Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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1. A sweeping implement. In Sc. besom is used very much as broom in Eng. except that it is never applied (like broom) to a plant. In Eng. besom has a more limited application, meaning “a bundle of twigs, etc., tied round a stick for sweeping, a kind of broom” (Concise Eng. Dict.). The spelling besom in Sc. is often deceptive as the pronunciation in many cases is better represented by bissom or bizom. Besom, beezim; bisom, bissum; boosum. [′bi:zəm, ′bɪzəm, ′bɪsɪm, ′bɪzɪm Sc.; ′bøzɪm Sh.; ′buzəm Gall.; ′bʌzəm s.Sc.] Sc. 1925 R. Fleming in Scots Mag. (March) 472:
An aul' fiddler wi' a heid like a heather bissum.
Abd.13 1914:
An aul' beezim maks a hard skrubber — meaning when a beggar gets up in the world he is a worse master than a gentleman born.
Ags. 1738 Private Valuation:
A small hearth bisom.
Edb. 1721 A. Pennecuik Streams from Helicon 54:
An ill-natur'd Jad, with Besom of Hairs, Sweeps me and my Plenishing down the Stairs.
Gall.(D) 1901 Trotter Gall. Gossip 18:
He use't tae mak bagpipes, an hornspunes, an flat-airns, . . . forbye tins, an boosums, an bee-skeps.
w.Dmf. 1908 J. L. Waugh Robbie Doo (2nd ed.) 77:
That the hair o' his heid micht staun' oot like a whalebone besom.
s.Sc. 1897 Sir J. Murray in N.E.D.:
The two words [besom, a broom (′bʌzəm), and besom, a low woman (′bɪzəm)] are quite distinct in southern Scotch.

2. Anything thick or bushy, having the appearance of a besom — e.g. a crop of hair. Abd.(D) 1871 W. Alexander Johnny Gibb xviii.:
A muckle blawn up red-fac't-like chiel, wi' a besom o' black hair aboot's mou'.

3. A term of contempt applied to a person, gen. a woman; some times to a woman of loose character, sometimes jocularly to a woman or young girl. Besom; bysim, bizzim, bizzom, bizzum, bissom. [′bi:zəm, ′bɪzəm, ′bɪsəm] Sc. 1808 Jam.; Cai.4 c.1920:
Bysim is still used as a term highly expressive of contempt for a woman of an unworthy character.
Sc. 1920 D. Rorie Auld Doctor 1:
Some tinkler wife is in the strae, Your boots are owre the taps wi' clay Through wadin' bog an' sklimmin' brae The besom for to see, O.
Per. 1915 J. Wilson L. Strathearn 210:
A haundlus bizzum. A handless besom (clumsy creature).
Fif. 1929 A. Taylor Bitter Bread ii. i.:
What ha' ye done wi' my wild besom o' a cousin, ma'am?
Peb. 1929 R. M. Williamson in Sc. Readings (ed. T. W. Paterson) 84:
Ye ken that impident, nesty bizzom o' a neebour, Jean Mactickle?
Ayr. 1887 J. Service Dr Duguid 120:
I never in my life would let ony bardy bizzum lichtlie me.
m.Dmf.3 c.1920:
Bissom, an ill-natured woman.
Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B. 58; also e.Dmf.2:
Bizzim. 1. A low or dirty woman; a slut or slattern. 2. Playfully applied to: A mischievous girl or young woman.

4. Combs.: (1) Besom(e) clean, not thoroughly cleaned, expressing disapproval; (2) besom-shank, besom-stick, a broomstick; (3) besome-, beesim-ticht, well swept. (1) Bnff.2 1934:
“Wiz her hoose weel redd up fin ye call't on her?” “Ah, weel, it wiz besome clean,” meaning that it was swept certainly but the furniture was not dusted nor the floor washed out.
Abd.9 1934:
If it's nae washen, it's besom clean at onyrate.
(2) Sc. 1828 Wilson Noctes Amb. (1855) II. 52:
The tither a broken besom-stick, for a makshift.
Kcb. 1912 W. Burnie Poems 115:
Puir Jean, in dismay, on her besom-shank leant.
(3) Bnff.2 1934:
“Her hoose is aye besome ticht,” signifies that tidiness is not neglected, that litter is not left lying about.
Abd.13 1914:
Gin yer hoos be beesim-ticht, it'll dee.
[Only a few of our correspondents recognise any distinction between besom clean and besom ticht.]

[O.Sc. has bisom, bissom, bisem, bis(s)ome, byssome, meaning a besom (lit.), and trs. also to a comet or its tail; bussome is also found in Dunbar: “the weido on ane bussome rydand” (Lucina schynnyng in Silence of the Nicht). Its variant boosome, used by Knox to describe a comet “the fyrie-boosome,” has survived in the Gall. dialect (see quot. under 1); [′bʌzəm] (see 1, quot. 7) may be a shortened form of this. The besom forms may be derived direct from O.E. beseme (see P.L.D. § 29) or be a later borrowing from St.Eng. The i or y forms are derived from O.E. *besme, bisme, E.M.E. bysom (16th cent.), Mid.Eng. bisme. The extension of the term besom, broom, etc., to the person who wields that article in the house has plenty of parallels — e.g. oar and bat for oarsman and batsman. In Ger. the cognate besen, in students' language, is used as a contemptuous name for a maid-servant or young girl. N.E.D. says that besom, broom, and besom, a low woman, are apparently different words, and it refers the latter to Bysen, q.v.]

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"Besom n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 26 Sep 2021 <>



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