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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1971 (SND Vol. VIII). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

SPEIR, v., n. Also speer, spier, spear; neg. form spierna (Lnk. 1919 G. Rae Clyde and Tweed 19). Pa.t. weak speirt, speird (Gen.Sc.); strong spure (Lth. 1825 Jam.). For Sh. forms see Spuir. The word is the Gen.Sc. equivalent of Eng. ask in most of its senses. [spi:r]

I. v. 1. tr. and absol. (1) To ask (a piece of information, a question), inquire, make inquiries, with at, o, of the person asked (Sc. 1782 J. Sinclair Ob. Sc. Dial. 94, 1808 Jam.). Also deriv. speirer. Gen.Sc., rare in Sh.Abd. 1714 R. Smith Poems (1853) 6:
Then he at her began to speer, How long dead have I lyen here.
Sc. 1728 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) II. 47:
What's ye'r Quarrel, and't may be speer't?
e.Lth. 1745 A. Skirving Johnnie Cope vi.:
When Johnnie Cope to Dunbar came, They speer'd at him, “Where's a' your men?”
Edb. 1773 Fergusson Poems (S.T.S.) II. 212:
At thee [brandy] they toot, an' never speer my [whisky's] price.
Ayr. 1785 Burns Ep. to Davie ii.:
Mair speir na, nor fear na.
Sc. 1817 Scott Rob Roy xviii.:
Is't the way to Glasgow ye were speering if I kend?
Sc. 1832 A. Henderson Proverbs 10:
Death comes in and speirs nae questions.
Sc. 1887 Stevenson Underwoods 98:
It's gey an' easy speirin', says the beggar-wife to me.
Per. 1894 I. Maclaren Brier Bush 219:
‘Did ye follow?' a' speirit o' Elspeth.
Lnk. 1904 I. F. Darling Songs 171:
Wee bairn, we've come yer health tae speer, Tae wish ye routh o' gowd an' gear.
Ork. 1920:
She wid speer the bung oot o a tar-barrel.
Ags. 1923 V. Jacob Songs Ags. 49:
I winna speir its name.
Rxb. 1925 E. C. Smith Mang Howes 12:
I speerd anent the Haaick motor.
m.Sc. 1950 O. Douglas Farewell to Priorsford 90:
May I speir what has brocht ye here the nicht?
wm.Sc. 1954 Robin Jenkins The Thistle and the Grail (1994) 250:
" ... I told her she might say that to her faither, not to me. He's the speirer in this family; he's the one that likes to ken what's going on."
Abd. 1981 Christina Forbes Middleton The Dance in the Village 25:
Fin ma mither spiers fit I've been up tae
I can safely divulge ma plans
An' look her straicht in the face an' say:
'I wis only haudin' HANS!'
wm.Sc. 1987 Anna Blair Scottish Tales (1990) 119:
'The Knave ...' he said finally ... 'is the Sergeant who spiers into a man's holy thoughts in the kirk, and brings him to sic a court as this.'
Sc. 1991 T. S. Law in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 35:
the man no kennin whit tae say,
the wumman feart whit was adae,
an stuid as suddentlie fair-baet
tae speir whit was 't she kent intaet,
thon muckle daith that's man's estate.
Fif. 1994 Nellie Watson in Joan Watson Memories and Reflections: An East Neuk Anthology 23:
"Yer man's retired noo, I believe"
Said in a tone that didna deceive
"What dis he dae wi' his time a' day?-
Oh I'm jist speerin'-if I may".
m.Sc. 1996 John Murray Aspen 6:
Ah met wi Heck Hogg
an Ah speirt at him
div ee ken Jock Murray?
w.Lth. 2000 Davie Kerr A Puckle Poems 47:
He's sweir ti own the tear,
or bare the sair hert-tug
ti ithers, should they speir,
for he's a man an you were jist a dug.
em.Sc. 2000 James Robertson The Fanatic 64:
'I thocht,' said John Lauder, 'that wi yer auld interest in the Bass ye micht hae speired o his lordship for me.'
Ayr. 2000:
He wiz speirin et ye aboot yer wife.

Deriv. speirin, (i) vbl.n., freq., in pl. (a) questioning, inquiry, prying interrogation or investigation (Sc. 1825 Jam.; Uls. 1953 Traynor). The pl. is construed as a sing. in 1825 quot.; (b) news, information (s.Sc. 1825 Jam.; w.Lth., Ayr., Kcb., Slk, 1971); (ii) ppl.adj. inquisitive, searching. Gen.Sc.(i) (a) Sc. 1822 Scott F. Nigel xiv.:
Making mony speerings about you.
Fif., Lth. 1825 Jam.:
As doun the lang lone I gaed wi' my laddie, Far frae the speirins o' mammie or daddie. . . . I'll fling a speirins at him.
Edb. 1828 D. M. Moir Mansie Wauch xx.:
The speerings that were put to them during their examination.
Ayr. 1901 G. Douglas Green Shutters x.:
After many “How are ye, Jims's” and mutual spierings over a “bit mouthful of yill.”
wm.Sc. 1986 Robert McLellan in Joy Hendry Chapman 43-4 23:
Dae what Mary tells ye, ye limmer, and stop yer speirin. The riddle's at the byre door.
Ags. 1988 Raymond Vettese The Richt Noise 87:
yon clock an' me baith oot o time and baith
woond up and yet, juist no quite in order.
It's the auld joke's speirin: wha's oot of step?
(b) Sc. 1814 Scott Waverley xxx.:
I will forthwith obtain speirings thereof.
Gall. 1825 J. Denniston Legends 57:
It will be attended wi' nae sma difficulty to get ony speerings o' him.
Ags. 1831 Perthshire Advert. (27 Jan.):
They hae gotten speerin's o' our approach.
Edb. 1844 J. Ballantine Gaberlunzie v.:
I ne'er could find ony speering o' them.
Slk. 1892 W. M. Adamson Betty Blether 107:
Tae see if I cood get ony spearin's o' them.
(ii) Gsw. 1877 A. G. Murdoch Laird's Lykewake 35:
Sic a pair o' speerin een!

(2) To inquire of, put a question to, ask (a person) (Sc. 1914 N.E.D.; Ork., Cai., wm.Sc., Kcb. 1971).Lth. 1813 G. Bruce Poems 83:
I spier'd a Herd, tending his ewes.
Ork. 1880 Dennison Sketch-Bk. 2:
Aen o' the ladies o' Hobbister spier'd him wha he wad like tae be king.
Lnk. 1912 W. Wingate Poems (1919) 83:
The ploughman, leanin' owre the hedge, May speer ye the time o' day.
Ags. 1947 J. B. Salmond Toby Jug iii.:
Spier yer mither if ye can come back.
Uls. 1987 Sam Hanna Bell Across the Narrow Sea 20:
'Why are ye aye spierin' us on that?' Sorley's tone was brusque and nettled the laird's son but he kept mute for he sought an answer.
Ayr. 2000:
He wiz speirin ye aboot yer wife.

2. (1) To request (a thing, help, advice, permission, etc.); to ask (a person) for, rarely intr. with at.Sc. 1724 Ramsay T.-T. Misc. (1876) I. 97:
Love speers nae advice Of parents o'er wise.
Sc. 1783 Rose the Red in Child Ballads No. 103 A. xxii.:
“I will come thy bowr within, An spear nae leave,” quoth he.
Sc. 1818 Scott H. Midlothian xlix.:
This siller can never be speered back again.
Ayr. 1822 Galt Sir A. Wylie xcvi.:
Wha the deevil speer't your counsel anent it!
Kcb. 1893 Crockett Raiders xviii.:
One that looks over my shoulder, without ever speering the leave of me.
Abd. 1897 G. MacDonald Salted with Fire i.:
To speir the mistress for a goupin or twa o' chaff.
Ayr. 1901 G. Douglas Green Shutters v.:
I wouldna wonder but she's spiering him for bawbees.
Ags. 1921 A. S. Neill Carroty Broon i.:
Ye dinna speir a kiss frae a lassie; ye just tak it.
sm.Sc. 1922 R. W. McKenna Flower o' the Heather xx.:
Speir at him for the place.
Bnff. 1924 Swatches o' Hamespun 21:
Gin we got the lass's leave, we spiertna the auld fowk's.
Sc. 1935 D. Rorie Lum Hat 16:
Three wishes ye may spier.
Sc. 1991 Roderick Watson in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 103:
But kennan the future
like he says, he's nae suner by the gates
than he speirs for his dochter tae jine him.
m.Sc. 1997 Liz Niven Past Presents 17:
In twentieth centurie Prague
He died be fire
Tae speir fir freedom
Fae Communist rule,
This young student,
Be his ain thin haun.

(2) specif. to ask in marriage, make a proposal of marriage to, ask for the hand of (Sc. 1914 N.E.D.). Gen.(exc. I.)Sc. Also absol. Rarely intr. with at, til. Vbl.n. speirin, a proposal of marriage.Sh. 1869 J. T. Reid Art Rambles 61:
The week succeeding the “speering”, after which young couple are called bride and bridegroom, they proceed to Lerwick to purchase their “wedding needs”.
Per. 1895 R. Ford Tayside Songs 252:
Shud a lad ha'e an e'e to a dame, He may bauldly gang forrit an' speir her.
Rxb. 1897 J. C. Dibdin Border Life 163, 173:
Ye wadna speir at me, though I wad rather had you a thoosand times . . . I'se warrant he's speirin' till her noo.
Ork. 1920 J. Firth Reminiscences 52:
When . . . the young man had obtained the promise of his sweetheart's heart and hand, he had to “speir her frae her faither.”
Ags. 1921 D. H. Edwards Fisher Folks 221:
His father goes with him, and together they get through the ceremony known as “The Beukin” — the asking, or, as it is called in rural Scotland, the speerin'.
sm.Sc. 1922 R. W. Mackenna Flower o' the Heather xx.:
His ongoin's when he speired me.
Slg. 1929 W. D. Cocker Dandie 10:
He had nae wife, which wasna queer: The puir man had nae spunk tae speir.
Bnff. 1935 I. Bennett Fishermen iii.:
He'd send his chum, Jeemsie Shaw, to speir her.
Sc. 1991 R. Crombie Saunders in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 29:
Then gantit the alder dochter:
"I'll no be stairvit here;
The morn the laird'll hae me,
He speird an has muckle gear."

Combs. (i) speiring bottle, a bottle of whisky brought by a young man coming to offer his hand in marriage; (ii) spiering word, the right or privilege of asking in marriage.(i) Sh. 1869 J. T. Reid Art Rambles 59:
He does not know what to say, or where to look; but if he can at all manage it, he makes an awkward sally on the floor, and slips a small bundle into a box-bed which stands opposite the door — a bundle which everybody knows to be a bottle of excellent whisky, the “speering bottle”.
(ii) ne.Sc. 1888 D. Grant Keckleton 9:
It's a mistak' to suppose that mairriageable widows mair frequently remain single than mairriageable widowers, simply because the men hae the spierin' word an' the women hinna.

3. To invite (n.Sc., em.Sc.(a), wm.Sc., Kcb. 1971). Rarely intr. with at.Sc. 1819 Scott Bride of Lamm. ix.:
Just that ye suld speer ony gentleman hame to dinner.
Ags. 1889 Barrie W. in Thrums vii.:
I wasna sae muckle as speired to the layin' oot.
Ags. 1924 M. Angus Tinker's Road 53:
Speirin' at me to sit me doon.
Abd. 1928 P. Grey Making of a King 7:
It's a kin' o' a compliment tae be speer't till't.
Sc. 1929 Sc. Readings (Paterson) 74:
The leddies o' oor Institute, are giein' a dance in a fortnicht an' we hae tae dae a' the speirin'.

4. With out: to search out, track down; to seek something by constant inquiry (Ork., n. and m.Sc., Slk. 1971).Sc. 1819 J. Rennie St Patrick I. v.:
I was sent awa aff loof tae speer ye out.
Ayr. 1822 Galt Sir A. Wylie xlviii.:
The whole clanjamphrey of them are awa' to London to speer me out.
m.Lth. 1857 Misty Morning 8:
Unless Mrs Curmuddie told her story in her own way and at her own time, there would be no possibility of “speerin' it oot”.

5. intr., with preps. as with Eng. ask. Sc. usages: (1) to spier for, (i) to ask after a person's health and well-being, to convey one's regards to. Gen.Sc. (exc. Sh.); (ii) to ask for one's hand in marriage (ne., em.Sc.(a), wm.Sc., Wgt. 1971).(i) Ayr. 1795 Burns Last May vii.:
I spier'd for my cousin, fu' couthy and sweet, Gin she had recover'd her hearin.
Sc. 1814 C. I. Johnstone Saxon and Gael I. viii.:
Ye n'er cum to spier for my Jane.
Mry. 1865 W. H. Tester Poems 130:
I stytit doon the ither nicht To speir for Jean an' Janet.
Per. 1895 R. Ford Tayside Songs 250:
I'm speir'd for an' thocht o' by young folk an' auld.
Gsw. 1909 J. J. Bell Oh! Christina! iv.:
The meenister, speirin' for ye.
Fif. 1954 Fife Herald (20 Oct.) 2:
Tell a'body we're speirin' for them.
(ii) Abd. 1759 F. Douglas Rural Love 18:
And dorty Megg, to tell ye mair, If't hadna been for Gibbie's gear, I hadna speer'd for sic as you.
Sh. 1869 J. T. Reid Art Rambles 60:
Jamie O'Houll speered for Mary O'Clingrigarth thestreen.
Per. 1901 A. McAulay Black Mary 123:
You jist be awa' up tae the auld hoose and speir at her uncle for miss Mary!
wm.Sc. 1936 R. MacLellan Toom Byres (1947) 35:
Whan I caaed to speir for her . . . ye fired a pistol at my heid.

(2) to spier in, to drop in on someone, to visit a place to see or get (someone, -thing), with at, for.Ayr. c.1780 Burns Tarbolton Lasses v.:
And should ye ride by yon hill-side, Speer in for bonie Bessie.
Sc. 1887 Jam.:
Speir in at father's as ye gang by, Speir in at the tailor's for my coat.

6. Phrs. (1) to spier guesses, to ask riddles (Uls. 1953 Traynor; Fif., Dmf. 1971). Hence guessin'-speers, the game of charades (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.); (2) to spier (someone's) pleasure, to make a proposal of marriage; (3) to speir questions, to catechise (Uls. 1953 Traynor). See Question; (4) to speir the goodwill, see quot. and cf. (2); (5) to speir someone's price, (i) to ask one's terms for doing a service or piece of work; (ii) hence transf. and jocularly, = (2) (Sc. 1825 Jam.; Bnff., Abd., Fif., wm.Sc. 1971).(1) Lnk. 1865 J. Hamilton Poems 184:
On song-singing, story telling, and “speiring guesses”, there was laid no restriction.
Wgt. 1877 “Saxon” Gall. Gossip 216:
Young folk used to amuse themselves greatly in the winter forenichts wi speerin Guesses at ane anither.
(2) Fif. 1895 S. Tytler Macdonald Lass xiii.:
You were always hard to please, Flora Milton, and here there's naebody speering your pleasure that I know of.
(3) Ayr. 1889 H. Johnston Glenbuckie i.:
He was a faithful visitor at the homes of the people, and on these occasions he was never backward in “speerin' questions”.
(4) Lnk. 1865 J. Hamilton Poems 200:
The intended son-in-law, accompanied by a friend, went to the residence of the girl's parents, and, formally announcing his honourable intentions, sought their consent to his union with their daughter. This was called ‘speiring the guidwull'.
(5) (i) Sc. 1837 Lockhart Scott vi.:
Scott said to his comrade, mimicking the air and tone of a Highland lass waiting at the cross of Edinburgh to be hired for the harvest work, — ‘We've stood here an hour by the Tron, hinny, and diel a ane has speered our price.'
(ii) Ayr. 1775 Burns O Tibbie vii.:
The deil a ane wad spier your price, Were ye as poor as I.
Ayr. 1825 A. Crawford Tales Grandmother I. 138:
Peter has ne'er speer'd my price yet.
Gall. 1881 J. K. Scott Gall. Gleanings 151:
That ane should spier my price.
ne.Sc. 1888 D. Grant Keckleton 25:
There wud be twa suns i' the lift afore ony ane o' the male sex fand me speerin' their price.

II. n. 1. Question(ing), inquiry, investigation (Uls. 1953 Traynor; ne.Sc., Ags., Kcb. 1971).m.Lth. 1788 J. Macaulay Poems 134:
I ga'ed to it, an' had nae fear O' getting you wi' little spier.
Ayr. 1822 Galt Steam Boat x.:
A wonderful speer and talk about what we had all seen.
Bwk. 1912 J. Burleigh Ednam 153:
There is for example the man who is always asking questions, “speering” it is called, and who is known as “the man wi' the long speer.”
Abd. 1963 J. C. Milne Poems 13:
Folk wha say their say and speir their speir.
em.Sc. 1988 James Robertson in Joy Hendry Chapman 52 71:
' ... It's a speir I hae about the muckle toun on the north side o the water, the Lang Toun - Kirkcaldy, ye ken. ... '
Abd. 1990 Stanley Robertson Fish-Hooses (1992) 31:
There wisnae a sense of urgency tae tell yer tale or hae yer speir, cos there wis aa of the night tae blether.
Fif. 1992 Simon Taylor Mortimer's Deep 251:
'... Shairly ye maun hae seen him. Noo, answer ma speir, whit dae ye want maist?'

2. A person who is continually asking questions; a prying, inquisitive person (Cld. 1880 Jam.; Uls. 1953 Traynor; Bnff., Abd., Slg., Fif., Slk. 1971).

[O.Sc. spyr, to ask, from 1375, spere, to find out, a.1400, North. Mid.Eng. spir, sper, id., O.E. spyriun, O.N. spyrja, id.]

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"Speir v., n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 5 Mar 2024 <>



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