The names Scouse and Scouser designate a person from Liverpool, and Scouse also denotes the dialect or accent of people from Liverpool. (In Scouser, the suffix -er expresses the sense of a native or inhabitant of, as in Londoner and northerner.)
Liverpool is a city and seaport in North-West England, situated at the east side of the mouth of the River Mersey. It developed as a port in the 17th century with the import of cotton from America and the export of textiles produced in Lancashire and Yorkshire. In the 18th century, it became an important centre of shipbuilding and engineering.
A synonym of Scouse and Scouser, the name Liverpudlian is from Liverpool and the suffix -ian as in Parisian, with humorous alteration after puddle.
The origin of the name Liverpool itself is debated. One theory is that liver has the sense of thick or muddy water and that Liverpool means pool or creek with muddy water, referring to the River Mersey. The city of Liverpool is also known as the Pool.
The occurrences of Scouse and Scouser in the printed sources, the British newspapers primarily, reflect the fact that it was during the Second World War that sailors and soldiers from different parts of the United Kingdom serving together disseminated nicknames for each other—among which those two appellations.
The earlier use of those nicknames is therefore difficult to trace, as it was chiefly oral and localised. The earliest instance of Scouse that I have found is from A Yank Comes Here And Gets Stung: An American Girl Dashes Off Her Impressions Of The City, published in the Liverpool Echo of 22nd August 1939; this American girl, a certain Norma Hayes, wrote, about Liverpool people:
They aren’t bad though—taller than those in most industrial cities, better dressed, and friendly—and always nicknamed abroad “Scouse.”
The following, from the column Day To Day In Liverpool of the Liverpool Daily Post of 30th July 1942, is intriguing because, while it seems to reflect an earlier use of Scouse in the sense of a person from Liverpool, the correspondent attributes no meaning to the word:
The term “scouser,” which is now applied in the Navy to ratings from Liverpool, seems to be derived from an expression in common use in dockland when I was a youth (writes a correspondent).
“Hello, Scouse,” was how one man would hail another in jocular greeting, but I never knew if it had any special meaning. Nor did I ever hear it used outside Liverpool.
The following article appeared in the same column of the Liverpool Daily Post, on 1st August 1942; it confirms that Scouser was used in spoken language before World War Two and gives a detailed explanation of its origin:
Scouse And Scouser
An old Liverpool seafarer who has been familiar with the term “scouser” for many years suggests that it actually does owe its origin to the stew or hot-pot colloquially known as “scouse.”
Years ago, of course, this “scouse” was the main midday meal for seamen and dockers in Liverpool, and all the dock-side public-houses made it one of their specialities. Though “scouse” is not specifically a Liverpool word, my informant, who has worked at most of the ports in the British Isles, tells me that the great popularity of this dish is quite peculiar to Liverpool, and many a time he has heard one seaman remark to a Merseyside man: “Oh, you come from the place of scouse.” And from this it is only a short step to calling a Liverpool man a “scouser.”
Both Scouse and Scouser therefore are from the common noun scouse, a shortened form of lobscouse which The English Dialect Dictionary (Oxford, 1905), edited by the English philologist Joseph Wright (1855-1930), defined as:
a dish of hashed meat stewed with potatoes and onions; an Irish stew.
It seems that lobscouse is the origin of the German noun Labskaus, denoting a sailor’s dish consisting of salt meat, herring, potatoes and various other ingredients.
But the origin of lobscouse itself is unknown. The word can perhaps be compared to loblolly, defined in The English Dialect Dictionary as
any thick spoon-meat*; especially thick porridge made of flour or oatmeal; gruel.
(* meat: solid food)
This might be related to the verb lob, which in Lancashire, Yorkshire and the county of Durham meant “to bubble while in process of boiling; especially of porridge”.
The word loblolly might in turn be compared to the Devonshire noun lolly, which meant “broth, soup, or other food boiled in a pot”.
The Liverpool Daily Post of 3rd March 1939 published a letter from a correspondent who, after evoking his “memories of many a feed of scouse in [his] old home in the city’s dockside area”, mentioned several figurative uses of the word scouse, also employed as a verb:
The ingredients were simply potatoes, meat, swedes and an onion or two. For the best results we tried to obtain potatoes that would not become mushy or pulpy in the course of cooking, while the meat (beef and mutton) was usually the kind sold as pieces.
The potatoes were cut up into sections about the size of a walnut, the swedes and carrots somewhat smaller and the onions were sliced. These were all put into a fairly large stew-pan, seasoned with salt and pepper to taste, water sufficient to cover them was added and the lot left to simmer and thicken for several hours by the side of the fire.
The dish usually constituted the evening meal for the family and was served piping hot when father had returned from his day’s work at the docks, and I can still remember, delicious as was the scouse in itself, the delightful piquancy that could be added by a penn’orth of red pickled-cabbage from the corner-shop.
Sometimes funds were low and did not suffice for the purchase of meat. On these occasions we made “blind scouse,” by cooking the ingredients minus the meat but with the addition of a portion of dripping, in a frying-pan covered by a plate.
One remembers also the marked extent to which the word “scouse” entered into our home-spun speech, even although the relevancy was not always obvious. For instance, a project that turned out futile, a person who was well “lit-up” [= drunk] or a competitor well-beaten was said to be “scoused,” but the nick-name “Scouse” for a boy suggested qualities of self-reliance or daredevilry. “Scouse shops” were the dock-road eating houses, and “Scouse Alley” the line of refreshment booths on the waste ground in Fontenoy Street, known as Paddy’s Market. “Good scouse” was equivalent to the modern “O.K.,” and “cold scouse” denoted something depressive or unpalatable.
A day or two ago the head of a dock-side school met an old woman who after many years’ residence in a slum court had removed to one of the city’s housing estates, and congratulated her on obtaining a nice house with garden, electric-light, bath and other modern conveniences. “What’s the use of it all,” she asked, “when there isn’t a firegrate in the whole place where you can cook a decent pot of scouse?
Is there a moral?—Yours, &c.,
Old Gerard Street.
This curious advertisement from Miscellaneous for Sale, in the Liverpool Echo of 23rd January 1945, confirms the use of to be scoused mentioned in the letter that has been cited:
Potatoes and Typewriters.–You can’t make scouse without spuds, and I’m scoused because I can’t get rid of my Typewriters.–Russell Hare, the largest stockist on earth. 159 Islington. Tel. North 1428. 27j1162