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ˈskər(-ə)l How to pronounce skirl (audio)
skirled; skirling; skirls

intransitive verb

of a bagpipe : to emit the high shrill tone of the chanter
also : to give forth music

transitive verb

: to play (music) on the bagpipe


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: a high shrill sound produced by the chanter of a bagpipe

Did you know?

Not every musical instrument is honored with its very own verb. But then, not every musical instrument emits a sound that quite matches that of a bagpipe. Depending on your ear, you might think bagpipes "give forth music," or you might be more apt to say they "shriek." If you are of the latter opinion, your thinking aligns with the earliest sense of skirl—"to shriek." That early sense was used of screeching maids, winds, and the like. Scottish poet Robert Sempill first used it for bagpipes in the mid-1600s. The meaning of skirl has shifted over time, however, and these days you can use the verb without causing offense to bagpipers and bagpipe enthusiasts.

Examples of skirl in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web
The skirl of the bagpipes, the street jugglers, the whisky tastings, the…wait, what the heck is that? James Hookway, WSJ, 4 June 2023 Then came the twirling, colorful, ruffled dresses of dancers from Grupo Folklorico de Bendiciones followed by the precision of the San Antonio Pipes & Drums, complete with the skirl of bagpipes and booming of drums. Vincent T. Davis,, 1 Feb. 2020

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'skirl.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



Middle English (Scots) skrillen, skirlen to scream, shriek, of Scandinavian origin; akin to Norwegian dialect skræla to cry aloud; akin to Old English scrallettan to resound loudly

First Known Use


circa 1665, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense


1856, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of skirl was circa 1665


Dictionary Entries Near skirl

Cite this Entry

“Skirl.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 Jun. 2024.

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