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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1976 (SND Vol. X). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

WARSLE, v., n. Also warsel(l), warsal(l) (wm.Sc. 1868 Laird of Logan App. 522, Ags. 1881 Mod. Sc. Poets (Edwards) II. 98; Cai. 1929 John o' Groat Jnl. (1 March)), wars(i)ll (Sc. 1929 Scots Mag. (Nov.) 93), waarsle, warssle; warstle; wursel, -el, wirsle (Gregor), wirstle (Sc. 1788 Scots Mag. (Dec.) 608), werstle; and in reduplic. form wirsle-warsle (Gregor); wassle (I.Sc.), wass'l (Sh. 1899 Shetland News (29 July)), wustle (Mry. 1921 T.S.D.C.), see R, letter, 3.; and in unmetathetised forms wrasle (Uls. 1884 R. Huddleston Poems 19), -el, wrassle, -el, wrassall, wrastle (Sc. 1818 S. Ferrier Marriage xxxiv.; Abd. 1853 W. Cadenhead Flights 255; Fif. 1899 E. T. Heddle Marget 151; Sh. 1973), ¶rastle (Bnff. 1918 M. Symon Wir Roup 1), ¶wrusle; ¶wreesle (Lnk. 1922 T. S. Cairncross Scot at Hame 12), wreistle (Edb. 1891 R. F. Hardy Tibby's Tryst 34); vrastle (Abd. 1915 H. Beaton Back o' Benachie (see V, letter, 3. (1)). Nonce pa.t. worse-laid (Sc. 1823 Twa Brothers in Child Ballads (1956) V. 217). Sc. forms and usages of Eng. wrestle. For metathesis of -r- see R, letter, 1. [wɑrsl]

I. v. 1. intr. (1) To wrestle (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Sh. 1914 Angus Gl.; Per., Fif., Lth., Ayr. 1915–26 Wilson; Ork. 1929 Marw., wassle). Gen.Sc. Deriv. wars(t)ler, warseler, wrastler, a wrestler (Sc. 1921 R. Bain James I. 5).Rnf. 1710 Caldwell Papers (M.C.) 265:
Wrassalling and pulling at one another with the utmost noise.
Kcb. 1789 D. Davidson Seasons 16:
The chiels wad meet in daffin, And warsle for a corkin' preen.
Sc. 1806 Twa Brothers in Child Ballads (1956) I. 440:
Will ye gae to the wood a-warslin, To see whilk o's maun fa'?
Slk. 1820 Hogg Winter Ev. Tales I. 289:
I'm sair cheatit gin some o' your warstlers dinna warstle you out o' ony bit virtue and maidenly mense that ye hae.
Ags. 1883 J. Kennedy Poems (1920) 63:
O weel he liked in Lowland touns To warsle wi' the English loons.
Sh. 1891 J. Burgess Rasmie's Büddie 10:
Dan we wrassles agen, an güd trath! I'll be boond For a wharter-a-oor ye'd a no heard a soond.
Dmf. 1915 D. J. Beattie Oor Gate-en' 7:
The Scholars' Fiel', tae, was the scene o' a' oor “cock fights,” “wrus'lin',” “boxin'.”
Dmf. 1930 Scotsman (21 May) 16:
Ye weel maun min' that terril bout, Twixt wrasslers dour and grim.
Slg. 1949 W. D. Cocker New Poems 17:
Pipin' an' dancin' an' wrastlin' an' racin'.

(2) Transf. With wi: to contend, strive or struggle with, to expend much effort on (Sh. 1914 Angus Gl.; Sh., n.Sc., Ags., Per. 1973); to dispute or compete with, pit oneself against, try to master. Pa.t. also wrasult. Ayr. 1787 Burns Brigs of Ayr 79:
He seem'd as he wi' Time had warstl'd lang.
Sc. 1818 Scott H. Midlothian xii.:
The persecuted remnant were warstling wi' hunger, and cauld, and fear of death.
m.Lth. 1857 Misty Morning 107:
Him tae warstle wi' the doctor in a thing o' that kind.
ne.Sc. 1884 D. Grant Lays 72:
Geordie warslin' wi' a hen or duik, Didna aye dissect its corpus By the rules o' fashion's buik.
Kcb. 1897 T. Murray Poems 103:
I'm wearin' no sae fit To warsel wi' the jade.
Lnk. 1919 G. Rae Clyde & Tweed 15:
Hae patience, Lord, I've tholed, an' still am warslin' Wi' a' the dool that comes wi' sinfu' men.
Abd. 1932 R. L. Cassie Scots Sangs 33:
I've fochen sair wi' auld Voltaire, I've warslet lang wi' Shaw.
Sc. 1952 Scots Mag. (March) 457:
Shut in alane wi' his thouchts to wrastle.
m.Sc. 1982 Douglas Fraser in Hamish Brown Poems of the Scottish Hills 8:
I've settled doun upon the toun;
I warsle on wi' thrift
wm.Sc. 1985 Liz Lochhead Tartuffe 34:
He kennt Ah'd wrastled an' Ah'd wrastled wi ma passion,
Hoo Ah'd been up a' nicht on ma knees, fair lashin'
Masel' wi guilt, an' a' fur whit?
It could be reconcilt wi' discretion, Ah could gie wey tae it!
ne.Sc. 1991 Ken Morrice in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 59:
Sae dabbit wi floor and stew,
wi guff o yeast, a duntin nieve
and sweaty broo,
I wroch and wrastle
wi the hail stramash - hands and heid -
wark my wark for you.
em.Sc.(a) 1991 Kate Armstrong in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 110:
Siccar the wather-man
ettlin tae shaw the springheid, warstles wi his isobars
an seeks tae trammel fer ae day the fricht o kennin
the yird's sclenter.
m.Sc. 1998 Alex Laird in Donny O'Rourke and Kathleen Jamie New Writing Scotland 16: The Glory Signs 73:
Wrasult wi the inklin tae tell it as it wis,
Wrasult wi the tear
Held it in the ee till it swalt fu
An gie near drookin the paper it fell on.
em.Sc. 1999 James Robertson The Day O Judgement 13:
An ye that lippent tae the warld,
Will ye no greit tae see't owerfawn,
As it gangs warslin doun wi daith
As a strang man smoors in soukin saun?

(3) To wrestle in prayer, to pray earnestly for.Sc. 1822 Scott Carle, now the King's come ii. iv.:
My reverend Clergy, look ye say The best of thanksgiving ye ha'e, And warstle for a sunny day.
Knr. 1925 H. Haliburton Horace 246:
When auld gudeman, on bended knees, Wrastled as Jacob did langsyne For favours temporal an' divine.
m.Sc. 1927 J. Buchan Witch Wood xii.:
So you can keep an easy mind, Mr. David, while you wrastle for souls in Woodilee.

2. tr. (1) To wrestle with, to engage in a bout with, to overcome (Sh., Cai., Ags., wm.Sc. 1973). Also fig.Ayr. 1790 Burns Sc. Prologue 44:
Ye'll soon hae poets o' the Scottish nation, Will warsle Time, and lay him on his back.
Rnf. 1804 R. Tannahill Poems (1900) 222:
The puir man's patron coggie It warsels care, it fechts life's fauchts.
Sc. 1825 Twa Brothers in Child Ballads No. 49 C. ii.:
But gin ye come to yonder wood I'll warsle you a fa.
Dmf. 1894 I. Cunningham Broomieburn 14:
Cutty Beattie's offered tae wursel Bob the saddler.
e.Lth. 1908 J. Lumsden Th' Loudons 130:
Sae his ladye wards his castle — Jesu! with a wench to wrastle, What can stay ye dogs of war?
Lnk. 1922 T. S. Cairncross Scot at Hame 41:
Ye can warsell them if ye can.

(2) to get by striving, or struggling, to attain to or achieve (some end) by great exertion or effort (ne.Sc., wm.Sc. 1973).Rnf. 1789 A. Wilson Poems (1876) II. 27:
Thae were days indeed, that gart me hope, Aeblins, thro' time, to warsle up a shop.
Ayr. 1887 J. Service Dr Duguid 130:
I drew my een sinnery and warsled on my claes.
ne.Sc. 1888 D. Grant Keckleton 72:
That was a question that cost me nae little serious difficulty . . . but I warsled it oot in my ain min'.
Ags. 1945 Scots Mag. (April) 43:
Three o' his michtiest men warstled their wye thro' the enemies' lines.
Abd. 1955 W. P. Milne Eppie Elrick iii.:
A Laitin byook A eest tae warsle ma rodd throwe.

3. intr. To labour, toil, strive, try hard, make strenuous efforts, exert oneself, both of physical and mental struggle (Sh., Cai., ne.Sc., Ags., Per., Ayr. 1973). Ppl.adj. warslin, wirslin, struggling; energetic, hard-working. Also refl. in phr. ¶to warsle anesel deid, to work oneself to death.Ayr. 1822 Galt Entail xxxvii.:
He has warslet to get back the inheritance o' his forefathers.
m.Sc. 1838 A. Rodger Poems 313:
I warsled and toiled through the fair and the foul.
Abd. 1863 G. MacDonald D. Elginbrod i. x.:
I wonner at ye to lat the young lad warstle himsel' deid that get wi' a scythe.
Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 211:
He's a wirslin' bodie; he'll lay bye siller aff o' a place it ony ither ane wid stairve on.
Bwk. 1869 R. Mennon Poems 247:
Aft I've warsled lang an' sair To mak' contrary things comply.
Sc. 1883 J. Kennedy Poems (1920) 38:
But could I gain some grace or ither, To teach me in ilk warslin swither.
Abd. 1900 C. Murray Hamewith 36:
A warslin' thrang o' mortals still she spies, Wha strive an' fecht an' spurn the grassy howe.
Bnff. 1918 J. Mitchell Bydand 4:
Warslin' wi the worry o't's clean ca'ed her aff her sleep.
Lnk. 1923 G. Rae 'Mang Lowland Hills 39:
My ain dear lass an' I hae warselled sair In life's dour fecht.
Slg. 1932 W. D. Cocker Poems 80:
I've warstled lang tae keep abune.
Sc. 1944 Scots Mag. (Dec.) 224:
Tam and I were warslin' through the Auld Testament.
Gsw. 1994 Alasdair Gray A History Maker xi:
This shows he wanted his story read inside AND outside the Ettrick Forest, and I have warstled to help this by putting among my final notes a glossary of words liable to ramfeezle Sassenachs, North Americans and others with their own variety of English.

4. (1) To move in a struggling, wrestling, laborious manner, to writhe, wriggle, sprawl or flounder about, as in an effort to rise or free oneself (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 211, wirsle(-warsle); Per., Fif., Lth., Ayr. 1915–26 Wilson; Gen.Sc.), lit. and fig.; to move forward slowly and against obstruction, to toss and tumble about. Also of things. Phr. to warsle out wi, to blurt or stammer out with difficulty. Comb. warstling herring. herring so fresh as to be still showing signs of life, misprinted as wastlin (Edb. 1872 J. Smith Jenny Blair 56).Ayr. 1781 Burns Poor Mailie i.:
Upon her cloot she coost a hitch, An' owre she warsl'd in the ditch.
Rnf. 1788 E. Picken Poems 107:
Let him kiss the tear awa', That warsles doun thy charmin face.
Sc. 1817 Scott Rob Roy xxxiv.:
Warsling below the water wi' a stane about your neck.
Ayr. 1823 Galt R. Gilhaize I. xxviii.:
He got no rest in the night, with the warsling of troubled thoughts and pious fears.
Edb. 1828 D. M. Moir Mansie Wauch vi.:
With fishwives from Newhaven, Cockenzie, and Fisher-row, skirling “roug-a-rug, warstling herring.”
Fif. 1830 Perthshire Adv. (30 Sept.):
Leaving the poor unfortunate man werstling in his blood.
Rxb. 1848 R. Davidson Leaves 182:
The sinking snaw they warsal through.
wm.Sc. 1868 Laird of Logan App. 522:
He warsall't as muckle in his subject as he did wi' himsel', and at last it fairly cuist him.
Sc. 1871 P. H. Waddell Psalms xciii. heading:
The thron o' the Lord's abune fechtan folk, an' warslin watirs.
Ags. 1893 W. Blair Aberbrothock 51:
But by and bye he gets a wee better, an' than he warsels oot wi' the words “Fat's tat?”
Sh. 1898 Shetland News (5 March):
Shü wrassl'd oot o' Willie's grips.
Ags. 1918 J. Ingles The Laird 8:
But the lest nicht he trampit on't [his watch] Warslin' ooten his claes.
Mry. 1922 Swatches o' Hamespun 17:
It wis a' he cud dee to warsle intil his weskit.
Sc. 1935 W. Soutar Poems in Sc. 48:
Back and fore be the caller burn The warslin' worms and wud pass.
Abd. 1961 P. Buchan Mount Pleasant 35:
An' syne fin ye leave to warstle hame — “Gweed nicht an' hist ye back!”

(2) Of time: to move slowly or tediously onwards.Dmf. 1877 R. W. Thom Poems (1883) 22:
Ere sax years warsled ower his head.
Bwk. 1879 W. Chisholm Poems 62:
Auld Time warsles by wi' slow an' laggin' wing.

(3) Fig. To make one's way in life with much toil and difficulty, to struggle with adversity, to scrape along (Per. 1915 Wilson L. Strathearn 11; Sh., n.Sc., Per. 1973). Freq. in phrs. to warsle, get warsled awa or throughup the brae.Ayr. 1822 Galt Sir A. Wylie xciii.:
Noo that I hae got the better o' the shame, I maun just wursle on.
Edb. 1844 J. Ballantine Miller 129:
Ane o' them without wha's help I couldna hae warsled up the brae ava.
Sc. 1864 M. Oliphant Katie Stewart xxix.:
But how in all the world has this bairn warstled up into the woman she is?
Ags. 1880 J. E. Watt Poet. Sketches 49:
We were pleased wi' oor lot, an' got warsled awa'.
Sc. 1884 A. S. Swan Carlowrie xi.:
Trust in God, and ye'll get warstled through.
Abd. 1909 C. Murray Hamewith 26:
Greek aneuch to warsle thro's degree.
ne.Sc. 1928 J. Wilson Hamespun 53:
We twa hae warsl't up the brae, An' foch't wi' a' the trouble o't.
Sc. 1933 J. Bridie Sleeping Clergyman 9:
I'll warstle through, don't you fret.

II. n. 1. A wrestling match, a physical tussle (Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 463; Ork. 1929 Marw., wassle); a struggle, effort, exertion (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 210, wirsle(-warsle); Ayr. 1923 Wilson D. Burns 193; I., ne.Sc., Ags., Per. 1973); a confused mass of people, a melee, scrimmage. Also transf.Kcd. c.1811 Rumour Club Misc. I. 30:
Wi' a last warstle again oot she came.
Dmf. 1820 Hogg Winter Ev. Tales I. 282:
When twey or threy o' them come in ae night, we juost gar them try a werstle.
Sc. 1823 Twa Brothers in Child Ballads No. 49 A. i.:
The one unto the other said, Will you try a warsle afore?
Lnk. 1827 Blackwood's Mag. (July) 48:
She lookit a'thegither like ane that has had a sair warsle wi' the tongue.
Sc. 1828 Scott F. M. Perth xix.:
They quarrelled on the St. Valentine's Even, and had a warstle.
e.Lth. 1885 S. Mucklebackit Rhymes 6:
As business call'd, I gaed tae toun, An' braved the hiring warsle.
Ayr. 1887 J. Service Dr Duguid 104:
His scrimpit breeks that looked for a' the worl' as if he had stude on a chair when he put them on, and had lowpit owre far through in the warsle wi' them.
Rxb. 1906 Jedburgh Post (2 March):
Open play is more favoured than the tight “warsle”.
Abd. 1934 Border Mag. (Jan.) 13:
It's a waesome warstle ower the hill, Aneath a wintry sky.
Ags. 1950 Scots Mag. (May) 145:
Weel, sir, we'd a gey wrastle, but at last he was oot.
Ags. 1988 Raymond Vettese The Richt Noise 18:
This is whit he gies,
and waur, the feck wad hae that ease
raither than swite i the warsle tae see
Scotland as it is and as it micht be,
Ork. 1994 George Mackay Brown Beside the Ocean of Time 46:
'I can't take this brute to the pub, more's the pity,' said Willum Holm. 'And we both need a drop of ale, Jock, don't we, after our warstle with old Troy [a horse].'
Abd. 1996 Sheena Blackhall Wittgenstein's Web 2:
Young Attie Coutts wis thirty noo, nae sae young ony mair. Dammit! Twis time he wis merriet and sattled, wi the fairm tae think on. Littlins war the slawest crap o them aa. An fit did the warssle o a lifetime byle doon till, gin ye cudna haun ower the hairst o yer tcyauve an darg tae yer ain bluid-kin?
m.Sc. 1998 Lillias Forbes Turning a Fresh Eye 32:
A' soun', as weel, is stappit
By yon siller quine -
A' clash fae byre and barn
A' scart an scauld an girn
An warsel o' weary men
Their darg and dolour pit by -
Nowt but a hoolit's skreich i' the mirk
An the trummlin o' beddit kye.

2. A mental or moral struggle, a fight against circumstances or hardship (Sh., Cai., ne.Sc., Ags., Per. 1973).Ayr. 1792 Burns Winsome Wee Thing ii.:
The warld's wrack we share o't, The warstle and the care o't.
Ayr. 1821 Galt Legatees vi.:
We had such a warsle of the spirit among us that the like cannot be told.
Edb. 1844 J. Ballantine Miller iv.:
Ye'll hae had a gey hard warstle wi' the warld.
Rxb. 1862 Trans. Hawick Arch. Soc. (1868) 40:
The minister had a weary warsle wi' a wersh discource.
w.Lth. 1890 A. M. Bisset Spring Blossoms 70:
This life at best's a warsle teuch.
Abd. 1930 Abd. Univ. Mag. (March) 102:
It wiz a gey warsel, bit we wan throu' nae that ull.
Sh. 1933 J. Nicolson Hentilagets 22:
Mony a sair wassle hed du wi da deil i da shape o oonjustice.
Per. 1939 W. Soutar Poems (1961) 90:
A' the dark warsle o' the world Ingether'd and stane-still.

[O.Sc. wyrstyll, wersyll, to wrestle, 1420, warsill, to strive, c.1500, Mid.Eng. werstil, to wrestle, met. forms of O.E. wrǣstlian.]

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"Warsle v., n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 30 Nov 2023 <>



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