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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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

WHISTLE, n., v. Also Sc. forms whissle; whus(s)le, whussel(l), whustle. Dim. whustly (Ags. 1890 A. N. Simpson Muirside Memories 91). See also Fussle, v.1, n.1 [ʍɪsl, ʍʌsl]

I. n. Sc. usages. 1. In combs., derivs. and phrs.: (1) a whistle or a cry, a version of the game of Hare and Hounds, so called from a line in the couplet sung by the chasers as in quot.; (2) kist (fu') o' whistles, (i) a derisory term for a church organ. Gen.Sc., now only liter.; also a piano accordion (Ags. 1974); (ii) jocularly, for a congested chest and bronchial tubes, a wheezy chest (Cai., Ags., Per. 1974); (3) no to gie a whistle, not to give a damn, to have nothing but contempt for (I.Sc., Cai., Ags., Per. 1974); (4) pigs and whistles, see Pig, n.2, 1.(9); (5) whustle-barrow, arbitrarily altered form of whirl-barrow, wheel-barrow. See Whirl, v., 3.; (6) whussle-cardin, in phr. no worth a whussle-cardin, of something worthless, prob. erroneous for thrissel-cardin; (7) whussle-case, id; (8) Whistle Fair; (9) whistle-grinder, a contemptuous term for an organist. Cf. (2) (i); (10) whistle-kirk, a church with an organ. The Episcopalians in Scot. gen. favoured the use of church organs in contrast to the more rigid Presbyterians who held out against them until the late 19th c. and in some cases still do, as in the Free Church of Scotland; hence specif. an Episcopalian church, and attrib. whistle-kirk minister, an Episcopalian clergyman. Now liter.; (11) whistle-kist, = (2) (i); (12) whistle-whaup, the curlew, Numenius arquata. See Whaup; (13) whistle-wood, whussle-wud, any tree with a slippery bark so that a twig or shoot can be cut, peeled, hollowed out and the bark replaced to make a whistle (Rxb. a.1838 Jam. MSS. XII. 212, Rxb. 1974), specif. in 1856 quot. of the willow, or the sycamore (Slk. 1905 E.D.D.), or the alder (Dmf. 1974). Also in Eng. dial.(1) Ags. 1969 I. & P. Opie Children's Games 177:
Hollo, hollo, the dogs won't follow A whistle or a cry or else come home.
(2) (i) Sc. 1726 Ramsay T.-T. Misc. (1876) I. 137:
And the kist fou of whistles, That make sic a cleiro.
Ayr. 1823 Galt Entail iv.:
I can see that the day's no far aff, when ministers of the gospel in Glasgow will be seen chambering and wantoning to the sound o' the kist fu' o' whistles.
Hdg. 1844 J. Miller Lamp Lth. (1900) 198:
After the “kist fu' o' whistles” was banished from the church, vocal music formed a material part of the presbyterian worship.
Sc. 1887 Stevenson Underwoods 117:
The rumlin' kist o' whustles smash In pieces sma'.
Peb. 1899 J. Grosart Chronicles 179:
The Chronicles would not be complete without a reference to our old Precentors, who have now given place to “kists of whistles.”
Per. 1910 W. Blair Kildermoch 118:
Naething half sae fine oot o' your kistfu' o' whistles, blawn up wi' bellows like a smith's smiddy fire.
Abd. 1935 D. Rorie Lum Hat 54:
He was an elder o' the kirk And he hated kists o' whistles.
(ii) Per.4 1960:
That's a richt kist o' whistles ye've got.
(3) Kcb. 1893 Crockett Stickit Minister iii.:
I wadna' gie a whustle for a man that canna change when he fin's he's wrang.
(5) Gsw. 1889 J. Houston Autobiography 185:
Losh, the legs o' him, they're like twa whustle-barrow trams.
(6) Rxb. a.1838 Jam. MSS. XI. 212:
It's no worth a whussle-cardin.
(7) Ib.:
It's no worth a whussle-case.
(9) Edb. 1843 J. Ballantine Gaberlunzie v.:
Burn the whistle-grinder — scaud Satan's skirlin' servant!
(10) Lnk. 1824 Sc. Peasants xiii.:
Ye'll come with me to the whistle kirk; and ye'll find the kist o' whistles helps the singing very much.
Sc. 1860 E. B. Ramsay Reminisc. 6:
I have heard of an old lady describing an Episcopalian clergyman, without any idea of disrespect, in these terms: — “Oh, he is a whistle-kirk minister.”
Sc. 1895 R. Ford Thistledown 124:
‘Whustle kirks' will very soon be the rule rather than the exception.
(11) Edb. 1843 J. Ballantine Gaberlunzie v.:
Grinding muckle whistle-kists, Sic abomination.
(12) m.Lth. 1857 Misty Morning ii.:
The whissle-whaups and peaseweeps owre in the Faugh Park.
(13) Edb. 1856 J. Ballantine Poems 157:
How sweet is the sough o' the whistlewood tree.
Per. 1891 H. Haliburton Ochil Idylls 13:
We scour'd for whussle-wud the dell.

2. Specif., a factory hooter or siren (Ags. 1974).Ags. 1917 Glasgow Herald (2 July) 6:
The call of the industrials syrens — the “whistles,” as they are locally described.

3. A child's name for the penis (Ayr. 1967).

4. A wallop, swipe, swinging blow. Cf. Fussle, n.2s.Sc. 1835 Wilson's Tales of the Borders I. 154:
‘Heaven hae mercy on ye!' said I, and gied him a whissel beneath the elbow.
Uls. 1879 “Robin” Hum. Readings 44:
I'll gie ye a whusle across the ear.
Cai. 1922 J. Horne Poems 9:
Noo an' then a tae wis opened wi' a whistle fae 'e ba'.

II. v. As in Eng. Sc. derivs., combs. and phrs.: 1. to whistle (on) one's thoum, to act in an idle or ineffectual manner, to be occupied in a futile task, to be nonplussed after some snub or mortification (Sh., Per. 1974). See Thoum, n., 1. (24); 2. whistle-binkie, “one who attends a penny-wedding but without paying anything, and therefore has no right to take any share of the entertainment; a mere spectator, who is as it were left to sit on a bench by himself, and who, if he pleases, may whistle for his own amusement” (Abd. 1808 Jam.); adopted as the title of an anthology of sentimental or humorous verse published in a series between 1832 and 1843 in Glasgow; 3. whistler, (i) a nickname for an inhabitant of Fife, a pun on fifer, a fluter (Per., Fif. 1974); (ii) the breathing-tubes of an insect; (iii) fig. a big specimen (Cai., Per., Slg. 1974); a heavy blow, a wallop (Cai., Per. 1974); 4. whistle-the-whaup, one who plays a trick on or makes fun of another (wm.Sc. 1808 Jam.); 5. whistling-duck, (i) the widgeon, Mareca penelope (Ayr. 1929 Paton & Pike Birds Ayr. 133). cf. Eng. whistler, id.; (ii) the coot, Fulica atra (Rnf. 1885 C. Swainson Brit. Birds 179); 6. whistling kirk, = I. 1. (10); 7. whistlin Sunday, see Sunday.1. wm.Sc. 1835 Laird of Logan 174:
What would Goodie mill be, if it werena for me and the muckle wheel? — the miller micht whistle on his thumb.
Dmb. 1846 W. Cross Disruption viii.:
If you dont behave yourselff i may set up my kep for him and Leave you to whussel on your thoom.
m.Lth. 1897 P. H. Hunter J. Armiger xi.:
Cuist him aff like shauchled shoon, left him to whustle on his thoum.
3. (i) Fif. 1896 A. J. G. Mackay Hist. Fife 264:
West country folk call the Fifer “the Whistler”
(ii) Kcb. 1896 A. J. Armstrong Kirkiebrae xvii.:
Dingin' the win' oot o' bum clocks, an' squeezin' the whusslers o' puir bits o' dumb insec's.
6. Gsw. 1798 J. Denholm Hist. Gsw. 100:
The English Chapel . . . was erected in the year 1751, when it met with no little opposition, from the fanatical spirit prevailing amongst the lower orders, who vilified it by the appellation of the Whistling Kirk. . . . This church contains an organ upon the west.

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"Whistle n., v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 23 May 2024 <>



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