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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1952 (SND Vol. III). Includes material from the 1976 and 2005 supplements.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

COW, COWE, KOW, v.1, n.2 [kʌu]

I. v.

1. To poll or crop (the hair). Known to Bnff.2, Abd.2 (cowe), Kcb.1 1940; Bwk. 1942 Wettstein 56. Ppl.adj. cowit, closely cut; having short, thin hair (Sc. 1879 Jam.5).Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 342:
Would you make me trow that my head's vow'd when I find the hair on't.
Gall.(D) 1901 Trotter Gall. Gossip 351:
The weans wus scrubbit too' an their hair cowe't.
Dmf. 1817 W. Caesar Poems 71:
When ye're upon yon distant shore, Where wild cats yell, where lions roar, . . . Yes, they'll come to your very door, An' cow your beard.

2. To cut, to cut short. Also used fig. Vbl.n. cowin, a piece (cut off); ppl.adj. cowit, kowed, hornless, “humble” (of cows) (Ork. 1929 Marw., kowd; Kcb.4 1900).Sc. 1721 Ramsay Poems 379:
I'd fret, wae's me! to see the[e] lye Beneath the Bottom of a Pye, Or cow'd out Page by Page to wrap Up Snuff, or Sweeties, in a Shap.
Ags. 1867 G. W. Donald Poems 20:
Wha kens but it may cowe your days, Gif ye forget.
Edb. 1773 R. Fergusson Poems (1925) 72:
Remind him o' his former want, To cow his daffin and his pleasure.
Rnf. 1790 A. Wilson Poems 91:
Twa pints o' weel-boilt solid sowins, Wi' whauks o' gude ait-far'le cowins.
Ayr. 1787 Burns Ordination (Cent. ed.) xiii.:
They'll gie her on a rape a hoyse, And cowe her measure shorter By th' head some day.

Comb.: cow-the-knot, a short-bladed knife. Ags. 1826 Dundee Advertiser (27 April):
[Witness] knows a cow-the-knot. The knife which Slidders had was like it; it is about three inches long heft and all.

3. ? To dress by cutting off ragged pieces of skin, etc.Lnk. c.1779 D. Graham Writings (1883) II. 17:
The hurly burly being ended . . . they began to cow their cuttet lugs, and wash their sairs.

4. To eat up, to consume (Bnff.8 c.1920); “to eat greedily, to munch” (Ork. 1887 Jam.6, kow).Sc. 1728 Ramsay Poems II. 302:
Allan's hale, and well, and living, . . . Cowing Beef, and drinking roundly.
Sc. 1806 R. Jamieson Pop. Ballads II. 169:
Auld cruikit carl, wi' your fat yow; It weel will saur wi' the good brown yill; And the four spawls o't I wat we's cow.
Ayr. 1822 H. Ainslie Pilgrime, etc. 229:
The brute beside them cows the carpet.

5. To overtop, surpass, outdo (Abd. correspondents, Fif.10, Lnk.11, Kcb.1 1940; Bwk. 1942 Wettstein 56). Lit. and fig.Sc. 1852 H. Miller Schools and Schoolm. (1858) xxv.:
“O, Saunders, Saunders!” exclaimed Robert, “there was surely some God's soul at work for us, or she [boat] would never have cowed yon [wave].”
Abd.(D) 1920 G. P. Dunbar Peat Reek 10:
Wi' college chiels I may be blate, At Logic rarely shine, But ne'er a ane can cowe me At the kissin' o' a quine.
Lnk. 1922 T. S. Cairncross Scot at Hame 60:
But Dod! when he's a man he'll cowe them a', He'll either mak' a spune or spoil a horn.

II. n.

1. A crop, a hair-cut (Bnff.2, Abd.2, Edb.1 (w.Lth. and Clc.), Arg.1, Kcb.1 1940; Lnk. 1948 (per Abd.27)).Slg. 1935 W. D. Cocker Further Poems 28:
His touzled hair was aye unshorn, his mither ne'er had sent Her laddie to the barber's shop in Gaza for a cowe.
Lth. 1885 “J. Strathesk” More Bits from Blinkbonny 39:
There was no fear of anybody “ruggin” that hair for some time, . . . so close was the cowe.
w.Sc. 1934 “Uncle Tom” Mrs Goudie's Tea-Pairty 25:
He had ca'ed at Tammy Taidrel's shope tae get a cow.
Arg.1 1929:
“Whaar are ye for?” “Oh, ahm gaan for a cow.”
Arg. 1992:
Bobby Houston, the barber across the street, tells me that he still - 1990s - hears 'cow' used among his older customers from time to time.

2. A trouncing, a humiliating defeat.Ayr. 1786 Burns To W. Simpson, Postscript ix.:
But new-light herds gat sic a cowe, Folk thought them ruin'd stick-an-stowe.
Ayr. 1790 A. Tait Poems and Songs 220:
War Highland lads instead of Howes, Both France and Spain wad get their cowes.

III. Phrs.: 1. to cow(e) a', — a'thing, to surpass, beat everything; Gen.Sc.; 2. to cowe a' green thing, id. (Bnff.2, Abd.2 1940); 3. to cow someone's horns, to curtail someone's power (Sc. 1808 Jam.); cf. Eng. to clip someone's wings; 4. to cow the cadger, — 1; known to Abd.2, Kcb.1 1940; 5. to cow(e) the cuddy, ¶to cow the caddie, id. (Abd.9 1940; Ags.2 1938; Fif.13 1940); 6. to cow the docken, id.; known to Cai.7 1940; 7. (to) cow(e) the gowan, (1) id.; known to Cai.9 1939; Bnff.2, Abd. and Fif. correspondents 1940; (2) “to overcome, so as to humble” (Kcb.4 1900); †(3) as n.phr.: “a fleet horse, . . . one that cuts the ground” (s.Sc. 1825 Jam.2); †8. to cow the wee whittle, = 1 (Ags. 1824 Literary Olio (24 Jan.) 29/2).1. Sh. 1906 T. P. Ollason Spindrift 86:
Bit av aal A'm endured sin' da day I wis boarn, Da past ook cows a' — Loard hae mercy on Maaly.
Dundee 1991 Ellie McDonald The Gangan Fuit 9:
Weill said I (ablow mi breath)
that cows aa! fin yersel anither
gowk tae faither yer ferlies.
em.Sc. (a) 1895 “I. MacLaren” Auld Langsyne 217:
An' the names they cowe a'thing for length.
Gsw. 1863 W. Miller Nursery Songs 59:
Ye might ha'e speer'd a body's leave — but ye cowe a'.
Rxb. 1851 Poems on Auld Brig (per Rxb.2):
Hech sirs, what science now has brought to pass, And what cowes a' — a Palace built o' glass.
2. Abd. 1929 N. M. Campbell in Sc. Readings, etc. (ed. T. W. Paterson) 92:
Weel, gin that disna cowe a' green thing!
4. Ags.(D) 1894 J. B. Salmond My Man Sandy (1899) v.:
That fair cows the cadger.
5. Bch. 1913 W. Fraser Jeremiah Jobb 9:
Od, 'at cowes the cuddy!
Bwk. 1801 "Bwk. Sandie" Poems 59:
But yet though you are but a laddie, Wha kens but you may cow the caddie.
Ayr. 1887 J. Service Dr Duguid 132:
It juist cowes the cuddy, and the cuddy cowes a'.
6. Ags. 1893 “F. Mackenzie” Cruisie Sk. vi.:
'Od this dings a'! This cows the docken!
7. (1) Sc. 1934 in Border Mag. (June) 86:
Hear him, lads; losh, if that disna cow the gowan, Bauldy ownin' up tae be feart.
Abd. 1832 A. Beattie Poems 225:
O' a the bards that I hear chime, You cow the gowan.
Lnk. 1881 A. Wardrop J. Mathison's Courtship, etc. 9:
It fairs cowes the gowan a' thegither, tae think that oor Sandy, an' Tam, an' Robin . . . hae a' gotten married but me.
s.Sc. 1835–40 J. M. Wilson (ed.) Tales of the Borders (1857–59) X. 132:
It cowes the gowan hoo sae sensible a man as John Darling wad e'er hae looten his dochter tak up wi' sic-like clamjamphrey.

[From Coll, v., q.v.; see P.L.D. § 78.2. O.Sc. has cow(e), kow, to trim, to cut the hair, 1530, to cut (plants, etc.), 1549 (D.O.S.T.).]

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"Cow v.1, n.2". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 15 Jun 2024 <>



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