Wirlie

In a book I read recently (one of Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street series) I came across a number of Scots words that were unfamiliar to me. One that I particularly like is wirlie, which, according the Dictionary of the Scots Language (DSL), means:

“a place where a field-wall crosses a stream; an opening in a wall to let running water pass through”.

An interesting meaning that I would never have guessed from the word or the context. It is apparently a Shetland word which comes from the Old Norse árhilð (á = river, hlið = an opening or gap in a fence), according to Shetland Words – A dictionary of the Shetland dialect.

If you came across this word, without knowing the above, what would you think it meant?

In some contexts it might be a euphemism for being drunk or confused – he was a bit wirlie.

Are there similar words in any other languages?

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This entry was posted in English, Etymology, Language, Scots, Words and phrases.

3 Responses to Wirlie

  1. Yenlit says:

    The Old Norse hlið (of árhlið) would be cognate with Modern English “lid” which came from Old English hlid (lid, cover, opening, gate). Old English also had hlid-geat (a swing-gate, to prevent cattle straying from pasture across a road or to arable land) which is the origin of the East Anglian village name of Lidgate in Suffolk (Eastern England)

    Other languages include:

    Dutch: lid (eyelid)
    German: Lid (eyelid)
    Swedish: lid (gate)
    Welsh: clwyd, llidiart (gate, hurdle)
    Latin: clitellae (pack saddle)
    Russian: калитка (kalitka “gate”)
    Ancient Greek: δικλίς (diklís “double-posted doors, gates)

  2. TJ says:

    The first time I read it I somehow imagined something that goes into a loop or a whirl (probably because the word itself is close to “whirl”?).

    I’m not quite aware of the concept of a word in Arabic for an opening in the fence to let the water out (probably a farmer would do good here), but if this concept is anything close to Aqueduct, then the Arabic for it would be Qantarah [قنطرة].

  3. Yenlit says:

    Apparently the dry walling term for a gap to allow water to pass when a wall crosses a stream etc. is called a “water smoot”.