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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1960 (SND Vol. V). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

HANDSEL, n., v. Also handsell (Per. 1746 T. L. K. Oliphant Lairds of Gask (1870) 156), hansel(l), hansle.

I. n. 1. A gift bestowed to commemorate an inaugural occasion, event or season, e.g. the beginning of the year, the first visit to a friend's new home or the commencement of a new undertaking, the wearing of new clothes, etc., with the idea of bringing good-luck to the recipient. Gen.Sc. Now dial. in Eng. Also attrib.Sc. 1700 Rec. Sc. Cloth Manuf. (S.H.S.) 227:
Orders Alexander Weir to pay to John Gourlay a doller for his handsell.
Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 201:
I once gave a Dog Handsel, and he was hang'd e'er Night. Jocosely spoken to them who ask us handsel, that is, the first Money for such a Parcel.
Fif. 1740 J. Grierson Delineations St Andrews (1838) 181:
That no hansel be asked or expected by the porter or his servant, or by any college servant, from any student whatsoever.
Edb. 1744 Forfeited Estate Papers (S.H.S.) 4:
Sundry ribbons and gloves given to Miss Sibby and Mr William Fraser's wife as a handsell from my lord.
Ayr. a.1796 Burns There was a Lad ii.:
'Twas then a blast o' Janwar' win' Blew hansel in on Robin.
Dmf. 1810 R. H. Cromek Remains 102:
Pewter Plates and hansel gear, To mense her wi' at Tibbie's brydal.
ne.Sc. 1874 Gregor Echo Olden Time 110:
The present was often reserved till the morning of the marriage-day, when there was a rivalry who should give hansel.
Slg. 1877 J. M. Neilson Poems 16:
Whan buskit oot in braw new claes, Auld Grannie's hansel's never miss't.
Lth. 1882 J. Strathesk Blinkbonny 185:
She bought Alloa yarn and knitted cosy undergarments . . . and on New-Year's day . . . she put into their hands the cosy clothing, saying, “That's your hansel.”
Knr. 1891 H. Haliburton Ochil Idylls 135:
O gie the student his degree, The advocat' his hansel fee.
m.Sc. 1950 Scots Mag. (Jan.) 285:
To watch the new arrival receiving his hansel to this inhospitable world in the shape of a stiff dose.
wm.Sc. 1985 Liz Lochhead Tartuffe 53:
Each weel-meant hansell, each gift, deed or donation
Ah gied him oot the goodness o' ma hert
He wants tae yase against me tae ootsmert
An' swick me oot ma hale estate.
Sc. 2000 Herald 6 Jun 15:
Indepen-Dance ... gave the recently re-opened building their own special handsel on Saturday with a performance of White, a promenade piece originally made in, and for, Paisley Museum and Art Galleries.
Sc. 2000 Press and Journal 29 Dec 13:
First footing is still practised (though purists will say in name only) although other traditions have disappeared completely. Conveniently forgotten is Handsel Monday, the first Monday of the new year, when employers would give their staff a gift, or handsel.

2. The money received by a trader for his first sale, either of the day or when opening a new business, bringing good luck (Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 201 (see 1.), 1808 Jam.; Uls. 1880 Patterson Gl.; Ork. 1922 J. Firth Reminisc. Gl.; Mry.1 1925; Ork., Abd., Ags., m.Lth. 1956); earnest money; a first instalment (Sc. 1880 Jam.). Also common in Eng. dial.Abd. 1882 W. Forsyth Selections 60:
He . . . knew by his face that he [his master] had found a customer . . . and when his master remarked, “Dod, that's hansel, Jamie,” he set up both his ears in an erect and impressive way.
Abd. 1915 H. Beaton Benachie 60:
Come awa', Mrs Timmerman, an gie's hansel, an' I'll gie ye th' pick o' ma pack.
Bnff. 1924 Swatches o' Hamespun 9:
Badder the quine! She spilet your sleep for ae nicht, an' killt a' chance o' a bargain. Nae hansel for peer Jock!

Hence applied to the first purchaser.Edb. 1828 D. M. Moir Mansie Wauch (1839) vi.:
A bareheaded lassie, hoping to be hansel, threw down twopence [in his newly opened shop] and asked tape at three yards for a halfpenny.

3. Fig.: the first taste or experience. Also attrib.Sc. 1737 Old-Lore Misc. X. ii. 46:
The bairnies went by sea from Smow . . . and got the first handsell of sea sickness.
Sc. 1822 Scott Poet. Wks. (1857) 697:
Kind cummer, Leith, ye've been mis-set, But dinna be upon the fret — Ye'se hae the handsel of him yet, Carle, now the King's come!
Per. 1895 R. Ford Tayside Songs 24:
Na! she winna pree hersel', binna just the handsel-smell.
Knr. 1895 H. Haliburton Dunbar 108:
Sound sleep . . . I wuss ye for your hansel here.

4. “A piece of bread given before breakfast” (Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 363; Gall. 1808 Jam.); a light meal given to farm workers before commencing work (Uls. 1880 Patterson Gl.; Kcb.4 1900), “a morning lunch” (Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 253, hansle).Gall. 1794 J. Webster Agric. Gall. 16:
As soon as the whole field of reapers are collected together in the morning, they receive what is called their handsel, which consists of as much bread and milk as they can destroy.

5. A present of food, gen. cake and cheese, given to wedding guests after the ceremony to be taken home and shared with those unable to attend (Ork. 1929 Marw., obsol., Ork. 1956). Also used attrib. Hence hansel-wife, the woman, gen. the bride's mother, who distributes hansel at a wedding (Ork. 1887 Jam.).Ork. c.1912 J. Omond 80 Years Ago 12:
The bridescake and handsel were served out on trays or weights, and the handsel cog of hot ale and whisky handed round. The handsel was a bit of each kind of cake at the wedding and cheese, and was wrapped up in paper as it was usually taken home.
Ork. 1922 J. Firth Reminisc. 62:
A large sieve, piled up with bread and cheese, and called the hansel basket, was placed on a small table, by the side of which the hansel wife took her stand.

6. Combs.: (1) Handsel-e'en, = (2), and in proverb. phr. his Handsel-e'en wis aye fern-year (ne.Sc. 1935 Sc. N. & Q. (Jan.) 11), of a mean person; (2) Han(d)sel Mon(an)day, the first Monday of the New Year (both Old and New Style) on which handsel was given, formerly regarded as a holiday (Ags., Slg., Fif., m.Lth., Lnk., Ayr. 1956); (3) Handsel Teysday, the first Tuesday of the New Year.(1) Lth. 1882 P. McNeill Preston 9:
One hansel-e'en, on begging bound, He trudged the rural district round.
(2) Fif. 1739 W. Muir Rec. Dysart (1862) 85:
A singular and most lamentable accident happened this year on January 7th, being “Hansel Monday.”
Fif. 1795 Stat. Acc.1 I. 458:
As to holidays for recreation or merry-making, the people have only one in the year, called Handsel-Monday.
Abd. 1804 W. Tarras Poems 64:
Silk ribbans knit ilk lassie's head, She gat on Hansel-Monday.
Sc. 1815 Scott Guy M. xxxii.:
Grizzy has naething frae me, bye twa pair o' new shoon ilka year, and maybe a bit compliment at Hansel Monanday.
Lth. 1856 M. Oliphant Lilliesleaf xxix.:
I'm no so heeding about the very New Year itsel; and for the like of Christmas, it's nathing but a feast of the English, and never was commanded till us; but for onybody to pass by Handsel Monday fickles me.
Sc. 1863 R. Chambers Bk. of Days I. 52:
Even now, when most old fashions are much decayed, Auld Handsel Monday continues to be the holiday of the year to the class of farm-labourers in Scotland.
ne.Sc. 1881 W. Gregor Folk-Lore 164:
In parts of Buchan it was deemed unlucky to spend money in any form on “Hansel Monandy.”
m.Lth. 1894 W. G. Stevenson Puddin' 93:
He had come to know that on each “Hansel Monday,” when Mr Inglis gave him a few pounds as a present, he always mentioned the increased salary he meant to give him for the ensuing year.
Fif. 1937 St Andrews Cit. (9 Jan.) 8:
Monday being the first Monday after the New Year, it was observed by many of the farm-servants in the district as their “Han'sel Monday” holiday.
Sc. 1956 Scotsman (3 Jan.) 5:
Farm folks were on holiday yesterday, maintaining the old Hansel Monday traditional holiday. Hansel Monday balls were held in many village halls.
(3) Edb. 1773 Fergusson Poems (1925) 44:
My barrel . . . has na gotten sic a fill Sin fu' on handsel-Teysday.

II. v. 1. To give or offer handsel at the beginning of a year or day or to mark some special occasion such as the wearing of new clothes; to present with earnest-money at the beginning of an engagement. Gen.Sc. Also fig.Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 363:
You breed of the Chapmen, you are ay to Hansel. Spoken to those that ask us Hansel (that is, the first Bit in the Morning, the first Money for their Parcels of Wares, or the like). Taken from Pedlars, who . . . will say, Give us Hansel.
Kcb. 1789 D. Davidson Seasons 73:
Some tippling chiels gaed to the tent, To hansel Leezie Waldron.
Fif. 1827 W. Tennant Papistry Storm'd 194:
[He] was the neist man whase shaven crown Was hansel'd wi' a swap.
Slg. 1885 A. Murray Poems 105:
But some sma' screed o' rhyme I'll try To hansel ye!
Sc. 1901 in N.E.D.:
When I was at school, the custom of handselling the master on Handsel Monday still flourished in Scotland.
Bnff. 1918 M. Symon Wir Roup 2:
Speak up noo' lads, fa's gettin' this Is handselled deein's bit.

2. To inaugurate with some ceremony or gift, etc., in order to bring good luck to. Gen.Sc. Also fig. Vbl.n. handselling, inauguration. Sc. 1749 W. Fraser Bk. Carlaverock (1873) II. 393:
A caske of wine, which I hope you'll accept of as a small present to hansell the new house.
Sc. 1806 Scots Mag. (March) 205:
Come, nibour Tam, we'll tak' a glass, To hansel the new year.
Sc. 1813 Scott Letters (Cent. ed.) III. 376:
I see your catalogue flaming in front of the papers which I dare say will . . . come well in to hansell John's opening campaign.
Abd. 1868 W. Shelley Wayside Flowers 273:
And still as labour hansell'd morn In simmer green, in winter grey.
Ags. 1889 Brechin Advertiser (19 Feb.) 3:
It hanselled oor ain braw new church.
Kcb. 1897 T. Murray Frae the Heather 59:
Then let us use and nocht abuse, And hansel this New Year.
Lnk. 1919 G. Rae Clyde and Tweed 36:
A coat o' airms hanselled the new-fund days Wi' unco spreed.
Per. 1956 Scotsman (17 Jan.):
At Kenmore there was the traditional handselling of the [angling] season by breaking a bottle of whisky over the bow of a boat.
wm.Sc. 1977 William McIlvanney Laidlaw (1985) 9:
Perhaps it was just that, born in Scotland, you were hanselled with remorse, set up with shares in Calvin against your coming of age, so that much of the energy you expended came back guilt.
Fif. 1991 William Hershaw in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 167:
Our ancestors fired folk,
They brunt the weerded anes as sacrifice,
Handselled the dark wi flesh and smoke
That the laich licht micht kyth.
Sc. 1991 Ronald Stevenson in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 70:
Soon wull it faa tae ye
in flaws an flachts the fleece
that smuirs the muirs -
an hansels Peace,
o warld,
tae ye, lued Lyfe, bi luve garred gowden,

3. To celebrate the first use of with handsel; to use for the first time, to be the first to try, test or taste (something). Gen.Sc.Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 140:
He that invented the Maiden, first hanseled it. Viz. James Earl of Morton, who had been for some Years Governour of Scotland: but was afterwards cruelly, and unjustly, run down by a Party, as many have been since.
Abd. 1768 A. Ross Works (S.T.S.) 148:
Then with a pike-staff i' my hand, To close my begging stock, I'll go unto some lucky wife, To hansel my new pock.
Ayr. 1826 Galt Lairds iv.:
When I was marvelling wha this new-set-up beggar could be . . . he said, “Laird, will ye hansel my pock? . . . Will ye hansel my pock, for auld langsyne, Laird?”
em.Sc. (a) 1895 I. Maclaren Auld Lang Syne 278:
She michtna mind Lily gettin' a bit present frae a neebur, juist tae hansel her new kist.
Arg. 1914 N. Munro New Road xxvii.:
You'll just go back a gentleman, on wheels, and handsel my new coach and Wade's New Road.
Dmf. 1915 J. L. Waugh Betty Grier 185:
“Will I bring doon the tea-set frae the drawin'-room . . .”? “Yes, yes, Betty, if you please; and Miss Stuart will honour us in handseling it. It hasn't been used since I came here.”
Abd. 1952 Abd. Press & Jnl. (8 Sept.) 6:
The green was hanselled in a match between teams representing the members and officials of the Town Council and members of the Aberdeen Bowling League's Council.
Dundee 1987 Norman Lynn Row Laddie Sixty Years On 37:
Since retiral and return to the city the old man had hanselled the service on a flight to the London zone.
Sc. 1993 Scotsman 23 Nov :
Armstrong should be at No 9 in the Jed XV for Saturday's home league fixture with West of Scotland and then two days later he plays against the Scottish Border Club in a game to handsel in the club's new floodlights.
Sc. 1994 Scotland on Sunday 28 Aug :
Art Exposure Gallery, ... has moved to more salubrious premises in Parnie Street, ...
They handsel the new space on Friday night with a mixed show which will run until September 29.
Sc. 1999 Times 2 Jul :
Your Majesty, we are all proud that you are here to handsel (to give an inaugurate gift to) this Parliament here with us as we dedicate ourselves to the work ahead.

[O.Sc. han(d)sel(l), etc., n. from 1375, a (New-Year) good-luck gift, reward, earnest money, Hansel Monday from 1635; v., 1438, to make over formally by shaking hands (Ork.), hansaling, vbl.n., 1375, the giving of handsel; O.N. handsal, the transference of a right, bargain, duty to another by joining hands; cf. late O.E. handselen, id.]

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"Handsel n., v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 12 Jun 2024 <>



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