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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1974 (SND Vol. IX). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

TIRL, v.2, n.1 Also tirr(e)l; turl; ¶thirl. [tɪrl]

I. v. 1. tr. (1) To cause to rotate or spin, to turn, twirl (Sc. 1880 Jam.; Per. 1915 Wilson L. Strathearn 272; Sh., Ork., Cai., Rs., Per., Slg., wm.Sc. 1972). Also in n.Eng. dial. Phrs. tirlin the trencher, the game of spin the plate, a variety of forfeits; to tirl a merry pin, to sing a gay song or play a lively tune, metaphorically from Pin, n.1, 2. (2) but confused with (2) below and phs. with Tirl, v.3Abd. a.1809 J. Skinner Amusements 102:
I hope it's nae a sin, Sometimes to tirl a merry pin. As weel's we're able.
Ayr. 1832 Galt Stanley Buxton I. iv.:
The wind tirled up and meddled with Miss Sibby's sacred petticoats in the most unruly manner.
Ayr. 1845 Ayrshire Wreath 135:
Next we had a tough game at tirlin the trencher.
Ags. 1875 J. Watson Samples 98:
Bedeen, the spokes she eident tirled, Wi' birr the rim an' spinnle span.
Ags. 1881 J. S. Neish Byways 21:
In vain did Mrs Gow tirl the drumsticks.
Ags. 1988 Raymond Vettese The Richt Noise 21:
Scotland can easy tirl
ocht sickart and set the wit in a whirl
that winna settle doon. Nocht's seen straucht,
aa's hotterin, senses rooked o maucht.

(2) specif. to turn, twist, twiddle or move to and fro some moveable fitting on (a door), e.g. a latch, ring or special contrivance such as a Risp, q.v., so as to produce a sharp rattling, tapping noise by way of arousing those within, to tap, knock or rattle on, in gen. (Bnff., Per. 1972); rarely, to attract the attention of (someone), to summon (someone) in this way.Abd. c.1750 Garland Bon-Accord (1886) 14:
He tirl't the howdie's widden pinnie.
Ayr. a.1789 R. Chambers Pop. Rhymes (1870) 82:
Some tell about their sweethearts, how they tirled them to the winnock.
Ayr. 1822 H. Ainslie Pilgrimage 124:
Yestreen I tirl'd my love's window.
Hdg. 1896 J. Lumsden Battles 46:
They tirl the neebors' snecks.
Bnff. 1933 M. Symon Deveron Days 29:
Fustlin' as he tirls the pin, In comes the Cheery Chiel.
m.Sc. 1988 William Neill Making Tracks 25:
D'ye mind hou yince thay tirlit on yir door-sneck ...

2. tr. To turn or bowl over, to upset, trip, overturn (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; Ork. 1929 Marw.; Sh., Ork., Cai. 1972).Cai.1 1928:
He gied him a loogard 'at tirled him.
Rxb. 1958 Trans. Hawick Arch. Soc. 26:
They're a' thirled in thegither.
Dmf. 1959 A Sang at Least 44:
Jist by my thoom an auld D.D. Has tirl't the pat and skailt the bree.

3. intr. (1) To turn over, to rotate in moving or falling, to swirl, whirl, spin round (Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928); Ork. 1929 Marw.; Uls. 1953 Traynor; Sh., Ork., Cai., Per. 1972). Vbl.n. tirlin, a whirling spinning motion or sensation. Also ppl.adj. tirlin.Ags. 1769 Session Papers, Halkerton v. Scott State of Process 28:
He observed part of the water tirling back from the lead.
Sc. 1860 J. S. Blackie Poems 51:
Stool after stool, like rattling hail, came tirling through the air.
Per. 1889 T. Edwards Lyrics 35:
When a bool tirled oot o' oor pooch to the flure.
Dmf. 1898 J. Paton Castlebraes 65:
Thae whirlin', tirlin', close-claspin', lustfu' lookin' dances.
Edb. 1915 T. W. Paterson Auld Saws 91:
That's the tirlin in his noddle.
Sh. 1916 J. Burgess Rasmie's Smaa Murr (Faebruary 13):
Ye may tirl ower end whin ye pu up a dokkin.
Cai. 1922 J. Horne Poems 27:
Ma heid is turlin' wi' 'e bang O' cairts an' 'buses rumblin'.
Ags. 1988 Raymond Vettese The Richt Noise 84:
Carties oot o orange-boxes
an' pram wheels. Auld bed-springs,
booncers, tethert til the feet.
Boolies knockit wi a skirl frae chalkit rings
an' beezer conkers crackt owre soon,
flin'ert on tirlin strings.

Hence comb. and phrs.: (i) tirl-grind, a turnstile or revolving gate (Sh. 1972); (ii) to tirl ower, to keel over, fig., to die; (iii) to tirl with, to become entangled with.(i) Sh. 1898 Shetland News (26 March):
Fae da furthest western extremity idda middle kirk yard tidda 'tirl-grind'.
(ii) Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 109:
Afore she tirl'd owre my prayers war fervant.
(iii) Sc. 1850 J. Grant Sc. Cavalier xxii.:
Pardon, my Lord Spynie, your rapier's tirled wi' mine.

(2) Of wind: to veer, change direction, eddy (Lth. 1825 Jam.).

4. intr. with at, (up)on: (1) = 1. (1) (Sh., Bnff., Abd., m.Sc. 1972); (2) specif., = 1. (2) (Per. 1915 Wilson L. Strathearn 272). Now chiefly liter. Also fig. of rain or wind.(1) Abd. 1826 D. Anderson Poems 96:
The gabby herd, and haveles Jock Whiles tirl'd at their watch chain.
(2) Sc. 1740 Sweet William's Ghost in Child Ballads No. 77. A. i.:
Ay he tirled at the pin, But answer made she none.
Sc. 1752 Trial of J., D. & R. M'Gregor (1818) 85:
Frequently interrupted by Mr Fairfoul of Brendan, which he oftener than once repeated by tirling at the door.
Ayr. 1787 Burns Verses at Carron ii.:
But whan we tirled at your door, Your porter dought na hear us.
Sc. 1816 Scott Antiquary xl.:
Murder tirl'd at the door-pin, if he camna ben.
Rxb. 1847 J. Halliday Rustic Bard 210:
He tirl'd fu' lood at the window glass.
Gsw. 1863 W. Miller Nursery Songs 9:
Tirling at the window, crying at the lock.
Sc. 1886 Stevenson Kidnapped xxvi.:
When the wind gowls in the chimney and the ram tirls on the roof.
Kcb. 1897 T. Murray Poems 155:
And as for tirlin', or say knockin, It tookna meikle her to wauken.
Arg. 1901 N. Munro Doom Castle xxxvii.:
There's nae lugs for a tirlin' at the winnock whaur there's nae love.
m.Sc. 1928 O. Douglas Pink Sugar x.:
She tirled on the knocker of the door.
Per. 1951 N. B. Morrison Hidden Fairing 28:
She liked it still less when the wind dirled down the chimney and thirled at the door.

Hence tirling-pintirlin pin, tirl-the-pin, ¶tirl-, a device used as a door-knocker, consisting of a fluted iron rod bent like a rectangular staple, the ends of which were fixed on a metal plate screwed to the door, and furnished with a ring which was drawn up and down the rod to make a rasping rattling noise, a Risp (see n.1, 2.). N.E.D. points out that this contrivance is not, strictly speaking, a pin, and that some simpler device may have been orig. used before the risp, to which the name was later transferred. The device itself was certainly used in Scot. in the 17th c.; now occas. used of a modern-type door-knocker (Per.4 1972). Poss. the tirlin-pin was orig. the ring or other hand-grasp on the outside of a door on which a catch on the inside is pivoted and which is turned round to release the catch or simply twiddled to attract attention. Cf. tirlo s.v. II. 1. Now chiefly hist.Sc. 1875 J. Grant One of the 600 i.:
The old Scotch tirling-pin — to be found now nowhere save in Fife.
Sc. 1902 Sc. Hist. and Life 292:
On the door was not the knocker, but the ‘tirling pin', otherwise the ‘risp'.
Fif. 1894 A. S. Robertson Provost 148:
He did not disturb the tirl-pin which dangled from the cork-screw handle, but, lifting the sneck, he pushed open the half of the door, and entered.
Arg. 1914 N. Munro New Road xxxi.:
On the porch of the house was a tirling-pin, which Annabel preferred to knockers, it gave a harshly grating rasp.
Sc. 1920 P.S.A.S. LV. 23:
Tirling-pins of Iron from Berwickshire: — (1) with ring, attached to wooden board; (2) with ring and latch-lifter.
Abd. 1930 Nan Shepherd The Weatherhouse (1988) 5:
She came back possessed of three or four quern stones, a cruisie lamp and a tirl-the-pin; and from the farm she brought the spinning wheel and the old wooden dresser and plate racks.
Ags. 1990s:
Tirlin-pin: n. door-knocker.
Abd. 2000 Sheena Blackhall The Singing Bird 56:
A maist unceevil veesitor,
He disna speir, "Can I come in?"
He disna wyte, nur dicht his feet,
Nur rattle at the tirlin pin

(3) tr. To rattle on (a door), as a boyish prank.Abd. c.1900 Buchan Observer (24 Aug. 1971) 7:
Stappin' a lum, or tirlin' a door, At gloamin' grey.

II. n. 1. The act of rotating, a turn, twirl, a swing round (Sc. 1880 Jam.; Sh., Ork., Cai., Lnk. 1972).Ags. 1790 D. Morison Poems 6:
The temper pin she gi'es a tirl, An' spins but slow.
Sh. 1900 Shetland News (28 April):
He gae Sibbie a tirl, an' afore I kent, shü wis apo' da keel o' her back apo' da rig.
Sh. 1958 New Shetlander No. 47. 9:
By da tirl o fashion's wheel.

Derivs. tirlag, a roller made of stone used on fields after seed-sowing (Cai. 1972); tirlie, -y, turlie, tirlo(o) (Ork.), (1) n., anything that curls, twirls or spins round, specif. (i) a scroll ornament in carving, painting, writing, etc., a flourish, curl, twirl (Sc. 1880 Jam.); (ii) the latch or sneck of a door, a small wooden catch mounted so as to revolve vertically on a nail through the centre (Ork. 1929 Marw., Ork. 1971); (iii) a spinning-top made out of a bobbin. Cf. Norw. trille, id.; (2) adj., full of whirls or curls, intricate, convoluted, in combs.: ¶(i) tirly-mirly, used as a term of endearment [prob. ad. Dunbar In Secreit Place vii.]; (ii) tirly-tod, the greater plantain, Plantago major (Abd., Kcd. 1972). Cf. Curldoddy, 4. and note; (iii) tirly-toy, an ornamental but insignificant thing, a bagatelle, trifle; (iv) tirlie-wha, a trill, grace-note, warble, in singing; (v) tirlie, -y-w(h)irlie, -y, -wirl, -whurlie, turl(e)y-whurl(e)y, (a) = (1) (i) (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.); an ornament or gewgaw in gen., a nick-nack (I.Sc., Bnff., Per., wm.Sc. 1972). Also attrib. = curly, gnarled; (b) = (iv) above (Sh. 1972); (c) any intricate device or mechanism, a contrivance, gadget, a wheel, pinion, or the like. Also attrib.; (d) a spinning toy, a whirligig (Sc. 1808 Jam.), specif. a metal disc spun on a string held between the hands (Rxb 1923 Watson W.-B.); (e) in a sexual sense: the female pudendum; (f) an intricate or involved statement, argument or idea; (g) a fuss, to-do, hullabaloo; (h) adv. in a whirl, spinninning round and round.(1) (i) m.Sc. 1908 Gsw. Ballad Club III. 140:
But the manse, by my certy, 's a braw sonsy ha', Wi' turlies and toories and gables.
(iii) Ork. 1915 Old-Lore Misc. VIII. i. 43:
Da cap waas tirrlan roond an' roond like a tirloo.
(2) (i) Edb. 1876 J. Smith Archie and Bess 3:
“A bonnie like excuse!” “Whisht, my tirly mirly!”
(ii) Abd. 1932 J. Leatham Fisherfolk 50:
Noting bunches of a queerish weed, I asked our boatman what it was. “Tirlie tods,” said he.
Abd. 1946 J. C. Milne Orra Loon 38:
We pu'ed black-heidit tirlie-tods to fecht oor Waterloos.
(iii) Abd. a.1809 J. Skinner Amusements 101:
What can ye be that cou'd employ Your pen in sic a tirly-toy?
(iv) Gsw. 1863 J. Young Ingle-Nook 112:
Tho' thae dreigh slurs, thae flichty starts, An turlie-whas.
(v) (a) Abd. 1754 R. Forbes Shop-Bill 34:
[Stockings] wi' mony a bony tirly wirl About the queets.
Lnk. a.1779 D. Graham Writings (1887) II. 55:
She can do naething but keep clean the tirlie whirlies that hangs about the fire.
Sc. 1796 Poet. Orig. and Sel. I. xii. 4:
She ne'er before saw sicken fairlies, Sae mony antic tirly-whirlies!
Edb. 1822 R. Wilson Poems 40:
There's monie a tirly-wirly here, To tak the landart ee.
Fif. 1827 W. Tennant Papistry 202:
'Twas a' owr-carv'd wi' saints and fairies, And tirlie-wirlies and fleegaries.
Sc. 1866 M. F. Conolly Eminent Men Fife 341:
The warst writer I ever saw; there's nothing there but dotes an' strokes an' tirliewhirlies.
Gsw. 1872 J. Young Lochlomond Side 61:
That turly whurly trunk, I voo, Whause branches, growin' heads an' thraws . . .
Edb. 1916 T. W. Paterson Wyse-Sayin's 22:
She's nackie at the makin o' rugs, dinkit wi' tirlie-wirlies.
(b) Lth. 1885 J. Strathesk More Bits 274:
Matthew Riddell sang with a great many “tirlywirlies” and grace-notes.
Per. 1904 R. Ford Hum. Sc. Stories II. 103:
If I were to sing wi' as mony tirly-whirlies as possible.
(c) Sc. 1776 D. Herd Sc. Songs II. 215:
It was in and through the window broads, And a' the tirlie wirlies o'd.
Sc. 1816 Scott Antiquary xxi.:
They hae contrived queer tirlie-wirlie holes, that gang out to the open air, and keep the stair as caller as a kail-blade.
Rxb. 1821 A. Scott Poems 42:
Ilk tirliwirlie 'gan to dunner [of a threshing mill].
(e) Ayr. 1786 Burns in Merry Muses (1959) 173:
Ye hae rais'd a hurlie-burlie In Maggy Mitchel's tirlie-whurlie.
Sc. 1827 Merry Muses (1959) 96:
My tirly-wirly mak's its mane.
(f) m.Lth. 1894 P. H. Hunter J. Inwick xv.:
The weemen's minds were never made for followin a' the tirly-wirlies o' the politics.
Ayr. 1896 W. G. Tarbet Oor Kailyard 56:
It's maybe no bonnie said, but it's the fac'. There's nae tirly-whirlies aboot it; but it's sense.
(g) Sc. 1914 R. B. Cunningham-Graham Scottish Stories 141:
Mistress M'K. raises a wild-like turley-wurley whiles.
(h) Rnf. 1824 D. Webster Rhymes 166:
I hear in my harns hurly burly, And, Lord, my head runs tirly whirly.
Ayr. 1912 G. Cunningham Verse 189:
Tirlie whirlie roun' and roun'.

2. An overturning motion, a whirling over, tumble, a fall (Cai. 1905 E.D.D.; Ork. 1929 Marw.; Sh., Ork. 1972). Dim. form tirlick, a game played by two persons standing face to face, who hold each other by the shoulders and attempt to trip each other over by means of their toes (Ork. 1915 Old-Lore Misc. VIII. i. 16).Sh. 1886 J. Burgess Sketches 77:
Awey guid Aandrew, shair, an' a', back ower wi' a tirl.
Sh. 1898 Shetland News (29 Jan.):
Doo wid a gotten a tirl upo' da fluer bi some o' da follyfoo boys.

3. A short spell of activity in gen.: (1) a bout, roud or turn at doing something enjoyable, as dancing, drinking, etc.Sc. 1716 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. 68:
While the young Swankies on the Green Took round a merry Tirle.
Abd. 1754 R. Forbes Shop Bill 34:
An' some for those that tak' a tirle amo' the sheets.

(2) of weather, esp. a breeze, a flurry of wind, snow, etc. (ne.Sc. 1972).Sc. 1721 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. 220:
King Æol grant a tydie Tirl.
Abd. 1929 J. Alexander Mains & Hilly 44:
That's been a gey tirl o' snaw again.

(3) a mood, a turn of mind, a vagary, whim (Sh. 1972).Sh. 1892 G. Stewart Fireside Tales 259:
Whin he wis ipa da tap o' ane o' his coortin' tirls.
Sh. 1931 Shetland Almanac 192–3:
No to come in contack wi' da owld lad whin he wis in ane o' his fancy tirrels.

4. (1) A knock, rattle, tap (on a door, etc.) (ne., em.Sc. (a) 1972). Phr. to play tirl, to rattle.Sc. 1818 Blackwood's Mag. (Aug.) 533:
The slight tirl on the lozen given by the nocturnal wooer to his mistress.
Sc. 1827 C. I. Johnstone Eliz. De Bruce III. v.:
A low risp and tirl were heard on our door-pin.
Lnl. 1880 T. Orrock Fortha's Lyrics 265:
But blessin's on the penny post. I lo'e the postman's tirl.
Lnk. 1883 W. Thomson Leddy May 109:
Though beagles play tirl at the door.
Per. 1897 C. R. Dunning Folk-Lore 5:
Waitin' for a tirl at the pane to lift the sneck an' let the lads in.
Abd. 1900 C. Murray Hamewith 78:
Now Winter rides wi' angry skirl An' gaberlunzie-like plays tirl At sneck an' lozen.
Ags. 1929 Scots Mag. (May) 149:
The tirl o' the sneck i' the turnin'.

(2) a slight pat or touch in gen., a pecking kiss, etc. (Sc. 1808 Jam.).Ags. 1820 A. Balfour Contemptation 263:
Kate took him on the cheek a tirl.
Sc. 1874 W. Allan Hame-spun Lilts 442:
Wee scratin' nails ilk ane [finger] upon To gie her bosie tirls.

[O.Sc. tirl, a ripple, a.1584, a turn, a.1628, to twirl (the fingers), 1638, met. form of Mid.Eng. trill, to cause to revolve, spin. Cf. Norw., Swed. trilla, to roll, wheel, E. Fris. trüllen, tir(re)len, to turn or wheel round.]

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"Tirl v.2, n.1". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 12 Jun 2024 <>



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