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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

Girnal / Girnel




In a domestic context, a girnal is


“a large chest or barrel for holding meal”.


It is also


“a granary, a storehouse, especially one belonging to an estate”.



I was reminded of the word in a Christmas and New Year greeting I received once, which ran:


“May the best you ever see, Be the worst you ever see, May a moose ne’er leave yer girnal wi a tear drap in his ee”.


I have no idea when this rhyme dates from, or even if it is specifically a Festive thing or just a general toast.



Although girnal is listed as obsolescent in the Dictionaries of the Scots Language, it does still turn up. For example, in this sorry situation described in Anna Blair’s Scottish Tales (published in 1987):


“At last he was rewarded with the total failure of crops for harvest ... not an ear in the field, and no more than a handful of meal in any girnel”.



And in 2001, the word was clearly still well enough known to form part of a Crossword clue in The Scotsman:


“Hint of grit in new girnel makes her complain (7).”



More recently, the Highland News (July 2019) reported on a restaurant whose name, The Storehouse, reflects the building’s former use:


“The restaurant and shop selling farm produce and gifts is in a fully restored 18th century grade A listed girnal or granary, the finest remaining example of what used to be a familiar type of building dotted along the coasts of Easter Ross and Sutherland”.


This Scots Word of the Week was written by Pauline Cairns Speitel. Visit DSL Online at