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HARL v., to drag, trail behind

Harl could be applied to anything dragged or trailed behind. The earliest examples in the Dictionary of the Scots Language (www.dsl.ac.uk) relate to people being forcibly dragged along, as in this quotation from John Barbour’s Legends of the Saints (1380): “Thai harlyt hyme one to presone”.  And in the following quote from Henryson’s fable The Lion and the Mouse (a1500), the personified mouse is the victim of this rather gruesome threat: “Thow suffer sall ane schamefull end, … Vpon the gallous harlit be the feit”.  

Harl was also used figuratively, meaning to take or bring by compulsion, as in this from The Works of William Fowler (c1590): “… fates and fortoune hither hes me harld”, and one could also be harled without the involvement of any force or compulsion, in the sense of travelling in a vehicle or cart being pulled along; this is illustrated by “For harling Jean Gilmer to the shore on a slid” from Stirling Burgh Records (1720).

Harl could also mean to trail or haul oneself along, or to move slowly and laboriously, with dragging feet.  Thus we read: “But Geordie is a wily carl, Though he canna gang but harl” (Banffshire Journal, 1853).  And still on the trailing along theme, harl could be used of an injured and trailing limb, or of a long garment that trails on the ground.  

Nowadays the most common use of harl is to pebble-dash – to roughcast a building with lime (or the modern equivalent) which is dragged or scraped on, before finishing with small stones.  Helen Crummy, in Let the People Sing! (1992) describes “… grey roofed, grey harled, barrack-like, three storied flats”. This sense, too, goes back a long way.  In 1582 the Edinburgh Dean of Guild court revenue accounts referred to: “…lyme to harrill the said dyk”.  

 

 

Scots Word of the Week is written by Ann Ferguson of Scottish Language Dictionaries www.scotsdictionaries.org.uk, 9 Coates Crescent, Edinburgh EH3 7AL,  mail@scotsdictionaries.org.uk. For £20 you can sponsor a Scots word.