Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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UNKEN, v. Also oonken (Abd., Kcd. 1904 E.D.D.).

1. Not to know, to fail to recognise, mistake, be ignorant of. Rare exc. in ppl.adjs., see 3. See Ken, v. Lnk. 1838  J. Struthers Poetic Tales 83:
Ere sic profane presumptions tell . . . Or wheeze me to unken mysell.

2. Derivs. (1) unkennance [ < -ins], n., a matter of ignorance, a thing unknown, a secret, poss. deriving from an adv. genitive as in Unwittins; (2) unkennable, oonkeenable (Sh.), see Onkennable; (3) unkensome, adj., unknown, not to be recognised, incognito. Rare and liter. (1) Per. 1738  Session Papers, Haggart v. Hog (27 July) 4:
It is no Unkenance to you that I am here.
(2) Sc. 1802  Scott Minstrelsy I. 179:
A smith! a smith! right speedilie; To turn back the caukers of our horses' shoon; For it's unkensome we wad be.
Edb. 1928  A. D. Mackie In Two Tongues 59:
Far dim herbours in unkensome creeks.

3. Ppl.adjs.: (1) unkenning (o'), unknowing, ignorant (of) (Sh. 1973). Edb. 1788  J. Macaulay Poems 130:
Unkenning how to carp or mourn.
Rxb. 1847  J. Halliday Rustic Bard 261:
Unkennin' o', uncarin' for, cauld care or crosses stern.
Sc. 1891  Scots Mag. (Feb.) 171:
Dinna pit on that unkenning look.

(2) unkend, -kenn(e)d, -kent, unknown, unfamiliar. Gen.Sc. Also in n.Eng. dial. See also Onkent. Sc. 1720  Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. 154:
Nilus swelling frae his unkend Head.
Kcb. 1789  D. Davidson Seasons 3:
A royal nest Bequeath'd to him and his since time unken'd.
Sc. 1814  Scott Waverley xviii.:
The plague and trouble which he had about Gilliewhackit to an unkenn'd degree.
Gall. 1843  J. Nicholson Tales 82:
Baa the bairns wi' an unken'd tune.
Ags. 1853  W. Blair Aberbrothock 69:
There was a muckle barrel filled wi' dirty water, an' oonkent things.
Cai. 1869  M. Maclennan Peasant Life 69:
Ye're gain awa' 'mang unkent folk.
Knr. 1891  H. Haliburton Ochil Idylls 68:
By whatna crystal wave unkent ye wander'd.
Sh. 1899  J. Spence Folk-Lore 209:
Better the ill kent than the guid unkent.
Rxb. 1921  Hawick Express (12 Aug.) 3:
Freidom an' liberty are terms unkenned in that puir Communist ruled country.

With various preps.: (i) unkent by, unknown to; (ii) unkent in, ignorant of, unversed in, unfamiliar with; (iii) unkent o', (a) = (i), without the knowledge of. See Unkent; (b) not known about, unheard of; (iv) unkent to, — till, (a) untouched or unvisited by, hence inexperienced in, unfamiliar with; (b) unknown to, unnoticed by (Cai. 1973). (i) Dmb. 1846  W. Cross Disruption xxxii.:
She has been offen here unkent by her father.
s.Sc. 1887  R. Allan Border Poems 93:
That this could hae a' been unkenn'd By our bigs-wigs I canna believe.
Fif. 1905  S. Tytler Daughter of the Manse IV. iv.:
Whiles the daft may speak words of sense unkenned by the wise.
(ii) Per. a.1843  J. Stewart Sketches (1857) 64:
Unskuil'd in books, unkent in ballants.
(iii) (b) Ayr. 1785  Burns To W. Simpson vii.:
She lay like some unkend-of isle.
Rnf. 1876  D. Gilmour Paisley Weavers 135:
The cause o' unkent o' heart-burnin'.
(iv) (a) Edb. 1773  Fergusson Poems (S.T.S.) II. 135:
In winter he might fend fu' bald, His eild unkend to nippin cald.
Dmf. 1861  R. Quinn Heather Lintie 155:
Unkent tae either care or dool.
Ags. 1894  A. Reid Sangs 103:
They lived an' lo'ed thegither A' unkent to walth or fame.
(b) Abd. 1790  A. Shirrefs Poems 174:
Unkent to a' Ae night I bade the cruel place adieu.
Abd. 1828  P. Buchan Ballads I. 21:
Gin ye're my sister's son, he said, It is unkent to me.
Cai. 1973  :
He deed unkent til himsel, i.e. in his sleep.

[O.Sc. unkennand, unkennyt, unkende, a.1400.]

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"Unken v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 15 Jul 2018 <>



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