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A Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue (up to 1700)

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First published 2002 (DOST Vol. XI).
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

Uncouth, Unco, adj. Also: uncoutht, -cou(c)ht, -couthe, -cowth(e, -cuth, -coth, -chut, -kouth(e, -kowth, -kuth, -kot, -quoth, wncouth(e, -coucht, -couythe, -cowthe, -cuth, -caith, -kouth, -quoth, wyncouth, oncoutht, -cowthe, -kouth, -kowth, -kuith, unko(e, uncou, -ow, unkou, -ow, onkow, ouncow, wncue, uncal. [ME and e.m.E. uncuð (a1200), vncut(h (both Cursor M.), vn-couthe (Rolle), uncouth, -kouth (both Lydgate), vnkoth (c1400), vnkow (c1410, north. MS of Chaucer), OE uncúþ; Couth adj. Also in the later dial.]For the loss of word-final th, cf. also Mow n.2 beside Mouth n. and Quo p.t. beside Quod p.t. and Quoth p.t.

1. Strange, unfamiliar, not belonging to one's locality or kin; unknown. Passing into sense 2.There is considerable ambiguity between senses 1 and 2. All quotations not verifiably belonging in 2 have been placed in 1. There is also some ambiguity with sense 3.(a) 1375 Barb. vii 561.
He saw hyr wncouth [C. vncouth] … him thocht That for gud cummyn wes scho nocht
c1420 Wynt. v 5784 (C).
Gif that he Sulde withedraw hym … Fra his kyn til ane wncouthe leide; Till strangearis fra his awyne kyth
c1409-1436 Kingis Q. § 63.
Quhen sall ȝour merci rew vpon ȝour man, Quhois seruice is ȝit vncouth vnto ȝow?
c1409-1436 Kingis Q. § 113.
For the way is vncouth vnto the … I will that Gude Hope … Be thy condyt and gyde
c1515 Asl. MS I 153/16.
And the warld be experyment and besy laubour of wys men was fundyn to haf xxx vncouth seis
1533 Boece 152b.
[The] Romanis … abasit be ignorance of the grund … as vnkouth to thame
1533 Bell. Livy I 131/17.
Seruius Tullus rang eftir him (as vncouth heretoure severing the Tarquynis ane certane tyme fra the croun)
1571 Ferg. Serm. iii Malachi Sig. B i.
Sa that this was na vncouth or new thing that happinnit vnto them, but ane inueterat & auld euill
1572 Buch. Detect. 36.
Sche hazard hir self … be a passaige vncouth … passand to the armetage in Lyddisdaill
1598 James VI Basil. Doron 38/10.
Be nather ouir strainge uith God … nor yett ouir hamelie … the former uaye uill breide ane unkouth cauldenes in ȝow touardis Him
1609 Sel. Biog. I 93.
The peace of my minde not being troubled by trading in an uncouth path before I could see the footsteps of Christ leading me thereunto
1630 Rutherford Christ & Doves 21.
I will think Heaven uncouth if ye be not with me
1632 Rutherford Lett. (1894) 83.
The silly stranger in an uncouth country must take with a smoky inn and coarse cheer, a hard bed, and a barking, ill-tongued host
(b) c1552 Lynd. Mon. 616.
Ladyis of honouris, Prayis in Latyne, to thame ane vncuth leid, Mumland thair … Pater Noster, Aue and thare Creid
(c) a1570-86 Maitl. F. 435/32.
Be war thairfoir with weddir waw & wind With wncaith coursis and wnknawin cost
(d) 1661 Black Sc. Witches 46.
Being asked what coyne the money was shoe ansyred that it was ane wnquoth coyne and knew it not
(e) c1500-c1512 Dunb. (STS) xxxi 13.
He that … schuttis … at ane vncow [M. vncouth] schell … He wirkis sorrow to him sell
1638 Henderson Serm. 83.
The natural man … knows nothing … of this … speak of this peace … and of faith who is the mother of this peace [etc.] … they are strange & uncow language to him
(f) 1631–40 Breadalbane Doc. No. 471.
I am in ane wncue toune and far fra hame
(g) 1607 Misc. Abbotsf. C. 72.
Thy pitie I's proclaim in everie ouncow cost
proverb. a1628 Carmichael Prov. No. 229.
Ane uncouth face maks all the leave strangers

b. specif. Not belonging to local jurisdiction, esp. a burgh.(a) 14.. Burgh Laws c. 74 (A).
Of wncouth men to herbry na man wonnand in burgh sal herbery ony stranger in his hous atour a nycht
1436–7 Ayr B. Ct. 3 Jan.
Nane ale is sald derrer than viii d. … & nane be sald derrer in couth hous na vncouth
1534 Reg. Soltre 104.
The said Jhone … sall keip the girs and corn and sall lat nane wncuth gudis cum thareon
1589 Sc. Eccles. Soc. I 251.
That unkowth and strong beggaris be keipit furth of the kirkyaird
1622 Elgin Rec. II 168.
Nocht to receave in ludging owtlandische people nor wncowthe beggeris
1635 Irving Dumbartonsh. II 314.
All unkuth beggars and uthir puir strangers to be removit out of the burgh
1635 Monteith Stewartry Ct. 29 Oct.
That na vncowth beggeris sall have ony almes fra ony howshalder within the said stewartrie
1656 Peebles B. Rec. II 37.
To hound and poind all the uncouth goodis off Homildon daylie
(b) 1623 Stirling B. Rec. I 158.
In outputting and outhalding of the unkow and outland pure of the streittis and calseyes

c. Of seed: From a different crop or locality. 1473 Reg. Cupar A. I 192.
Tha sal vyn and kep the land fra guld … with wedyng of it chanyng and reneuyng of vnkot seid, and siftyng of thar awyn seid
1621 Black Bk. Taymouth 357.
That euirie tennent … of ane merkland … saw ane boll of wncouth seid … yeirly … and euirie xl d. land ane firlot of wncouth eatis

d. Of persons with regard to their behaviour: Distant, reserved; ? unfriendly, hostile. 1637 Rutherford Lett. (1894) 518.
I find people here dry and unco. A man pointed at for suffering dare not to be countenanced
1651 Johnston Diary II 45.
Ther fell som passionat words out betuixt me and my wyfe, which maid me tell hir that shoe had been mor uncou for talk to me, thes 6 moneth since Dunbar then thes 16 yeares

e. absol. as noun. A stranger. Also const. uninfl. pl.(a) 1513 Doug. v x 80.
The hows in Creyt, Hait Laborynthus with mony went and streyt, Had … a thousand slychtis wrocht, Forto dissaue al onkouth tharin brocht
(b) ?c1675 J. Gordon Hist. II 140.
Some voited that he should make his repentance in the church of Edinburgh, where, he said, he would be more vyld in the eyes of uncals for the pleasure of his king

2. Foreign, belonging to another nation, city, culture, etc. Also fig. a1400 Leg. S. xxvii 433.
With the men of his cunctre, He determyt in his thocht, That dwel thare langare wald he nocht, … Bot passyt in vnchut land … Quhare na man knawlag of hym had
14.. Acts I 24/2.
Of uncouth marchandis. Na marchande uncouth [L. alienus] may by ututh burgh woll [etc.] … na ȝit wythin burgh bot gif it be fra burges
c1475 Wall. vi 136.
Pardown me than, for I wend ye had beyne Ane inbasset to bryng ane wncouth queyne
a1500 Prestis of Peblis 51 (Ch.).
He hath bene in monie vncouth land: In Portingale [etc.]
1513 Doug. x ii 43.
Thinkis thou lesum is at Troianys infeir Violens to mak … Agane Latynys, syk onkouth [Sm. onkowth] heritage [L. arva aliena] Tyll occupy and subdew in bondage
1531 Bell. Boece I 100.
Quhen King Edere had pacifijt the realme in this maner, he had the residew of his realme but ony domestik or vncowth weris
1533 Boece 133a.
[The Romans] had … thirllit the inhabitantis [sc. of Germany] to servitute … [and] subiect thame to vncouth lawis
1533 Bell. Livy I 48/6.
This ordour of preisthede was first begvn in the ciete of Alba, nocht vncouth [L. alienum] to the pepill of Albane
1533 Bell. Livy II 232/2.
Sa ganand place … nocht standing oure neir the sey to resaif dammaige be perell of oncouth flotis [L. ad pericula classium externarum]
1549 Compl. 16/20.
Translatours … that tuke grite pleseir to contrafait ther vlgare langage, mixand ther purposis vitht oncoutht exquisite termis dreuyn, or rather … reuyn fra Lating
1567 Sat. P. iv 59, 60.
Sum vncouth vaiage I purpoisit prepare, Bot not sa vncouth as was preparit for me
1615 Misc. Maitl. C. II 169.
Practiseing of forren and uncouth lawis contrair to the tenour of the actis of parliament
fig. a1570-86 R. Maitland in Maitl. F. 443/81.
Sen God thi souerane hes thé send Into this wail of miserie [etc.] … think he dois fulfill His promeis quhane he dois thé bring … the hewinis wntill … Thoucht thow be heir in oncowthe land [etc.]

3. a. Outwith normal experience, strange, unusual, unprecedented; remarkable; marvellous. b. Unnatural; uncanny, weird. Also transf.a., b. c1420 Ratis R. 187.
The ferd wertew is nocht vncouth That is the taist of manis mouth
c1420 Wynt. i 1470.
Ilkane spak swa syndyrly That nane cowth othyr wndyrstande … Comestor sayis in this chawngyng God made na wrocht na wnkouth [C. wyncouth, W. vncouth] thyng
c1420 Wynt. iv 2336.
Or Julyus deid as I herd tell In Rome wncouth [C. wncouythe] taknys felle
c1500-c1512 Dunb. Tua Mar. W. 528 (Ch. & M.).
This vncouth aventur, quhilk airly me happinnit
1513 Doug. i viii 38.
1513 Doug. xi xv 12.
Choreus … Abilȝeit rychly … In pompus armour and array Phrygiane Furth dryvys he the fomy sterand steid With weirlyke bardis cled and sovir weid … And he hym self in brovne sangwane … Abuf hys onkouth armour blomand brycht
1531 Bell. Boece I xxvii.
In Annandail is ane loch … full of uncouth fische
1531 Bell. Boece (M) I 195.
Vncouth counȝe … on quhilkis wer prentit twa ganners fechtand with edderis
1531 Bell. Boece (M) II 146.
How Sweno wes eftir wincust be ane vncoutht slycht
1533 Bell. Livy I 15/22.
Quha may sikkerlie afferme sa remote & vncouth [B. vncouht] historie?
c1550 Rolland Ct. Venus iv 174.
We for fault of personis mair prudent … ar present heir In greit laubouris, and vncouth argument … the mater to mak cleir
1592 Mining Rec. 76.
Quhen ony man pas ane infeftment vith ane vncouht claus as mynis mettales and minerallis
1597 James VI Dæmonol. (STS) 49/24.
The last [symptom] is the speaking of sundrie languages … with an vncouth and hollowe voice
1603 Moysie 110.
This wes esteimit ane strenge and vnkouthe thing, that … quhaire thair wes ijm men … four hundrethe sould put thame to flicht
1615 Aberd. Eccl. Rec. 82.
This present vncouth storme of frost and snaw … hes continewit sa lang that the bestiall ar dieing thik fauld
1622 Crim. Trials III 524.
Per totum to the haill lybell, non relevat vncouth seiknes, except it war in lyk maner qualifeit, quhat is vncouthe
1622 Scot Course of Conformity 101.
The tempests of wind and raine … haue so continued through the uncouth unseasonablenesse of the late harvest in many places [etc.]
a1650 Row 366.
When the Articles came to be voted, the King perceaveing that there would be some contrare to them, taketh a pen, and with his awin hand (an uncouth practise) noted the votes
1691 Kirk Secr. Commonw. (1933) 72.
All uncouth, unknown wights are terrifyed by nothing earthly so much as by cold iron
1691 Kirk Secr. Commonw. (1933) 93.
I did entreat Sir James McDonald … to make inquirie in this uncouth sight [sc. second sight] and to acquaint me therewith
(b) 1601 Trial David Roy 2.
Becaus … the matter is uncow and vechtie, we thocht guid to advertise yow thairof
1604-31 Craig i 19/9.
What art thou Scotland then? no monarchie allace, A oligarchie desolate, with straying and onkow face
1633 Johnston Diary I 68.
Som inward, unkou, unexpressable motion of thy sprite
1638 Henderson Serm. 261.
Look and ye may see that there are many uncow and strange judgments here, that any may think, what! they will never come to pass
1651 Johnston Diary II 121.
M. J. D. wrote the uncou newes to us of Monk's taiking … the lords, officers, and ministers … sleeping in their beds
1652 Nicoll Diary 87.
Sindrie unko apparitiounes fell out within this natioun befoir thir trubles began
1684 Law Memor. 224.
And an unco dog coming in amongst them, they all set up a barking
transf. 1513 Doug. ii iv 51.
Than trymlit thar mony stowt hart for feir The onkowth dreid into thar brestis crap

c. ellipt. or impers. Of a situation: Strange, unusual, unprecedented; unaccustomed, unnatural. 1594 Charteris Pref. Wall. 172.
Nouther is it vncouth to the Frenche writers to suppres and concyle the nobill actis of strangeris done amangis them
1605-6 Welsh Forty-eight Serm. 393.
This watching is so uncouth to you, that except in the set hours in the morning and the evening I true ye fling your hearts loose to the devil all the day long
c1650 Spalding I 59.
The marques thocht weill vncouth of this scharp and seveir dealling
c1650 Spalding I 290.
Ane tymber meir, quhairvpone runnaget knaves and runaway soldiouris sould ryde. Vncouth to sie sic discipline in Abirdein

d. In weakened sense, as an intensifier: Great, extraordinary. Also as adv.Cf. later Sc. unco (SND, s.v. Unco n. 3).(1) 1672 M. Bruce Rattling Dry Bones 41.
Ye have had your own thoughts about the work of God in Scotland, since we got the uncouth dash
?1660–90 J. Walwood in P. Gillespie Rulers Sins (1718) 14.
I have seen folk very serious, and yet it was an uncouth difficulty to be sure that they would be saved
1698 D. Brown Sermon at the Mearns (1717) 16.
God weighs persons in the balance of conscience; and I can assure you conscience is an unquoth balance, whether it be a discoverer of sin, or a pulser to duty
(2) adv. c1409-1436 Kingis Q. § 66.
This was thair song, as semyt me full heye With full mony vncouth suete note and schill

e. absol. as noun. An unusual or remarkable event. 1531 Bell. Boece (M) I 141.
The samyn tyme apperit mony vncouthtis & merwellis in Albion

4. Unpleasant, distasteful; unattractive; vile.Some examples may belong in senses 3 or 5.(a) a1500 Henr. Test. Cress. 403.
God wait gif Cresseid was ane sorrowfull gest, Seing that vncouth fair and harbery!
1503–7 Dauney Anc. Sc. Melodies 49.
Scho wald nocht lene to me, For luve the taile ende of hir E, Bot saide away uncoucht man lat be, And ye followe I wele flee
1503–7 Dauney Anc. Sc. Melodies 49.
Bot wile ye bide quhile it be neycht … Sum wncoucht spret wile spy youe
c1552 Lynd. Mon. 1238.
Foull abhominatioun And vncouthe fornicatioun
1601 Trial David Roy 2.
To effectuat … his viccat deid, [he] hes usit maist uncoth, unnaturall, and abhominabill meins
1629 Dalyell Darker Superst. 60.
Of canceris, wormes, glengores, and utheris uncouth diseases
1635 Dickson Wr. 128.
His plague was so uncouth, that the disciples were astonished and fled
1662 Murray Witch-cult 38.
He was an uncouth man with black cloathes with ane hood on his head
166. W. Guthrie Letters Horning 7.
It is hazard enought … to slight religious duties … but … when Christ and the world … are … in battle … to cry Geir be mine, that is ane uncouth matter
(b) 1596 Dalr. II 132/34.
At this tyme an vncow and sair seiknes lyk the verie pest invadet hail Scotland
1603 Moysie 146.
A greatt multitude of the inhabitants of Edinburgh contracted ane vnkoe sicknes, whilke was baptised kyndnes
1684 Law Memor. 246.
Taken with an uncow disease, like unto convulsion fits

5. Ignorant, unlearned, lacking culture or manners. b. absol. as noun. 1529 Lynd. Complaynt 277.
Ȝit wald I hyde me in ane nuke To se those vncouth vaniteis, Quhow thay … Did occupy thare goldin houris
1559 M. Napier Mem. J. Napier 63.
Think not onkvith that I wreit na anser of that thing I ressavit not
1624 Misc. Abbotsf. C. 4 marg.
The pannell denyet not, but scho said scho was vncouth, and wist not quhat to say
b. 1575 Cal. Sc. P. V 200.
Ingland and Scotland … had bene furneissand uncowthis and newis to France, all sic as had nevir ane penny in thair puris and all papistis and irne shoue weiraris

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"Uncouth adj.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 20 May 2024 <>



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