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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1934 (SND Vol. I). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.


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.
m.Sc. 1979 Ian Bowman in Joy Hendry Chapman 23-4 (1985) 41:
I'll blouter their nebs on the clean close wa'
an' gie them a taste o' heid the ba',
I'll gar them swidder tae chap ma door
when ma bristly besom dings their splore.
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 horn-spunes, 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. Also of an animal. Besom; bysim, bizzim, bizzem, 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.
Ork. 1952 R. T. Johnston Stenwick Days (1984) 98:
" ... Cheanick Budge is telt me all aboot yin cairry-on thoo wur haein' the day wi' yin geud for noathing bissom, Adromeda Laird. Slerpin' an' kissin' on the public road indeed. ..."
Cai. 1992 James Miller A Fine White Stoor 136:
'Haud up, ya bissom,' he muttered to one recalcitrant yowe, a large, old one, a leader of the flock, who was afraid of neither man nor dog and regarded him with a glittering, yellow eye.
m.Sc. 1985 Stuart Hood A Storm from Paradise 15:
a thowless bizzem wi' nae spunk in her.
m.Sc. 1994 Martin Bowman and Bill Findlay Forever Yours, Marie-Lou 16:
"You're a bonny wee bizzum - the spit ae yir mither!"
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?
wm.Sc. 1954 Robin Jenkins The Thistle and the Grail (1994) 126:
"It's made me do a lot of thinking. It's a good thing whiles to get a jolt. I've not been thinking much about Lizzie Anderson, though. Everybody kens her for a depraved, evil-minded, lying besom."
wm.Sc. 1985 Liz Lochhead Tartuffe 3:
You're this bizzum's brother
Yet you and I have a lot of time for one another,
Am I right or am I wrang eh, Mister Cléante?
wm.Sc. 1998 Alan Warner The Sopranos (1999) 28:
And that cheeky little besom Kay Clarke and Ana, did ya hear them, fucking laughing ...
Gsw. 1991 John Burrowes Mother Glasgow 45:
' ... I've only been called a Pom once. A Scotch Pom, actually. It was a silly old besom who called me it when I used to work in the baker's shop in Hargreaves Street. But she was a bitch. ... '
Gsw. 2000 Herald 5 May 19:
The wee besoms are beginning to use lipstick and would gather in the school toilets for the application of said devilish make-up. Of more concern to the jannie was that after the Lolitas had put on their lipstick, they would press their lips to the mirror, leaving dozens of little prints.
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.
Ags. 1988 Raymond Vettese The Richt Noise 37:
I mean the richt
dauntin tattie-bogle
wi the fairmer's filshens
flafft i the wun,
a neep for a heid,
an' deep howe een,
besom-shank airms
an' a kist o strae.
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 20 Jun 2024 <>



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