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In Scotland, a wirry-cow [ˈwɪɾɪkʌu, ˈwʌɾɪkʌu] was a bugbear, goblin, ghost, ghoul or other frightful object.[1] Sometimes the term was used for the Devil or a scarecrow.

Draggled sae 'mang muck and stanes, They looked like wirry-cows

The word was used by Sir Walter Scott in his novel Guy Mannering.

The word is derived by John Jamieson from worry (Modern Scots wirry[2]), in its old sense of harassment[3] in both English[4] and Lowland Scots,[5] from Old English wyrgan cognate with Dutch wurgen and German würgen;[6] and cowe, a hobgoblin, an object of terror.[7][8]

Wirry appears in several other compound words such as wirry hen, a ruffianly character, a rogue;[9] wirry-boggle, a rogue, a rascal; and wirry-carle, a snarling, ill-natured person, one who is dreaded as a bugbear.[10]


  1. ^ SND: worricow Archived March 7, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ The Online Scots Dictionary: wirry
  3. ^ Jamieson, John (1808) Jamieson’s Dictionary of the Scottish Language p. 606
  4. ^ Online Etymological Dictionary Archived March 4, 2016, at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ DOST: wirry Archived March 7, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Onions, C.T. (ed.) (1966) The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology Oxford, p.1013
  7. ^ The Online Scots Dictionary: cowe
  8. ^ SND: cowe Archived March 7, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ DOST: wirry hen Archived March 7, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ SND: worry

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