This week’s Mental Health Awareness week should, perhaps, remind us to think of those of us who have been feeling a wee bit dowie during these past months. Dowie, as the Dictionaries of the Scots Language (DSL) remind us, means:
“Sad, melancholy, dreary, dismal; dull, dispirited; used both of persons and of places, weather, etc. Sad, melancholy, dreary, dismal; dull, dispirited; used both of persons and of places, weather…”.
Burns captures the mood of a lovelorn lass in Highland Harry Back Again (1789) with:
“When a’ the lave [others] gae to their bed, I wander dowie up the glen”.
One of the earliest references we have describes a place and it comes from the poems of Robert Sempill (1581):
“Out of his dowie den Maist lyke a fox thay fyrit [set on fire] him in his nest”.
It can also mean, “ailing, sickly, weak”, as in the description of this unfortunate from Watson’s 1903 Auld Lang Syne:
“He was a cripple from infancy, and was known in the district as a ‘peer, dowie breet’”.
The poet and novelist Sheena Blackhall used it to describe language in Wittgenstein’s Web from 1996:
“Nae Inglis wird alane can convoy the multiplicity o thocht ahin thon ae wird dreich. Dreich is a cauld, mochy, jeelin, dowie wird”.
More recently, a journalist from the Press and Journal of December 2019 records his own sadness at the loss of friends throughout the year:
“Lookin back throwe the columns I hae screiv’t es past eer, I get dowie bein remindit on mony weel-kent freens o’s aa nae langer wi’s…”.
Scots Word of the Week is written by Pauline Cairns Speitel, Dictionaries of the Scots Language https://dsl.ac.uk.