View site in Scots
Flickr YouTube

Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

GAWSIE adj Portly, plump

In the Dictionary of the Scots Language gawsie is used to describe people and their features in a positive way: “Of persons: plump, fresh-complexioned and jovial-looking; handsome, of stately or imposing appearance, portly”. Portly originally meant: “Characterized by stateliness or dignity of bearing, appearance, or manner; handsome, majestic, imposing. Now rare or U.S. regional.” (Oxford English Dictionary revised December 2006). Nowadays, of course, this meaning has been superceded by our current understanding of “Bulky; stout, plump, corpulent.”


Gawsie first appears in the DSL in an example from the eighteenth century poet Allan Ramsay in his The Tea-Table Miscellany of 1724: “Nelly’s gawsy, saft, and gay, Fresh as the lucken flowers in May.” Burns also uses it to describe Luath the collie, one of the dogs in his poem Twa Dogs from 1786: “His gawsie tail, wi’ upward curl, Hung owre his hurdies wi’ a swirl.”


In the twentieth century it was still being used to describe things and their admirable quality ies as in this quotation from J. Black’s Airtin Hame from 1920: “Wi’ bee-skeps, and wi’ gaucy stacks O’ peats frae Woodmuir moss.”


The etymology is doubtful and it is suggested in DSL that it could be related to gash: “sagacious, shrewd” or “Of persons: well-dressed, neat, respectable-looking, smart.” 


Unfortunately, this wonderfully descriptive term seems to have fallen from our vocabulary but here at Scottish Language Dictionaries we are constantly surprised by words, thought to be obsolete, which then turn out to be very much alive in some parts of the country.

Scots Word of the Week is written by Pauline Cairns Speitel of Scottish Language Dictionaries