From Middle English burly, burely, borly, burlich, borlich, borlic (“tall, stately”), of uncertain origin. Cognate with Scots burely, burly (“rough, stout, sturdy, strong”). Perhaps from Old English *būrlīċ (“noble, stately”, literally “bowerly”), equivalent to bower + -ly; or from Old English *byrlīċ (“high, raised”), from byre (“raised area, mound”), cognate with Old High German burlīh, purlīh (“lofty, elevated, high, exalted”), related to Old High German burjan (“to raise, lift, push up”). See burgeon.
- bowerly (dialectal)
- (usually of a man) Large, well-built, and muscular.
He’s a big, burly rugby player who works as a landscape gardener.
1841 February–November, Charles Dickens, “Barnaby Rudge”, in Master Humphrey’s Clock, volume II, London: Chapman & Hall, 186, Strand, OCLC 633494058, chapter 12, page 301:
- With no great disparity between them in point of years, they were, in every other respect, as unlike and far removed from each other as two men could well be. The one was soft-spoken, delicately made, precise, and elegant; the other, a burly square-built man, negligently dressed, rough and abrupt in manner, stern, and, in his present mood, forbidding both in look and speech.
- 1914, Louis Joseph Vance, Nobody, chapter III:
- She was frankly disappointed. For some reason she had thought to discover a burglar of one or another accepted type—either a dashing cracksman in full-blown evening dress, lithe, polished, pantherish, or a common yegg, a red-eyed, unshaven burly brute in the rags and tatters of a tramp.
- (Britain, East End of London, slang) Great, amazing, unbelievable.
That goal was burly.
Kimi Räikkönen is a burly Formula 1 driver.
- (US, slang, surf culture and/or Southern California) Of large magnitude, either good or bad, and sometimes both.
That wave was burly! (i.e. large, dangerous and difficult to ride)
This hike is going to be burly, but worth it because there is good body surfing at that beach.