Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

Hide Quotations Hide Etymology Cite this entry

TOW, n.2, v.1 Also towe, touw. Dim. towie. [tʌu]

I. n. 1. A rope, cord, length of strong twine, string, etc.: (1) in gen. (Sc. 1808 Jam.). Gen.Sc., also in Eng. dial. Also fig. in 1930 quot. = one's allotted span. Sc. 1703  Household Bk. Lady G. Baillie (S.H.S.) 170:
For tows to the wall last year . . . 16/8.
Mry. 1738  W. Cramond Ch. Fordyce (1890) 52:
The hole of the roof wherein the tow o the bell hings.
Sc. 1815  Scott Guy M. xi.:
Ropes nor tows wad not hae held him.
Abd. 1865  G. MacDonald Alec Forbes xvii.:
Pit yer han' i' my jacket-pooch an tak' oot a bit towie ye'll fin' there.
Sh. 1928  Shetland Times (7 Jan.):
I took me bit o tow an tied up da splash buirds.
Abd. 1930  B. R. McIntosh MS. Verses:
I'm gey near the en' o' my towie.
Bnff. 1939  J. M. Caie Hills and Sea 37:
He's nae worth a towie.
Bnff. 1963  Dufftown News (2 Nov.) 3:
Was it you who tied a tow to a [door] bell and hid at the back of a dyke?

Phrs. and combs.: (i) lang-tow, a tug-of-war (Mry. 1972); (ii) to lat the tow gang wi' the bucket, to throw one's hand in, to give up, to get rid of a matter impatiently, to cut one's losses, to cease to argue or haggle, used proverbially (Kcd. 1929 Montrose Standard (10 May); ne., em.Sc.(a) 1972); (iii) to let the tow rin slack, to let one's business manage itself, to relax close control; †(iv) tow-widdy, a draught-rope of a plough or harrows, esp. one made of osiers twisted. See Widdie. Used attrib. in quot. (i) Abd. 1969  Huntly Express (9 May) 3:
Cabrach Man is still keen on ‘The Lang Tow'.
(iii) Lnk. 1873  A. G. Murdoch Doric Lyre 38:
For a bittock you an' I sall let the tow rin slack.
(iv) Slk. 1818  Hogg B. of Bodsbeck xii.:
It isna then a strae nor a stibble that I hae grippit at for my last hope, but the tap of a good tow-widdy saugh.

(2) specif.: a skipping-rope (Sh., ne.Sc., Ags., Ayr. 1972). Also in comb. jumpin tow, id. (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B. 313), and phr. to jump the tow, to skip with a rope (Ib.). Abd. 1929  J. Milne Dreams o Buchan 40:
When lassies play at hoppin' beds An' loup ower jumpin towes.

(3) a coffin cord (ne.Sc. 1972). Abd. 1955  W. P. Milne Eppie Elrick xxx.:
Mains was the chief mourner and got the principal ‘tow' at the head of the coffin.

(4) one of the trace-ropes in horse-harness. Freq. fig. in phr. ower the tow, over the traces, out of control, beyond bounds. Ayr. 1786  Burns Inventory 20–21:
My fur-ahin's a wordy beast As e'er in tug or tow was traced.
Sc. 1849  M. Oliphant M. Maitland xiii.:
Like to gang ower the tow, as his father did before him.
m.Lth. 1857  Misty Morning 259:
I was raither a parin' owre the tow that nicht.
Edb. 1872  J. Smith Jenny Blair 79:
For ane that has the power o' self-restraint, there's thousands gang far owre the tow.
Gsw. 1892  R. Alison Anecdotage Gsw. 304:
One day Mrs. Beveridge went “ower the tow” altogether.

†(5) the cord by which the weights of a pendulum clock are suspended. Rxb. 1726  J. J. Vernon Par. Hawick (1900) 210:
Paid for tows to pease stones . . . 8s.
Ags. 1845  A. Smart Rambling Rhymes 233:
Sma' was the cost or care she needit — Just pou the tow up when ye beddit.

(6) a whip, whip-lash (Bnff., w.Lth. 1972). Abd. 1923  A. Shewan Spirat Adhuc Amor 277:
A “fup tow” was a whip lash.
Edb. 1926  Edb. Evening News (6 Aug.) 4:
It [top] birred and bizzed and sang for joy Ahint the tow o' this wee boy.

2. A gallows rope, the hangman's noose. Also in comb. tow gravatte, id. Ayr. 1794  Burns Weary Pund o' Tow iv.:
And 'or I wad anither jad, I'll wallop in a tow.
Sc. 1818  Scott Rob Roy xxix.:
He'll maybe see him in cauld irons the night, and playing tricks on a tow the morn.
Sc. 1886  Stevenson Kidnapped xii.:
It would be a short shrift and a lang tow for Alan.
Arg. 1898  N. Munro J. Splendid xviii.:
We had no doubt got a short quittance from MacColkitto, who was for the tow gravatte on the spot.
m.Sc. 1927  J. Buchan Witch Wood ix.:
If Argyll gets the upper hand they'll be glorifyin' God at the end o' a tow in the Grassmarket.
Abd. 1932  Abd. Univ. Rev. (March) 104:
Danglin' in a tow at the tap o' Mairischal Street.

3. In pl.: the halyards of a sailing boat (Sh. 1866 Edm. Gl., 1914 Angus Gl., Sh. 1972). Hence tow(s)man, the crew member who manages the sails and halyards (Sh. 1972). Sh. 1899  J. Spence Folk-Lore 137:
The sail is hoisted, and the towman grasps the halyards.
Sh. 1915  Shetland News (21 Oct.):
He was a strong man, an du kens hit taks a man lek dat at da tows in a bad day.
Sh. 1954  C. Sandison Sixareen 19:
The single halyards or “tows” were attached to the yard between the arms of the rackie, and were passed through a sheave in the head of the mast. . . . As soon as it became rough the tow-man would take up his place on the thwart abaft the mast.

4. The main cord of a fishing-line (Ork. 1929 Marw.; I.Sc. 1972), freq. in pl. Hence phr. to weet the tows, to cast the fishing lines. Sh. 1822  S. Hibbert Description 510:
Their ‘tows', which is the name they designate the lines by that are fitted with ling hooks.
Sh. 1892  J. Burgess Rasmie's Büddie 84:
Da touw for haaleen.
Sh. 1899  J. Spence Folk-Lore 243:
I tink we'll try to weet da tows.
Sh. 1931  J. Nicholson Tales 53:
Each sixaern was furnished with a “fleet” of lines, variably termed “tows” and “buchts”, and equalling 50 fathoms.

5. The winding-rope or cable which hoists or lowers the cage in a mine (Sc. 1886 J. Barrowman Mining Terms 67; Fif., Lth., wm.Sc. 1972); the cage itself (Lth., wm.Sc. 1972), a cageful of men (Sc. 1883 W. Gresely Gl. Coal Mining 266). Phrs. to catch, gang doun on or wi the tow, to get into, descend by the cage (Lth. 1972). Lnk. 1893  T. Stewart Among the Miners 6:
It's surely time they were up noo. I've lookit at every tow they've drawn this last 'oor.

6. A strand or ringlet of hair. Cai. 1871  M. MacLennan Peasant Life 232:
She haes scarce a towie o' hair.

7. Fig., the ties or bonds (of marriage). Sh. 1931  Sh. Almanac Companion 187:
Da holy tows o' matrimony.
Abd. 1931  D. Campbell Uncle Andie 26:
'Twad need but sma' pressin' tae gaur some fowks brak' their mairriage tows gin they cud.

II. v. 1. In ppl.adj. towed, of a bed: fitted with ropes on which to lay the mattress. Rs. 1738  W. MacGill Old Ross-shire (1909) 137:
Standing towed bed. Cain chairs.

2. To raise or lower by means of a rope. Sc. 1722  R. Wodrow Sufferings iii. viii. s.5:
Neither meat nor drink was allowed them but what they got towed up by the window.
Sc. 1755  Edom o' Gordon in
Child Ballads (1956) III. 434:
O row me in a pair o sheets, And tow me owre the wa'!
Gsw. 1768  Caled. Mercury (24 Sept.):
He brought a rope, the end of which he fixed to a tree, and towed himself down into the pit.

[O.Sc. tow, a rope, from 1470, prob. from Du. touw, rope, string, cord, M.L.Ger. touwe, id.]

You may wish to vary the format shown below depending on the citation style used.

"Tow n.2, v.1". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 11 Dec 2017 <>



Try an Advanced Search

Browse SND:

Browse Up
Browse Down