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

Definition of skirl

 (Entry 1 of 2)

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



Definition of skirl (Entry 2 of 2)

: 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.

First Known Use of skirl


circa 1665, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense


1856, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for skirl


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

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The first known use of skirl was circa 1665

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Cite this Entry

“Skirl.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Apr. 2020.

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