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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 In the past, you might also have been referred to as plucky, which looks much better, but that is no longer current.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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<em>Picture: Loyna</em>

Picture: Loyna

By Betty Kirkpatrick

We have had a few days of sunshine recently and many Scots, as is their wont, have stripped off in response to this. They seemed to be impervious to the chilly winds that accompanied said sunshine, at least in some parts of the country.

Some Scots sun-worshippers seem instantly to acquire a glowing tan at the first blink of sunshine and so become the envy of some of their friends. Others go scarlet and blistery after a few hours spent in relentless sunbathing behind a windbreak. Some see an increase in their fernietickles.

Fernietickles, pronounced as it is spelt and sometimes spelt with a hyphen or as two words, is Scots for freckles. Fernietickle, also known as ferntickle, is derived from Middle English farntikylle and is thought to take its name from the fact that a freckle resembles a brown fern spore, not a particularly attractive origin. The “tickle” part is probably from tickle meaning a small part or grain.

Fernietickles are not always regarded as an attractive feature. A scarcely discernible light dusting of them is thought to be all very well – but, when they overlap and join up with each other, fernietickles seem larger and more obvious. It has to be said that fernietickles, however small or large, are usually much more obvious to the bearers of these than to people who are viewing them on the skin of others.

Nowadays, fernietickled people (I was going to say particularly women – but, given the money spent on men’s cosmetics, this is perhaps no longer true) often go to great lengths to find some kind of bleaching cream that promises to cure them of what they regard as a skin problem. Older suggested remedies included the use of vinegar, lemon juice or buttermilk.

It was also hoped by some fernietickled people that the traditional custom of washing the face with early morning dew on the first of May, thought to be a general beauty-enhancer, would remove their fernitickles. Of course, they can also just stay out of the sun, not a difficult task in our climate.

Some fond relatives once tried to relieve the concerns of young people who were wreathed in fernietickles by telling them that they should be pleased about their facial feature. Fernietickles, or so one story went, were a sign that people exhibiting them were actually a form of chosen people. This was because the fairies (good fairies, that is) had bestowed the fernietickles on them at birth.

Fernietickles are not usually seen on people with darker – known in Scots as din – complexions, but are a particularly common feature of the fair Scottish skin. They are typically to be seen on the skin of red-haired people with such a skin, but dark-haired, fair-skinned Celts are also frequently fernietickled.

Incidentally, fernietickled is not restricted to skin. It can also be used of something, such as a story or comment, that is very often, probably too often, repeated. A much more attractive way of saying hackneyed, overworked or even clichéd.

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.

Want to discuss other issues? Join the debate on our new Scottish Voices forum