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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1934 (SND Vol. I). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

BIRK, n.1 [bɪ̢̈rk + ɛ + ʌ]

1. The birch tree, betula alba. Gen.Sc. Also used in northern Eng. (E.D.D.).Sc. 1728 Ramsay Poems II. 99:
Some loo to keep their Skins frae Lirks, Some loo to woo beneath the Birks.
Sc. 1832 A. Henderson Sc. Proverbs 74:
Birk will burn, be it burn drawn [i.e. drawn through a burn]; Sauch will sab, if it were simmer sawn.
m.Sc. 1917 J. Buchan Poems 48:
Twae glandered mears, a dwaibly stirk, Hens, ae auld wife, a wauflike birk — That's whaur I dwal.
Fif. 1710 R. Sibbald Fife and Kinross 161:
We meet first to the West, Corbie, called also Birkhill, from a Park of Birks surrounding the House to the South.
Dmf. 1908 J. L. Waugh Robbie Doo (2nd ed.) vii.:
A mavis frae a silver birk was singin' a lullaby.
m.Sc. 1991 William Neill in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 48:
King Sillersecks rade his gray meare
aff til the birkenshaw;
but birk and buss an bourtree thare
gied him nae bield ava.
Sc. 1991 Roderick Watson in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 103:
But Troilus saw her yet
sae trig an sure as a siller birk
that's pit doun seed i the mool o his hert
an wi its roots has happit his hert,
an ruggit awa an crackit his hert
wi thrang, naitural, surprisin dule.
Abd. 1996 Sheena Blackhall Wittgenstein's Web 9:
They howkit oot twa fishin rods an, as they trampit doon the road thegither in the saft simmer evenin, wi the midgies dauncin afore them unner the birk tree branches ...
Dundee 2000 Ellie McDonald Pathfinder 5:
It's a reishlin wind
through a stand o birks
at the weet back end o the year.

Comb.: birk wine. (See quots.)Sc. 1929 F. M. McNeill The Scots Kitchen 236:
Birk wine, juice from the birch tree, sugar, raisins, almonds, crude tartar.
Abd.19 (Deeside) 1934:
In my early schooldays at Inchmarnoch we used to tap a birch tree a foot or so from the ground and insert in the hole a pen nib or other sma' spoot, so that the sap might drip into a subjacent cup. In my recollection the stuff was gey wauch and usually dirty, but it was drunk neat and uncompounded. We called it birk-wine.

2. In pl., a small wood consisting mainly of birches. Gen.Sc.Edb. 1798 D. Crawford Poems, etc. 37:
An' ithers sing o' winding Tay, An' eke the Birks of Invermay.
Ayr. 1794 Burns Birks of Aberfeldie (Cent. ed.) i.:
Come, let us spend the lightsome days In the birks of Aberfeldie!

Hence birkie, adj., clad with birch trees.Rxb. 1847 J. Halliday Rustic Bard 263:
We totter through the birkie bank, an' doiter owre the brae.
[Prob. a variant of Birken.]

3. “Spars made of birch laid horizontally on the couples of a roof and running from gable end to gable end” (Cai.3 1934).Ork. 1734 Ork. Inventory in Ork. Antiq. Soc. (1923) 65:
Three sufficient harrows and harrowing irons . . . three new birks.
Cai. 1916 John o' Groat Jnl. (31 March):
The fire-end or kitchen was first built. . . . The “birks” were laid on, then the “sma' wud,” the divots and floss, the whole being well tied down with “simmons” [ropes of straw, etc.] and “benleens.”

4. (See quots.)

(a) “Birk, the bark of a tree; birch-wood” (Sh. 1914 Angus Gl.).

(b) “Birk, the outer skin on big tangles. Same word orig. as Eng. bark” (Ork. 1929 Marw.).

5. Phrases: both expressive of absolute bareness. (See quots.) Cf. Birkie, n.3(1) Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928):
As bare as de b[irk] a jøl-day, of something very bare and naked.
(2) Sh.7 1934:
As bare as da birk o' Yule e'en . . . was commonly applied in describing anything that was particularly bare and naked.

[O.N. bjǫrk, birch or bark, O.E. beorc, Dan. birk, Ger. birke.]

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"Birk n.1". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 12 Jun 2024 <>



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