Useful Scots word: plook

A bad case of plooks <em>From An introduction to dermatology, 1905, by Norman Purvis Walker</em>
A bad case of plooks From An introduction to dermatology, 1905, by Norman Purvis Walker
By Betty Kirkpatrick

Fernietickle, which I wrote about last time, and plook both refer to a mark that may appear on the face – but, apart from location, there is not much similarity between them. Linguistically, fernietickle is a much more attractive word than plook and, while a light dusting of fernietickles (or freckles) can be a beauty enhancer, this is not true of plooks.

A plook, pronounced as it is spelt and with alternative spelling plouk, is Scots for a spot, pimple or boil.

Most of us have suffered from a plook – or, worse, plooks – at some time in our lives. They plague the young in particular, especially those in the terrible teens. Just when a teenager is getting all dressed up to impress a member of the opposite sex, out pops the reddest of red pus-filled plooks to disfigure the face and spoil their chances.

One plook is bad enough, but they have a nasty tendency to multiply and some develop into that teenage nightmare, acne.

Acne, incidentally, may be the absolute pits as far as teenagers are concerned, but this is not true not of its origins, which are actually rather lofty. Acne has its roots, so to speak, in the Greek word acme, from which we also get acme meaning the highest point.

The Greeks also used this word to mean a point or a spot on the face, but when Latin adopted the word acme, it was misspelt as acne. Latin handed on the error to English.

Plook does not have such an exciting history. Indeed, it is one of that legion of words in Scots and in English which are of uncertain origin. It seems likely to be related to Middle English plouke, a pimple or a pustule, which is an even less attractive word than plook. German plock, pluck, a plug or bung (no, not the bribe), is also a possible relative.

If you have a smattering of spots on your face, or, for that matter, elsewhere, this can be referred to as plookiness. You as the sufferer can be described a pluke-faced plooky or plouky – although you would almost definitely rather not be. In the past, you might also have been referred to as plucky, which looks much better, but that is no longer current.

The word plook can also be used figuratively. You could say that the plook of your anger came to a heid (head), although this is a bit literary, not to say over the top. More commonly, plook has become almost synonymous with carbuncle in its figurative sense.

This sense of carbuncle, as you may know, shot to fame when Prince Charles used it to refer to the extension that was then being made to the façade of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square in London. He said it was “like a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend”.

Plook, not to be outdone, also got involved in the architectural world, although not at such an august level. Those behind the architecture magazine Prospect started a competition known as the Plook on the Plinth. The award is given to the place in Scotland which is deemed to be worst in terms for planning and architecture.

Didn’t plook do well! I bet Prince Charles wishes he had thought of it.

Betty Kirkpatrick is the former editor of several classic reference books, including Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus. She is also the author of several smaller language reference books, including The Usual Suspects and Other Clichés published by Bloomsbury, and a series of Scots titles, including Scottish Words and Phrases, Scottish Quotations, and Great Scots, published by Crombie Jardine.

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