LOWSE v to loosen, set free
This verb is related to the English ‘loose’ and to Old Norse ‘leysa’ meaning to loosen. An example from James Grant’s History of Burgh Schools of Scotland (1876) reads:
“Striking him upon the mouth with his hand, to the lowsen of his tooth”.
Less painful is this quotation from Eliza Logan’s St Johnstoun (1823):
“Naething louses the jaw like a soup drink”.
Staying with the mouth, we have a North-East comment on injudicious talk:
“Ye’ve tied a knot wi yer tongue at yer teeth winna lowse”.
A specific use of the word is explained in The Scotsman (1941):
“The cutting of sheaf bands is referred to as ‘lowsin’, while the loft on to which the sheaves are thrown for threshing is called the ‘lowsin loft’”.
It also refers to the unyoking of horses or oxen from the plough as in the Southern Reporter (1914):
“When Sandy had lowsed the pony and settled him for the night”.
From there it moved to mean stopping work, so a farm worker says in the Kelso Chronicle (1916):
“Fifty-five tae six. Well, a handfu’ meenutes is naither here nor there. Aa think Aa’ll lowse.”
The factory bummer heralds this scene described by Hugh MacDiarmid in Penny Wheep (1926):
“The lowsin’ time o’ workers a’ Like emmits (ants) skailin’ everywhere”.
More liberty from bondage is documented in a quotation from 1897:
“When the apprenticeship was finished, there was “the prentice lowsan” — i.e. there was a feast, a “high” tea with a little drinking of whisky”.
Goods can also be lowsed or redeemed from pawn and a lowsing is a freeing from frost, a thaw. Some early examples describe the freeing of the soul from the body as in John Barbour’s Legends of the Saints (1380):
“Gud thing it is to me To be lousit & with hyme be”.
And that is me lowsed for another week.
This Scots Word of the Week was written by Chris Robinson of Dictionaries of the Scots Language
First published 3rd February 2014.