Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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DONSIE, DONSY, adj. Also doncie, -(e)y, dauncey.

1. Unfortunate, luckless, hapless (Rnf.1 c.1920); “poor, mean, despicable” (Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 68, foot-note); also in n.Eng. dial. Often in reference to sexual lapses. Ayr. 1787 Burns Address to Unco Guid (Cent. ed.) ii.:
Their donsie tricks, their black mistakes, Their failings and mischances.
Ayr. 1822 Galt Provost ix.:
She was the daughter of a donsie mother that could gie no name to her gets, of which she had two laddies, besides Jean.
Ayr. 1823 Galt R. Gilhaize III. vi.:
But, sirs, this donsie business of the Pentland raid was but a splurt.
Kcb. 1789 D. Davidson Seasons 6:
Straight down the steep they slide wi' canny care, . . . For fear o' donsy whirl into the stream.
Kcb. 1814 W. Nicholson Tales 6:
'Twas then that love play'd him a shavie, An' strak his dart in donsie Davie.

2. Glum, dejected, wretched. Also used substantivally. Sc. 1721 Ramsay Poems 196:
Has thou with Rosycrucians wandert? Or thro' some doncie Desart danert?
wm.Sc. 1835–37 Laird of Logan I. 273:
Sic an unco wastrie in the way of claiths . . . made me a thocht donsy.
Rnf. 1865 J. Young Homely Pictures 55:
Nae dull, dreamy doncie, . . . But frae mornin' till nicht, Like a glad beam o' licht.
Lnk. 1865 J. Hamilton Poems and Sk. 67:
An' his heart it grew grit, an' his lip it would quiver, An' he lookit as donsie an' dowie as ever.
Lnk. 1884 J. and E. C. Nicholson Willie Waugh 81:
But nane mair donsie, dowie, din an' daugh, Than was the bridegroom, hapless Willie Waugh.

3. Of persons and things: sickly, feeble, delicate (Sc. a.1873 E.D.D.; Arg.1 1940; Kcb. 1794–1868 Curriehill; Uls. 1880 W. H. Patterson Gl. Ant. and Dwn., donsy, dauncey; Uls.1 c.1920). Also in U.S.A. dial. Also fig. Arg.1 1929:
Thae young cabbidges are lookin gey donsy: they're needin rain.
Gsw. 1884 H. Johnston Martha Spreull (1930) 147:
Peter Spale . . . is still to the fore but gey donsie.
Lnk. 1895 W. Stewart Lilts and Larks 102:
Ye, drone-like, shall evict the byke Where lang a donsie leever Ye've loonged in langour, day by day.
w.Dmf. 1917 J. L. Waugh Cute McCheyne 108:
My faither was sawney an' donsie, an' she often had baith ends o' the stick to haud.
Dwn. 1844 R. Huddleston Poems 13:
The nights get crabbit, dark, an' bleak, The days but doncy shortlin' peep.
Tyr. 1931 “Clone” in North. Whig (17 Dec.) 10/6:
She had had a brash, and still had a clougher and was doncey.

Hence donsielie, id. (Sc. a.1873 E.D.D.).

4. Dull, stupid (Rxb. 1802 J. Sibbald Chron. Sc. Poetry, Gl.; 1940 (per Lnk.11)). Also used substantivally (Rxb. 1825 Jam.2, 1923 Watson W.-B., obsol.; Slk. 1825 Jam.2). Slk. 1826 Hogg in Wilson Noctes Amb. (1855) I. 213:
The soulless, senseless, stupid creature! . . . Will that poor donsy rise again?

5. Ill-behaved, ill-tempered, ummanageable. Ayr. 1786 Burns Auld Mare v.:
Tho' ye was trickie, slee an funnie, Ye ne'er was donsie.
Ayr. 1792 Burns Deuk's dang o'er (Cent. ed.) ii.:
O, haud your tongue, now Nansie, O! I've seen the day, and sae hae ye, Ye wad na been sae donsie, O.
Ayr. a.1839 Galt Howdie, etc. (1923) 191:
It's no me that can keep a doncy dochter from her fate.
Kcb. 1789 D. Davidson Seasons 56:
Come Muse! thou donsy limmer, who dost laugh An' claw thy hough at bungling poets, come.

6. Neat, tidy; sedate; often with the idea of affectation and self-importance (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Per. 1878 R. Ford Hamespun Lays 86; Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 178). Also in n.Eng. dial. Sc. 1721 Ramsay Poems 29:
She was a donsie Wife and clean.
Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 68:
Better rough and sonsie, than bare and donsie. Better a plentiful Condition, though not so neat and nice, than too much Cleanliness, with Penury.
Per. a.1837 R. Nicoll Poems (1842) 24:
A donsy auld carline is Janet Dunbar, For a gash skilly body, weel kent near and far.
Edb. 1843 J. Ballantine Gaberlunzie's Wallet iv.:
Ye'll creep, an' ye'll hotch, an' ye'll nod to your mither, Watchin' ilka step o' your wee donsy brither.

Hence donsilie, adv. Edb. a.1730 A. Pennecuik Poems (1787) 13:
Dansily [sic] cheek for chew sat we, As we'd been great.

[Ad. Gael. donas, bad luck, mischief, badness, + adj. suff. -ie. The exact history and development of the word is uncertain, esp. in sense 6. The Kelly quot. might with equal justification be placed under section 1. Sense 4. may have been influenced by dunce.]

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"Donsie adj.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 17 Apr 2021 <>



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