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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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About this entry:
First published 1934 (SND Vol. I). Includes material from the 1976 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.


1. An old country dance, finishing off a ball, a wedding, or any kind of merrymaking.Sc. 1851 Eng. Notes and Q. (18 Jan.) 45:
The manner of dancing it is, the company having formed itself into a circle, one, either male or female, goes into the centre, carrying a pillow [or handkerchief], and dances round the circle with a sort of shuffling quick step, while the others sing, — “Wha learn'd you to dance, you to dance, you to dance, Wha learn'd you to dance, Bab in the Bowster brawly?” To which the dancer replies: “Mother learn'd me to dance, me to dance, me to dance, Mother learn'd me to dance, Bab in the Bowster brawly.” He or she then lays down the pillow before one of the opposite sex, when they both kneel on it and kiss; the person to whom the pillow has been presented going over the above again, etc., till the company tires.
Fif. 1864 W. D. Latto Tammas Bodkin (1868) xxxv.:
Lang ere Sandy's fiddle struck up the grand finale o' “Bab at the Bowster.”
Lnk. 1894 W. H. Ballantyne in A. B. Gomme Trad. Games of Eng., Scot. and Ireland I. 9:
Wha learned you to dance, Babbity Bowster brawly?
Peb. 1838 W. Welsh Poems 13:
Bab at the bouster then began.

2. A children's game. (1) A ring game. (2) A hopping game.(1) Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B. 45:
Bab-at-the-bowster. . . . A children's ring-game.
(2) Arg. 1901 R. C. Maclagan Games of Argyleshire 58:
Crouching down on their . . . hunkers, . . . and clasping their hands under their legs behind their knees, they hop on their toes opposite each other, singing: — Wha learnt you to dance, Babbity Bowster, Babbity Bowster, Wha learnt you to dance, Babbity Bowster? [etc.]

3. ‡A boys' game. Known in Dundee as 1923 Watson W.-B. 45:
Bab-at-the-bowster. . . . A game of the leap-frog kind, in which one boy climbs along the bowed backs of several others.

[From Bab, v., 2 (1), and Bowster, a pillow.]

Bab At The Bowster phr.

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"Bab At The Bowster phr.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 13 Apr 2024 <>



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