Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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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.

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 Jun 2021 <>



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