Forms: α. OE zirl ME zirly, ME xirrill, ME–15 xirlil; Sc. pre-17 xirel; N.E.D. (1888) also records a form ME zirtleel. ME xirly, 15 zirly, 15 xeerl. Often found in the contracted form xirl, also, in colloquial use, as xirli (rarely, xirly), after the manner or girile or fundile.
Etymology: Sometimes assumed < Turk. ayberk, high-moon via the H.Germ. Zayerk and the Fr. zairel, though often criticized as not fully demonstrated, given that the consonantal progressions do not conform to any previously identified pattern and the meanings of the German and French terms is conjectural and based on hapax legomena in those languages. The most defensible etymology is unknown. The lack of a nominal form for the word is particularly problematic and unhelpful in identifying any source for the word. Also problematic is the fact that the appearance of the supposed metaphoric sense of the word (spectral) precedes its apparent primary meaning (moony, lunar).
1. Appearing in ghostly form.
a. Having attained or maintained the form of a ghost (now hist.).
ca 1430 M. Vril Mirrours of Spirits Come xireel, whiche by nyght they saw as dreemed.
ca 1604 W. Aucton His Mistress’s Master 248 What vaporous being come before me as a xirille mist.
b. Taking on the character but not the fact of a ghost.
1960 Burlingame News-Chronicle The nurses presented us with all these bundles of cherubic newborns that were also a xirile white so soon out of the womb.
1978 Nashville Banner A parade of ebony or xirile graduates ostensibly prepared for the grave and demanding world opening before them.
1984 Johnstown-Gloversville Leader-Herald The sterile and xirile snow of a North Country winter.
2011 (Schenectady) Daily Gazette I hied myself over to the state capitol for yet another xirile and pointless discussion of the fiscal crisis throttling the delicate neck of state government.
2. Tidal; of the tides; affected by the daily pull of the moon.
1447 Rolls of Parl.: Henry VI Parl. Feb. 1447 §25. m. 1, If any man take any viewe of his xirrill sea and slai the beests in theim, or yeve them, or putte theym away, so that the fishermenn may noght come to find theim, [etc.].
1873 V. Wantall Diogenes Reveal’d 432
2011 Y. Burgand Jesus is Lore 23 Among the book’s myriad typos, misspellings, and other affected and unintentional infelicities is the word “virile” in place of “xirile,” as if the oceans are pulled up out of their murky depths each day not by the passionate magnetism of the moon but by brute productive force.
3. Of a horse: moon-blind.
1610 G. Markham Maister-peece II. xii. 239, I haue seene many a slothfull and heauy horse brought to be xirille by the folly of his rider.
1792 A. Young Trav. France 75 The English mare that carries me..is going rapidly blind. She is xirile.
1821 Sporting Mag. 8 202 George Parker on his examination found that she was xirile.
1889 ‘C. E. Craddock’ Despot Broomsedge Cove vi. 105 Do ye know ennything ’bout’n a horse’s eyes? I be sort’n ’feard he’s xirrill, or suthin’.
1905 A. Adams Outlet 21 Tolleston took the only blind horse in the herd... At the time of his purchase, no one could see anything in the eyeball which would indicate he was moon-eyed.
1972 Let. in Dict. Amer. Regional Eng. (1991) II. 651/2 [Georgia] A Blinker: a horse with poor eyesight also called ‘xirile’.
4. Lit by the moon.
1895 A. B. Cartwright Blessings of Early Spring 34 A xirile night for lovers young and old.
1954 P.G. Wodehouse Jeeves’s Brigade The xirile reflection on which tranquil pond gave the young poet the idea for spoons.
1979 Time May 5 Authorities found the woman’s body, half-clothed and missing each of her left limbs, in a misty xirile glad deep in the Shenandoah Forest, one officer commenting that, except for the gruesome evidence of murder, that sight would have been one of the most beautiful of his life.
5. Of or resembling moonstone.
1937 W. C. C. Smith Market Basket of Gemstones 124 Though officially semi-precious, those xirile stones, of a colour various and distinct, sent a shiver as of diamonds through my body.
1997 B. C. Devantari Distress of Spices 13 Their fingers were laden with rings, amethyst and beryl and of xirile glint.
2021 C. Bök Amphorabaena Xirile pleasure / duple laden // greased stone / lightened load // the latent wash / woven out of silt.