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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1976 (SND Vol. X). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

WERSH, adj. Also werch; wairsh, waersh; warsh, waarshe; weersh (Abd. 1886 J. Cowe Jeems Sim 13); waers-, wars- (Ork., Cai.). Also wersh-like. [wɛrʃ, werʃ, wirʃ, I.Sc., Cai. ′wɛrs-]

1. Of food or drink: tasteless, insipid, unpalatable; of meat, porridge or the like: cooked without salt; of beer: flat (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Per., Fif., Lth. 1915–26 Wilson; Bwk. 1942 Wettstein; Rxb. 1942 Zai; Uls. 1953 Traynor; Sh., Bnff., Gsw., Ayr., Rxb. 2000s).  Sc. Also transf. Deriv. waersy, warsy, id. (Ork., Cai. 1974).Sc. 1720 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. 157:
Helicon's wersh Well thou ca's Divine.
Sc. 1736 Ramsay Proverbs (1776) 14:
A kiss and a drink of water is but a wersh disjune.
Sc. 1816 Scott O. Mortality ix.:
The Worcester man was but wersh parritch, neither gude to fry, boil, nor sup cauld.
Sc. 1825 Jam.:
I dinna like them [porridge]; they're unco werse; gie me a wee pickle saut.
Ayr. 1887 J. Service Dr Duguid 226:
Want's a wersh meal.
Arg. 1896 N. Munro Lost Pibroch 25:
The hares here are wersh and tough.
Ags. 1899 W. L. Watson Sir Sergeant xi.:
A half-done deed and a half-boiled egg are wersh things.
Kcb. 1911 Crockett Smugglers xxxiii.:
Even auld “Clydeside” has lookit on the wine when it was red (though it's a wersh beverage and I'm a patriot even in my drink).
Lth. 1928 S. A. Robertson With Double Tongue 16:
But water's wersh when ye're drouthy for yill.
m.Sc. 1932 O. Douglas Priorsford iv.:
I thocht that was a wairsh kinna meal for comin' aff a journey.
Rxb. 1972 Hawick News (7 Jan.):
Next to the dislike for lumpy porridge was that of wairsh porridge.
wm.Sc. 1987 Anna Blair Scottish Tales (1990) 160:
When she was not managing the beat and tempo of the weaving work, the faery was something of a mischief with their butter and cream and cheese, for she could take the virtue out of them and leave them thin and wersh.

2. Fig. (1) Of a discourse or piece of writing: dull, tame, uninspiring, wishy-washy (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.). Hence wershness. Also transf.Sc. 1728 P. Walker Six Saints (1901) I. 157:
So much carnal discourse, and wisned, warsh, coldrife formal sermons.
Per. 1809 Letters J. Ramsay (S.H.S.) 264:
The charge of insipidity, or as I call it wershness is the best founded.
Rxb. 1862 Trans. Hawick Arch. Soc. (1868) 40:
The minister had a weary warsle wi' a wersh discourse [sic].
Sc. 1883 J. Kennedy Poems (1920) 230:
My hameowre tongue is warsh and weak, My foreign Muse is tired an' tame.
Per. 1897 R. M. Fergusson Village Poet 74:
The jokes which tickle the palates o' the Southerners are gey wersh.
Hdg. 1908 J. Lumsden Th' Loudons 159:
Milton himself grew tedious and frothy, And tasted but wersh after “Dark Loch-na-garr!”
Abd. 1926 Trans. Bch. Field Club 92:
The mixty-maxty, shandy-gaff of MacDonald's country-folk is wersh, wersh compared with the sweet, strong supple Doric [of Alexander].
Sc. 1933 E. S. Haldane Scot. of Our Fathers 141:
After trying the presentee they found him evangelically dead. His services were ‘wersh'.

(2) Of music: flat, thin, lacking vigour or resonance.Sc. 1826 Wilson Noctes Amb. (1855) I. 119:
Their tone though sweetish, is wersh, like the tone o' the floot.
Slk. 1875 Border Treasury (19 June) 535:
Gie me a gude fiddle, an' a gude Strathspey, an' nane o' your waersh foreign trasherie.

3. Of land: of poor quality, exhausted, lacking fertility.Abd. 1746 Monymusk Papers (S.H.S.) 178:
Old Houses etc. to dung what is warsh land, to keep two year in grass, and then one 3rd always in bear.
m.Sc. 1927 J. Buchan Witch Wood iv.:
Mirehope's but wersh land, sir, and not to be named wi' the Clyde howms.

Comb. †wersh crap, the third (and last) crop taken in succession from the outfield before the fallow period in the old system of farming.Sc. 1743 R. Maxwell Select Trans. 214:
The Warsh-crop, where the Return may be as much as on the second.
Dmb. 1794 D. Ure Agric. Dmb. 45:
The third is called the wersh crop, and wersh indeed it may be called, for it is extremely poor, and the grain very bad.
ne.Sc. 1881 W. Gregor Folk-Lore 179:
Then came the second “bar-reet crap,” and last of all the “Waarshe crap.”

4. Of life, feelings, activity: dull, unexciting, humdrum, lacking zest. Deriv. wershness. Also ¶wershless, id., appar. due to a misunderstanding of wersh.Bnff. 1782 Caled. Mercury (4 Sept.):
Her warsh, dry hart but ill can bruik it. Whan deev'd wi' noise.
Slg. 1788 R. Galloway Poems 12:
Women were for our use created; When life is wersh, they help to saut it.
Sc. 1827 Wilson Noctes Amb. (1855) I. 280:
A' I say is, that the times are wersh without bloodshed.
Abd. 1875 G. MacDonald Malcolm III. xix.:
A life wi'oot aither danger or wark's some wersh-like.
Ayr. 1879 J. White Jottings 256:
Man's lot would be a wershless thing, If 'twerna for the wooin' o't.
Bwk. 1897 R. M. Calder Poems 68:
Thochts come back that pleasures gie When life is wairsh and drearie.
Ayr. 1910 Poets Ayr. (MacIntosh) 102:
The warld is cauld and the pleasures in't Are werch and fushionless.
Slk. 1913 H. J. C. Clippings from Clayboddie (1921) 35:
It's been a gey wairsh meeting without Gillespie.
Lnk. 1919 G. Rae Clyde and Tweed 42:
Herds are the saut o' honesty, within oor gey wairsh life.
Bnff. 1924 Swatches o' Hamespun 82:
Speelin the pad That is strett an' nerra, an' wersh te the bad.
Sc. 1968 Sc. Poetry 3 95:
Eve and Adam, aa their joy gane wersh.
Sh. 1991 William J. Tait in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 46:
Hamebound in a founert bus at stiggs an byocks,
Aiblins at its ain wersh waa-geng o swats an sweit,
wm.Sc. 1994 Sheila Douglas in James Robertson A Tongue in Yer Heid 60:
Al refleckit on whit the herd had said an ferlied at his smeddum. It wis like a draucht frae a spring well efter the wershness o the life he'd left ahint in Toronto, the jiggery-pokery an the preisures he'd tholed for sae lang.

5. Of the stomach or appetite: disinclined for food, needing to be whetted, faint from hunger, squeamish (Uls. 1953 Traynor; Abd., Kcd. 1974). Also warshie (Ork. a.1838 Jam. MSS. XI. 208; I.Sc., Cai. 1974), warsh-stamacked, -tasted, id. Hence warshness, n., a feeling of being wersh (Uls. 1880 Patterson Gl.).Abd. 1754 R. Forbes Journal 24:
It was enough to gi' a warsh-stamack'd body a scunner.
Ags. 1853 W. Blair Aberbrothock 94:
My tongue's a' wersh noo, my banes are as frush as cheenie.
Sc. 1875 A. Hislop Sc. Anecdote 212:
Ham, eggs, an' Red Herrings for wairsh tasted gabbets.
Ags. 1896 A. Blair Rantin Robin 121:
My very heart was that wersh that I dae believe gin a bit weel cookit nigger had been set afore me I would hae gobbled it up.
Abd. 1915 H. Beaton Benachie 101:
I'll be unco gled o' that [kail], for ma hert is gyaun wersh kin'.
Sh. 1928 Manson's Sh. Almanac 185:
A'm feelin' gey werchy noo efter mi' lang tramp frae brakwist time dis moarnin'.
Cai. 1961 “Castlegreen” Tatties an' Herreen' 16:
There's whilies, A daursay, ye feel kin' o' warsie An' ye'd lek till try sometheen' by-ornar.

6. Sickly, weak, spiritless, depressed (Uls. 1904 Vict. Coll. Mag. 14); lacking in character. Adv. wershly.Abd. 1804 W. Tarras Poems 51:
Sair forfoughen, warsh an' wearie, To Gibbie's door each ty'd his meerie.
Dmf. 1824 Carlyle Early Life (Froude 1882) I. 242:
A quiet wersh gorb of a thing, as all children of six weeks are.
Dmf. 1842 Carlyle Life in London (Froude 1884) I. 244:
A harmless, intelligent enough, rather wersh-looking man.
Abd. 1871 W. Alexander Johnny Gibb xli.:
I thocht she was luikan warsh like.
Rnf. 1876 D. Gilmour Paisley Weavers 34:
In other respects he had a wersh unsatisfied look.
Kcb. 1902 Crockett Banner of Blue xiii.:
One or two of the presbytery smiled rather wershly.
Lnk. 1922 T. S. Cairncross Scot at Hame 5:
Some folk fecht lang wi' wind and tide, And some get wersh and gang and hide.
Sc. 1933 J. Buchan Prince of the Captivity II. i.:
The wersh callants that ca' themselves Marxians.
wm.Sc. 1979 Robin Jenkins Fergus Lamont 131:
He believed that as a people the Scots had long ago lost their individual flavour, and were now as wersh as stale baps; consequently it was unprofitable, artistically and financially, to write about them.

7. In more modern usage, orig. wm.Sc.: bitter, harsh in taste, sour (Cai., m. and s.Sc. 1974; Bnff., Fif., Edb., Arg., Gsw., Dmf., Rxb. 2000s). Also fig.Lth. 1915 J. Fergus The Sodger 19:
The wershest medicines are aye the best to gie.
Sc. 1925 H. McDiarmid Sangschaw 7:
Wersh is the vinegar. And the sword is sharp.
Rnf. 1930 Scots Mag. (Oct.) 30:
The wersh sourock that I hae to thole for a man.
wm.Sc. 1948 Gsw. Herald (21 Feb.):
Wersh as a synonym for bitter is a turgid usage.
wm.Sc. 1965 Alan Sharp A Green Tree in Gedde (1985) 166:
'Here's to them,' and the tea was sweet and wersh at once, hot and comforting.
em.Sc. 1999 James Robertson The Day O Judgement 21:
" ... But aw ye wersh an wizent fruit,
Haud tae the left, ayont the licht."
Gsw. 1998 Alan Spence Way to Go (1999) 3:
The sticky sweet licorice, a dark taste, flat. Then the rush of sherbet, sharp and tart. Wersh. The word my father would use, screwing up his face.
Wersh. You could taste the word in your mouth.
Bnff. 2005:
The goosegogs hadna ripened and were affa wersh.

8. Of weather: raw, cold and damp. Also fig.Ayr. 1830 Galt Lawrie Todd vii. vi.:
The breeze, as it comes from the surrounding lofty woods, is wersh.
Kcb. 1894 Crockett Raiders xl.:
The yellow mist had a wersh unkindly feel about it.
Ags. 1901 “Old J.” Nugae 9:
On many a wersh winter morning.
Slk. 1964 Southern Reporter (2 April) 9:
The latter part of this March has been, to my mind, wersh weather.
m.Sc. 1998 Lillias Forbes Turning a Fresh Eye 18:
Nae warm bield beddin doon in yon chaumer
Ye may hap yer heid nicht lang atween the sheets
Stappin yer lugs tae the wun's wersh chunnerin,
They'll aye come for ye, loupin oot their kists
Een bleezin as het coals,

[O.Sc. warsch, sickly-looking, c.1480, wairsche, plain, unemphatic, 1599, tasteless, 1618, reduced form of Mid.Eng. werische, insipid, lit. and fig., sickly, of uncertain orig., but poss. connected with weary.]

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"Wersh adj.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 23 May 2024 <>



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