"Curious Masonic Words"

The Short Talk Bulletin:The Masonic Service Association of the United States;VOL. 31 August 1953 NO.8

COWAN. Few wholly Masonic words have been so much talked about and so little understood by the average Mason as “COWAN”. Every one understands that it is a term of contempt; that is denotes some one wholly without the Masonic circle; but just what its real meaning may be, where the word came from. How it came into our system, is disputed to this day by Masonic scholars. It is generally – not wholly – agreed that is has a Scottish ancestry. Certain old Scottish books lend color to the theory. According to these tomes a COWAN is a man who builds walls without mortar – as any farm hand in America may do, piling into a wall the stones from nearby streams or turned up in plowing. From this the term came to be used as meaning an uninstructed Mason, a self-taught builder, one not of the trade. Apparently, its earliest appearances is in the schwa Manuscript, dated 1598. It appears in the second of 1738 edition of Anderson’s constitutions. Scott puts the words into the mouth of one of his characters. Whence came the word? A Greek word KUON means dog, and in early church days infidels were called dogs, probably because of such passages a Matthew 7:6 – “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs.” Old Swedish KUJON means a silly fellow. The French COYOU means a coward, a base person. Mackey had a different theory, that COWAN was wither a derivation of, or the ancestry of the English word “common”. Old English spelled the word both coen and common. IF this is correct, COWAN, meaning common, is still a term meaning the lesser, vide “common people,” also the English “House of Commons” as distinguished from the House of Lords. However derived, the word is now wholly the property of the Fraternity, not other wised used, and means to moderns an uninstructed and ignorant person, one not of the Fraternity, just as eavesdropper means to us one who attempt to gain the secret of Masonry unlawfully.


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