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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1965 (SND Vol. VI). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

MENSE, n.1, v., adj. Also mence; minse. [mɛns]

I. n. 1. Dignity, decorum, moderation, good manners, freq. at table, courtesy, hospitality (Sc. 1710 T. Ruddiman Gl. to Douglas Aeneis s.v. menskles, 1825 Jam.; Per., Fif., Lth., Ayr. 1916–26 Wilson; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; em.Sc.(b), sm. and s.Sc. 1962). Also in n.Eng. dial.Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 244:
Meat is good but Mense is better.
Ayr. 1786 Burns Brigs of Ayr 97–8:
Auld Vandal! ye but show your little mense, Just much about it wi' your scanty sense.
Sc. 1818 Scott Rob Roy vi.:
We hae mense and discretion, and are moderate of our mouths.
Slk. 1818 Hogg B. of Bodsbeck x.:
Wae be to them for a peck o' greedy gallayniels — they haena the mence of a miller's yaud.
Dmb. 1868 J. Salmon Gowodean 3:
Nae gallant wends the Braes, in mense or grace.
Knr. 1895 J. L. Robertson Dunbar 31:
Be seen with men of mense, but turn aside From swicks and sweeps, the silly and the low.
Kcb. 1896 Crockett Grey Man xxvii.:
Have some mense afore the young man, for he looks a sober chiel.
n.Sc. 1916 M. Maclean Roving Celt 47:
But the bull, it is said, lost a' its mense An' pitched the callant ab'low the fence.
Bwk. 1947 W. L. Ferguson Makar's Medley 16:
Mauthe [a cat]! ye've naether mense nor sense.

Phrs.: (1) for mense's sake, in accordance with the laws of hospitality; (2) to hae baith one's meat and one's mense, see Meat, I. 3. (6).(1) s.Sc. 1847 H. S. Riddell Poems 16:
For she had baked a crumpie cake And butter scones, for mense's sake, To entertain her lodger.
Uls. 1910 C. C. Russell Ulster 28:
It is most frequently used thus — “for mense's sake.” . . . It is generally described as “for decency's sake”, yet I have never heard it applied to any other decency than the decency of restraining one's appetite lest a slur should fall upon your hospitality for not having produced sufficient food.

2. Something which brings credit or honour to one, a mark or look of respectability, an ornament or adornment to one's reputation (s.Sc. 1825 Jam.; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; w.Lth., Kcb., Dmf. 1962). Phr. to gie (a garment) kirk mense, Sunday —, to wear it for the first time at church on Sunday (Lnk. a.1918; Watson; Bwk., sm. and s.Sc. 1962). See also Kirk, III. 30.Rxb. 1805 A. Scott Poems 105:
Thou was a mence At kirk, i' market, or i' spence.
Slk. 1810 Hogg Tales (1874) 239:
He'll be a plague amang the women too; an' a' thegither ye'll mak but little mence o' him.
Lth., Dmf. 1825 Jam.:
It is said of any individual of a family, who either in respect of personal or mental accomplishments, sets out or recommends all the rest, “He” or “She's the mense of the family”, or “of a' the family”.
Dmf. 1836 A. Cunningham Lord Roldan I. ii.:
But I have aye something in the cupboard to maintain the mense of the house.
Rxb. a.1838 Jam. MSS. XI. 114:
Old clothes are said to be “past kirk-mense” when too shabby for appearing at church in.
Bwk. 1856 G. Henderson Pop. Rhymes 15:
We're a mense to Paxton town, And to a' the country roun.
Abd. 1868 W. Shelley Wayside Flowers 55:
His [a horse] graith was past the mark o' mense, And bore nae boss that I could see.
Lnk. 1882 J. Carmichael Poems 32:
Tae think auld Douglas has the mense O' a poet o' her ain.

3. Honour, regard, respect, a sense of pride (sm. and s.Sc. 1962).Edb. 1791 J. Learmont Poems 196:
Fortune . . . will . . . slight us for our lack o' common sense, That dinnae ken what way to do her mense.
Edb. 1821 W. Liddle Poems 128:
They'll pay him nae regard or mense.
Bwk. 1863 A. Steel Poems 55:
Weel may ye do't wi' muckle mense, Aye wi' unblushin' confidence.
Rxb. 1925 E. C. Smith Mang Howes 2:
For Bosells hes muckle mense o er Green!

4. A reward, a recompense, an honour, a prize (Sc. 1825 Jam.). Also in n.Eng. dial.Lnk. 1805 G. McIndoe Poems 147:
A shilling, aible aughteen-pence, To mak you some kind o' a mense, For treating me sae weel.
Rnf. 1807 R. Tannahill Poems (1900) 10:
We've fed him, cled him — what's our mense fort a? Base wretch, tae steal our dochter's heart awa!
Dmf. 1810 R. Cromek Remains 47:
Blythly I took up the spring And bore the mense awa, Jo!

5. Common sense, discretion, tact, intelligence (Sc. 1710 T. Ruddiman Gl. to Douglas Aeneis s.v. menskles; Sc. 1825 Jam.; Uls. 1924 W. Lutton Montiaghisms 29; Rxb. 1942 Zai). Gen.(exc. I.)Sc.Sc. 1721 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. 25:
I slade awa' wi' little Din, And muckle Mense.
Rnf. 1813 E. Picken Poems I. 67:
We [rats] haena mense like cruel man; Yet tho' he's paukier far than we, Whatreck, he gangs as aft aglee.
Sc. 1826 Aberdeen Censor 73:
We hae puttin him out frae being session-clerk for his want of mense.
Wgt. 1885 G. Fraser Poems 51:
We ha'e plenty o' mense Dauds o' lair an' guid sense.
w.Sc. 1887 Jam.:
Had he the mense as he has the manners, we micht mak him our deacon.
e.Lth. 1908 J. Lumsden Th' Loudons 259:
Clean reived him for a span O' a' the mither-wut an' mense He heretofore had shawn.
Rxb. 1952 W. Landles Gooseberry Fair 11:
A hantle o' mense to oor dull heids send.
Sc. 1979 Sydney Goodsir Smith in Joy Hendry Chapman 23-4 (1985) 34:
Hap your heid sweet reason,
Logic, ligg at ease.
Mense, this is nocht your season,
Ags. 1988 Raymond Vettese The Richt Noise 47:
But ach, I doot
I'm no cut oot
for sic mense
(that's dowit leid for "common sense");
the auld coorse Scotland's in me,

6. Used erron. = behaviour in gen.Gsw. 1860 J. Young Poorhouse Lays 36:
To try an' teach ye common sense, Or cure ye o' yer graceless mense.

7. Combs and derivs.: (1) mense-deleerin', sense-destroying, intoxicating the rational faculties, stupefying. See Deleer, v.: ¶(2) mensedom, wisdom, discretion; (3) mensefu(l), mensf(o)u, mensifeh, adj., (i) of persons: well-behaved, polite, sensible, discreet, intelligent (Sc. 1818 Sawers; Uls. 1924 W. Lutton Montiaghisms 29; Fif., Lth. 1926 Wilson Cent. Scot. 255; Bnff., Ags., sm. and s.Sc. 1962). Also adv. and in adv. form mensefullie, mensfoulie (Sc. 1825 Jam.): good-mannered at table, restrained in one's eating; liberal, generous, open-handed; (ii) of things: respectable-looking, seemly, proper, trim (Id.); (4) mens(e)less, mence-, (i) unmannerly, boorish, ill-bred, objectionable in behaviour (Sc. 1710 T. Ruddiman Gl. to Douglas Aeneis, 1825 Jam.; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; Kcd., Fif., Kcb., Rxb. 1962); (ii) greedy, grasping (Sc. a.1873 E.D.D.; Fif. 1949; Kcb. 1962); (iii) stupid, senseless, foolish (Sc. 1818 Sawers, 1825 Jam.; Bnff., em. and s.Sc. 1962); (iv) of prices: inordinate, unreasonably high, extortionate (Sc. 1825 Jam.); (v) of clothes: unfit to be worn (Rxb. a.1838 Jam. MSS. XI. 114); (5) mainsome [ < mensesome], kindly, mannerly.(1) Per. 1895 R. Ford Tayside Songs 292:
May ill befa' its greedy maw, The mense-deleerin' gill-stowp!
(2) Sc. 1871 P. H. Waddell Psalms cv. 22:
An' he taught a' their grey-heads mensedom.
(3) (i) Sc. 1721 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. 156:
Thus with attentive Look mensfow they sit, Till he speak first, and show some shining Wit.
Sc. 1731 Caled. Mercury (29 Nov.):
I have now by the Hand my sonsy, mensful Strapper, with whom I intend to pass my Youthful Days.
Lnk. a.1779 D. Graham Writings (1883) II. 52:
Be mensfu wi your mouth, and dinna eat o'er muckle.
Sc. 1806 Scots Mag. (Sept.) 695:
Keeps his maut aneath his meal, Mensfoulie thraws down his cuttie.
Edb. 1844 J. Ballantine Miller 182:
Mensefu' wives are aye mensefu' baith wi' their drams and their maggs.
Lnk. a.1852 Poet. Scot. (Wilson 1877) I. 383:
A spoon each eager gruppit, Nae prim, punctilious rites were paid, But mensfu' eat an' suppit Wi' gust that day.
Kcb. 1894 Crockett Lilac Sunbonnet viii.:
Ye mak' me fair ashamed to listen to ye. Be mensefu', can ye no?
Fif. 1897 S. Tytler Lady Jean's Son xiii.:
Gin you dinna ca' canny and grow douce and mensefu' and handy in the hoose.
Abd. 1914 A. McS. The Bishop 21:
Gin ye hid a mensefu' body aboot yer ain age, it wid mak' an unco differ to the hoose.
Sc. 1915 T. W. Paterson Auld Saws 33:
Hoo mensefu' prood he lookit at his wark Amang his plants, an' a' his beds o' floo'ers.
Lth. 1928 S. A. Robertson With Double Tongue 26:
When bairns grow mensefu' a' at aince, and souters a' are sober.
Slg. 1932 W. D. Cocker Poems 60:
He an' his brither Gibbie baith Are steerin' mensefu' lads.
(ii) Sc. 1816 Scott O. Mortality vi.:
Lay by your new green coat and put on your raploch-grey, it's a mair mensefu' and thrifty dress.
e.Lth. 1885 S. Mucklebackit Rural Rhymes 238:
The wrichts were to mak' mensefu' an' wicelike a' the close yetts an' the ither wud wark aboot the place.
Rxb. 1925 E. C. Smith Mang Howes 12:
A'd lippent on o that wanchancy motor as the maist mensifeh way o wunnin threh Jethart ti Haaick.
Sc. 1991 R. Crombie Saunders in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 29:
Then brak the mensefou silence
Anely his ain despair,
Then was his sword's keen violence
His ain hert's adversare.
(4) (i) Abd. 1737 Caled. Mag. (1788) 503:
He jee'd na out o' that an inch, Afore a menseless man, Came a' at anes athort his hinch A sowph.
Ayr. 1786 Burns Death of Mailie 50:
To stay content wi' yowes at hame; An' no to rin an' wear his cloots, Like other menseless, graceless brutes.
e.Lth. 1801 R. Gall Poems (1819) 98:
To menseless fallows, wha wad daring gang, An' mint to do sic smiling dawties wrang.
Ags. 1815 G. Beattie John o' Arnha' (1852) 17:
He scorned to soak 'mang weirdless fellows, Wi' menseless bazils in an alehouse.
Abd. 1824 G. Smith Douglas 103:
And [he] clasp'd his menceless nieves about her waist.
Sc. 1870 A. Hislop Proverbs 42:
As menseless as a tinkler's messan.
Cai. 1872 M. McLennan Peasant Life 32:
Cummers, dinna be menseless! Mind yer mainners!
Wgt. 1880 G. Fraser Lowland Lore 157:
A menseless Hallion.
Rxb. 1925 E. C. Smith Mang Howes 4:
A duist hyit jairgin things, an that menseless road-injin fair garrd mei girrl!
Bnff. 1939 J. M. Caie Hills and Sea 77:
Envyin', hatin', fechtin', grief an' dule Made up their life, An' made it menseless, fusome, daft an' fool.
(ii) Abd. 1748 R. Forbes Ajax 4:
To get fat cou'd be ettl'd at By sik a menseless thief.
Slk. 1818 Hogg B. of Bodsbeck xii.:
A dirty droich, an' a menseless glutton.
Fif. 1827 W. Tennant Papistry Storm'd 40:
For mensless men whase sauls were bent On covetize and wrang!
Fif. 1895 G. Setoun Sunshine & Haar 124:
D'ye want to ruin the chap? The de'il's menseless, but you're misleard.
(iii) Abd. 1865 G. Macdonald Alec Forbes l.:
Margaret “didna like bairns — menseless craturs — aye wantin' ither fowk to do for them.”
Sc. 1875 A. Hislop Sc. Anecdotes 104:
It was your ain deevil o' a cuddie's menseless thrapple brocht him ower.
Dmf. 1877 R. W. Thom Poems (1883) 17:
Here, in the spence, ye menseless loon.
Per. 1883 R. Cleland Inchbracken xix.:
Puir menseless sheep that hae na gotten a shepherd.
Sc. 1887 Jam.:
He's no sae menseless, seeing he's waled sae guid a wife.
Sc. 1983 John McDonald in Joy Hendry Chapman 37 44:
A Warl oot o reel - as menseless
as a hure in a hurly.
m.Sc. 1988 William Neill Making Tracks 34:
Think deep on the dern power o usquebae ...
the staucherin limb, the menseless bletherin tung ...
yeskin an soomin een an howff-yaird fecht.
(iv) Ags. 1790 D. Morison Poems 183:
Things has wi' dearth been menseless here awa, Since the disturbance in America.
Abd. 1875 W. Alexander My Ain Folk 130:
It was jist menseless the siller 't he made aff o' diseas't nowte.
Abd. 1923 R. L. Cassie Heid or Hert ii.:
Pedigree nowt an' the menseless prices 'at the Argentine fairmers are peyin' for them.
(5) ne.Sc. 1782 Caled. Mercury (4 Sept.):
Weil fell her o' yo'r mainsome nater, Sae mieth ti' awn a poer auld creater.

II. v. To grace, to adorn, to set off, to be a credit to, to honour with one's presence, to occupy a position of honour or prominence (Lnk., Kcb., Dmf. 1962); to sit down at table with a guest (Ayr. 1928).Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 302:
They mense little the Mouth that bite off the Nose. Spoken when People, who pretend Friendship for you, traduce your near Friends and Relations.
Sc. 1726 Ramsay T.-T. Misc. (1876) I. 230:
The king of Norse he sought to find, With him to mense the fight.
Edb. 1791 J. Learmont Poems 27:
A native pride, Wi' easie saftness, menc'd her stap At ilka stride.
Dmf. 1825 Jam.:
To mense a board, to do the honours of a table.
Slk. a.1835 Hogg Tales (1837) II. 291:
I can tell you she is one that will never mense either a young man's bed or his board.
Dmf. 1836 A. Cunningham Lord Roldan I. iv.:
Where's his sarks, wi' the faulding collars, ruffled wi' cambric that might mense a lord?
Bwk. 1863 A. Steel Poems 45:
Our hand-waled few wha Caldstream mense, The cream o' a' her wit and sense.
Lth. 1885 J. Strathesk Blinkbonny 16:
Your things and mine's putten thegither will mense the house.
Dmf. 1912 J. L. Waugh Robbie Doo 176:
It was the least I could do to mense him after his lang cauld journey in my interest.

III. adj. Sensible, in one's right mind (Abd. 1962).Bnff.16 1962:
He didna look mense.

[O.Sc. mense, = honour, from 1438, = v., from 1540, a reduced form of †Eng. mensk, courtesy, dignity, ornament, O.N. mennska, humanity, kindness, from mann-, man. For the phonology cf. Ass, Buss, n.1, Buss, n.3]

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"Mense n.1, v., adj.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 21 Jun 2024 <>



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