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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.

MOWS, n. Also mowse, mowes; mous(e), mouze; ¶mawse. [mʌuz]

1. A joke, a jest, a laughing matter (ne.Sc. 1963). Used adv. in 1768 quot.Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 254:
Mows may come to earnest.
Abd. 1768 A. Ross Helenore (S.T.S.) 16:
Nae billie like him sell a' round about. That mows or earnest durst gee him a clout.
Bnff. 1787 W. Taylor Poems 63:
I'm come to wooe your Dochter Tib To lie alane is far frae mows.
Abd. 1809 J. Skinner Amusements 80:
And gin ye had her a' your ain Ye mightna find it mows to guide her.
Bnff. 1847 A. Cumming Tales 45:
She wasna mows.
Ags. 1891 Barrie Little Minister viii.:
It's hardly mous to think how uncanny they are.
Abd. 1931 Abd. Press & Jnl. (18 Feb.):
Wid it be mowse, think ye, to gang in aboot wi' yon gurly tyke aff the chine?

Phrs.: (1) in mows, in jest, joking; (2) nae mows, no joke, no laughing matter; hence as adj. phr., serious, dangerous, uncanny (ne.Sc., Ags. 1963).(1) Sc. 1720 A. Pennecuik Helicon 79:
Sae tell me, are ye in mows or earnest?
Sc. 1737 Ramsay Proverbs (1776) 10:
Affront your friend in mows, and tine him in earnest.
(2) Abd. c.1700 J. Maidment Sc. Ballads (1859) 20:
Wae Aberdeen fat did ye mean, Sae young a lass to woo man; I'm seer to her it is nae mows.
Sc. 1725 Ramsay Gentle Shep. i. ii.:
Troth, 'tis nae Mows to be a marry'd Wife.
Abd. 1754 R. Forbes Journal 25:
Ye may laugh at me fan ye read this, bat I wat it was na' mows.
Ayr. 1790 J. Fisher Poems 63:
To die an be laid i' the till, Indeed's nae mows.
Ags. 1841 in J. Paul Up Glenesk (1894) 71:
Should ye refuse, 'twould be nae mowse, 'Twould stain your name.
Kcd. 1900 W. MacGillivray Glengoyne I. 171:
Pyets are nae canny beasts, and it's nae mouze middlin' ether wi' them or their nests.
Rs. (Avoch) 1949 Gsw. Herald (7 Feb.):
He has “skaff” (mashed potatoes) for his dinner, and if it is bad it is no mous.
Abd. 1957 Bon-Accord (24 Jan.) 8:
Weemin are nae mowse.
Edb. 1979 Albert D. Mackie in Joy Hendry Chapman 23-4 (1985) 45:
'Twad be nae mowes, the joke wad be on me.
Yon Jesuits in La Fleche wad hae the lauch.
Abd. 1993:
At bluebottles is nae mows in e kitchen e day.
ne.Sc. 1996 W. Gordon McPherson in Sandy Stronach New Wirds: An Anthology of Winning Poems and Stories from the Doric Writing Competitions of 1994 and 1995 19:
The deemie bade ahin a meenit an whispert, "She's fair desprit for a cup o tay - getten nae mows for wint o't - d'ye think?"

2. An extraordinary feat, a masterpiece.Ags. 1833 J. S. Sands Poet. Effusions 84:
“My faith,” said James, “this, weel I wot, Is no far frae a mows o' a shot.”

3. From the usages illustrated under 1., the word came to be employed attrib. and construed as an adj. = safe, harmless, prudent, circumspect, respectable (ne.Sc. 1963).Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 115:
That's nae a mowse ploy it the bairns are at.
Abd. 1871 R. Matheson Poems 45:
‘Twas nae a mows disease we took.
Abd. 1897 N. Roy Horseman's Word x.:
Wi' this curdooin' that's a' the fashion noo we'll hae to be mawse gaun about the toun.
Ags. 1932 Barrie Farewell Miss J. Logan ii.:
The glen folk were too mouse to call the hunted ones Jacobites.
Abd. 1955 W. P. Milne Eppie Elrick ii.:
Dinna be fleyt at Mains. He's maybe mowser nur'e lyooks.

[O.Sc. in mowis, in jest, a.1508, pl. form of mow, a jest, c.1450, Mid.Eng. mouwe, a grimace of derision, Mid.Du. mouwe, pout, phs. the same word as O.Fr. moe, moue, mouth, lip, pout.]

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"Mows n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 18 Apr 2024 <>



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