By Betty Kirkpatrick
A friend of mine once remarked that he often used Scots when talking to himself or thinking, but would translate this into Standard English when he was talking to someone else. This is true of quite a few of us.
I found myself doing it just the other day. I was trying to find something amid the piles of books and papers in the room where I work. The place, as I said to myself, was in a right guddle. However, I rephrased this as a bit of a muddle when talking on the phone to a friend from the Home Counties. Undeniably, it lost something in translation.
Nowadays, a guddle usually refers to a state of confusion, disorder or untidiness. A person, a place or something such as a pile of paperwork can be in a guddle. If you make a guddle of something, you do it very badly and make a mess of it. There is a verb equivalent and to guddle is to work in a careless, untidy, messy way. To guddle about can be to mess about in an aimless way.
Guddle was originally associated with mess involving water. For example, children might be found guddling about in muddy puddles or a human restaurant dishwasher might spend ages guddling about in greasy, dirty water.
Guddle in its earliest sense is associated with fish as well as water. To guddle in this meaning is to try to catch fish using the hands only. This is done by groping under the hidden places in a stream or river where fish might be lurking. When the fish is located the fisher tickles the fish on its underbelly and pulls it out of the water.
Apparently this is an extremely difficult thing to do, though as a child I saw it done both successfully and effortlessly. A very old man who lived nearby was a real expert at guddling trout. It is, of course, an illegal pursuit, being a form of poaching. Fortunately, no-one ever shopped him.
In origin the word is thought to imitate the sound made by the action of guddling in water.