No, not the river (whose name is French, from Latin Mosa); this is an English dialect word I just ran across, with an unexpected etymology (French < Celtic) I thought I’d share. OED (updated December 2001):

Pronunciation: Brit. /mjuːs/ , /mjuːz/ , U.S. /mjuz/

Etymology: < Middle French muce, musse, mouce hiding place, secret place (1190 in Old French as muce; only from 1561 in spec. sense 1a; French regional (central and western) musse hiding place, hole in a hedge) < mucier, mucer to hide, conceal oneself (second half of the 12th cent.; compare Anglo-Norman muscier, muscer, mucier, etc.; also Italian (regional) mucciare, muccire to flee) < an unidentified reflex of the Celtic base of Early Irish múch smoke, Welsh mwg smoke, which in turn is related to the Germanic base of smoke v. Compare mitch v., muset n.1 Compare slightly earlier maze n.2 and discussion at that entry.
Recorded in Eng. Dial. Dict. s.v. in very widespread English regional use.

Now Brit. regional.
A gap in a fence or hedge through which hares, rabbits, etc., pass, esp. as a means of escape; (also) a man-made track or tunnel for leading hares, rabbits, etc., into a trap. Cf. run n.2 12a.
1523 J. Skelton Goodly Garlande of Laurell 1384 He wrate of a muse [1568 mows] throw a mud wall; How a do cam trippyng in at the rere warde.
1575 G. Gascoigne Noble Arte Venerie lix. 164 She..will all the daye long holde the same wayes..and passe through the same muses untill hir death or escape.
1623 T. Scott High-waies of God 55 A Hare started before Greyhounds will haue her accustomed way and muse, or die for it.
1754 W. Cowper Epist. to R. Lloyd 52 The virtuoso..The gilded butterfly pursues O’er hedge and ditch, through gaps and mews.
1756 Gentleman’s Mag. 26 180 The most effectual method of destroying hares is by laying the muishes of hedges, dykes, and other fences.
1812 W. B. Daniel Rural Sports (new ed.) I. 587 The Tipe or trap..consists of a large pit or Cistern, covered with a floor, with a small trap door, nicely balanced, near its centre, into which the rabbits are led by a narrow Meuse.
1821 Blackwood’s Edinb. Mag. 8 531 It is doubted whether the stoutest March hare will have sufficient vivacity to carry him to his muese.
1884 R. Lawson Upton-on-Severn Words & Phrases at Muse, Them Welshmen [sc. Welsh sheep]’d go through a rabbit run or a har’ muce.
1895 Athenæum 2 Mar. 285/3 In a stone-wall country you will not find a hare close to the lee side..because of the concentrated wind which whistles through every ‘meuse’.
1972 G. E. Evans & D. Thomson Leaping Hare vi. 75 An unusual method of catching hares..appears to have been extensively used by poachers in addition to the more common device of snaring or netting at the smiles or meuses.
2006 T. Williamson Archaeol. Rabbit Warrens vi. 54 (caption) A narrow wooden tunnel or muce runs through the wall and across the top of the pit; here there is a small trap-door in the tunnel floor.

b. In extended use: a means of escape; (a device affording) a way out of a difficulty. Obs.
1528 J. Skelton Honorificatissimo: Replycacion agaynst Yong Scolers sig. Avi, had..deuyllysshely deuysed The people to seduce And chase them thorowe the muse Of your noughty counsell.
1606 W. Warner Continuance Albions Eng. xvi. cii. 404 When desprate Ruffins fraught with faults finde readily a Meuse.
1647 N. Bacon Hist. Disc. Govt. 184 In this Tragedy the Pope observing how the English Bishops had forsaken their Archbishop, espied a muse through which all the game of the Popedome might soon escape.
1858 R. S. Surtees Ask Mamma xxix. 116 The Major, after trying every meuse, and every twist, and every turn..was at length obliged to whip off.

2. The form or lair of a hare; occas. with reference to other animals of the chase. Obs.
In 16th and 17th centuries freq. in proverbial sayings, as a hare without a meuse, every hare has its meuse, etc.
1585 S. Robson Choise of Change sig. Miii, Things very hard or not at all to be found. A hare without a muse…A whore without a skuse.
1598 G. Chapman tr. Homer Seauen Bks. Iliades vii. 123 As when a crew of gallantes watch, the wild muse of a bore.
1627 W. Hawkins Apollo Shroving v. iv. 86 Ludio The Nine Muses play at Nine-holes: euery Muse hath her hole. Thur. Yes, and euery Hare hath her Muse.
1788 W. Marshall Provincialisms E. Yorks. in Rural Econ. Yorks. II. 353 Smoot, a hare muce; or any small gap or hole in the bottom of a hedge.
1890 J. D. Robertson Gloss. Words County of Gloucester Mews, a hare’s form.

Note the odd form ‘lair of a hare,’ also new to me (it’s the OED’s sense 21); some citations:

a1300 Fragm. Pop. Sc. (Wright) 318 I-buyd as an hare Whan he in forme lyth.
c1386 Chaucer Shipman’s Tale 104 As in a fourme sitteth a wery hare.
1575 G. Gascoigne Noble Arte Venerie lviii. 161 When a Hare ryseth out of the forme.
1735 W. Somervile Chace ii. 38 In the dry crumbling Bank Their Forms they delve.
1845 C. Darwin Jrnl. (ed. 2) iii. 46 The Indians catch the Varying Hare by walking spirally round and round, it when on its form.
1952 R. Campbell tr. C. Baudelaire Poems 77 Whereon as in a fourm you would fill out And mould your hair.

I’m actually not sure the last one belongs here; it’s not at all clear to me what sense Campbell intended, since the line has little to do with Baudelaire’s French (“Qui, comme une guérite, enfermera tes charmes”). You can see the poem in the original with three translations here (William Aggeler and Lewis Piaget Shanks both render guérite accurately as “sentry-box”).

Addendum. It turns out I wrote about this word and its etymology less than three months ago. Sigh. At least it gets its own post here.


  1. I don’t actually think the OED is saying “Celtic < Germanic”; it’s saying that the Celtic proto-form of múch, mwg is a cognate of Proto-Germanic *smuk- < PIE *smeug-, presumably thanks to s-mobile. Etymonline agrees, and also points to Armenian mux (without /s/) and Greek smykhein ‘burn with smoldering flame’ (with /s/).

  2. You’re quite right, of course, and I’ve deleted the “< Germanic" part.

  3. Patrick says:

    Shucks! My interest was really piqued by the prospect of a secure case of a loanword from Proto-Germanic into Celtic, since the borrowing usually went in the other direction. (For Hat readers, Ringe provides a good list of borrowings from early Celtic into early Germanic in his From Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic, and Hubert has fuller list of the words shared by the two branches on page 66 in his old but still serviceable work, The Rise of the Celts.)

    Hat, was it that repitition of the from same Indo-European base as formula used by the OED that threw you off originally? How much easier it would be to read and digest the new OED3 etymologies without that clumsy and potentially misleading formula from same Indo-European base as that avoids stating an Indo-European protoform! I think the use of protoforms would make it easier for readers to wrap their heads around the rich information provided, rather than more difficult. in this instance, I can understand the reluctance of the OED to provide a Proto-Indo-European root like *(s)meukh-, *(s)meug-, *(s)meugh- for meuse and smoke, because the reflexes among the daughter languages don’t quite jibe and lead to a unitary reconstruction. But it seems perverse to me when, at the entry for the word one, the OED says

    from the same Indo-European base as classical Latin ūnus (Old Latin oinos ), Gaulish oinos (in names), Early Irish oen, óen (Irish aon ), Old Welsh, Welsh un, Old Church Slavonic inŭ other, another, (also, usually in jedĭnŭ , in sense ‘one’), Old Prussian ains, Lithuanian vienas, and also ancient Greek οἴνη, Hellenistic Greek οἰνός ace at dice, perhaps ultimately < an extended form of the base of Gothic is…

    without even providing the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction *oi-no- thats ties them all together and serves as the input for the series of systematic sound changes that establish the relatedness of the cited forms. Are they scared of laryngeals? The weaselly formula from the same Indo-European base is everywhere in the OED3 revision, but the early OED (NED) had a commitment to PIE forms as they were known at the time. At the entry for five for example (I picked it at random), we can read:

    Gothic fimf < Germanic *fimf(i < pre-Germanic *pempe, modified by assimilation of consonants from Old Aryan *penqe, whence Sanskrit pañca, Lithuanian penkì, Greek πέντε, πέμπε, Latin quīnque, Old Irish cóic, Gaulish pempe, Old Welsh pimp (modern Welsh pump).

    All this needs is just a little tweaking, with Proto-Indo-European replacing the obsolete and now misleading and disturbing Old Aryan, some modernization of the notation of the labiovelar in *pénkʷe, and the addition of some Tocharian cognates. I hope at some point the OED will alter its policy on the point of protoforms as the revisions continue (especially since the future of the AHD is uncertain). Generous souls will probably soon make the etymologies in the Wiktionary a good complement to the OED etymologies, especially in their Indo-European dimension, but it would be nice to have everything in the same place.

  4. I entirely agree!

  5. Jeffry House says:

    It’s hard to believe there is no connection with the word “mews”, which in Canada refers to row houses set along a narrow alleyway or path, sometimes above a garage or store.

    The usual wiki sources don’t support a connection, but still I wonder.

  6. Nope, totally unrelated. The Royal Mews began life as the place near Charing Cross where the king’s hawks were kept. They were converted to stables in 1534, and though the royal stables are now at Buckingham Palace and include carriage houses and garages, they retain the traditional name. By the early 17C, mews could be applied to any set of stables built around an open court or alley, and by the late 18C it was extended to similarly built human habitations, especially ones converted from stables.

    But mew is older: it meant first a molting bird, then a cage for one, then a prison generally already in 12C Old French, from Latin mutare ‘change’ in the special sense of ‘molt’. It first appears in English around 1400. We still have mewed up ‘imprisoned’.

  7. Looking up a word in OED is a good thing, but searching LH archives is even better.

  8. Greg Pandatshang says:

    I wonder what the evidence is that links mucier, mucer, etc. to a cognate of múch. On the face of it, it seems plausible but quite speculative.

  9. ‘Smeuse is an English dialect noun for “the gap in the base of a hedge made by the regular passage of a small animal”’ — from Rewilding the Language,, an LH post of a few months ago.

  10. That sigh at the end of your post is so expressive to me, Hat. I too miss my young brain that automatically formed a meuse for every little fact my mind encountered. Rejuvenation of the brain is a consumation devoutly to be wished.

  11. I’m beginning to think I use LH as a sort of auxiliary memory, so that when I post a fact here I can let my brain shed it. I often find when I go back through old posts that I have no recollection of the facts described there, so that I rediscover them with a combination of pleasure and rue.

  12. Hat: to avoid reposting, you could first search your archives for X before posting about X, instead of after. This would prevent embarassing symptoms of losing your memory (I can’t remember if I already mentioned this to you once …).

    All you need to remember is to search the archives first. In fact, you don’t even have to remember this if you have someone program an extra “search-and-confirm” step into the “post” function. This would require you to enter a few words which are then searched for in the archives – you would have to confirm the results before the post is actually published.

  13. I see you wrote about this as I was working on my last comment. “Auxiliary memory” is all very well, but you have to remember to use it. I call this the Paradox of the Clever Excuse.

    Of course this is all about the presentation of self in everyday life. You can do the loveable forgetful old codger one week, and the on-top-of-it Master of Auxiliary Memory the next, depending on mood.

  14. “Keep’em guessing”, as P.T. Barnum is said to have said was the secret of his success.

  15. Searching the archives only works if the word is mentioned in the post. As it happens, the prior post comes up if you search on “meuse” because it had “smeuse” in the post text, but that’s happenstance. Many times I have searched the archives in vain because it turned out I was remembering something that was in a comment, not a post. (John Cowan is going to tell me to search Google with, which is correct, but more work than I often feel like doing.)

  16. Then the problem here is not amnesia, but ignavy.

  17. I mean I find that reassuring, because I can relate to it.

  18. I propose that someone compile an annotated concordance and index to Language Hat, to be issued in hardcover by a respectable publisher, with decennial supplements.

  19. Think of the poor indexer! Mandelstam/Mandelshtam is just the tip of the iceberg; I have never been one for hobgoblins.

  20. Think of the poor indexer!

    Young brains to the fore!

  21. Brian Hanway says:

    “I know my quarries everyone, The meuse where she sits low”, The Old Squire Wilfred Scawen Blunt.

  22. Brian Hanway says:

    Meuse, Fire Escape.

  23. marie-lucie says:

    1952 R. Campbell tr. C. Baudelaire Poems 77 Whereon as in a fourm you would fill out And mould your hair.

    … the line has little to do with Baudelaire’s French (“Qui, comme une guérite, enfermera tes charmes”). You can see the poem in the original with three translations here (William Aggeler and Lewis Piaget Shanks both render guérite accurately as “sentry-box”).

    The 1952 translator seems to have totally misunderstood the sentence in the poem. It describes a huge, heavy ceremonial cloak, enclosing and immobilizing the woman (compared to the statue of a queen) as in a sentry-box (which normally confines, as well as protects, a guard, whose role is to protect the queen). The translation ends in mould your lair not ‘hair’, but both “fourm” (form) and “lair”, with their connotations of animal trapping, are inappropriate here. And the woman inside the cloak will not herself fill out or mould the tight prison which will confine her.

  24. marie-lucie says:


    When I was a child my sisters and I spent a couple of summers with our maternal grandparents in Southern France, in an area of not very high but still rugged mountains. Their house was built against the rock, and farther up in the property there was a flat wooded area in which there stood a small stone house with a door but without windows, referred to as la cabane aux lapins ‘the rabbit shack’, built by an ancestor. There were no rabbits in it in our time, but we were told that it had been built with tunnels underneath so as to attract and emprison wild rabbits (rabbits being a major source of meat in the diet). I did not realize until reading LH’s post that this was not an invention of our ancestor’s but probably a common practice (quite illegal in our time).

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