorlie pooshins, Shargin, njirlin, lipper tings.

2. Of pain: to ache continuously, gnaw (Fif. 1964).Fif.20 1947:
Toothache kept nirlin aa nicht.

[Variant of Knurl, q.v. O.Sc. nirlend, a puny creature, nirrilis, measles, a.1585.]

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"Nirl n., v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 16 Jun 2024 <>



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