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muddle

By Betty Kirkpatrick

<em>Picture: Aristocrat's Hat</em>

Picture: Aristocrat's Hat

It could be that some of you out there lead impeccably well-ordered, muddle-free lives. Congratulations to you, but most of us are not like that. From time to time we get into a fankle.

A fankle is a muddle or state of confusion. Such a state can arise in even the best-organised families at holiday time. No matter how foolproof your forward-planning seems to be, no matter how many detailed lists you compile, no matter how many times you check passports and tickets, the adults in the household usually get into a fankle just before the journey begins.

The mind is most likely to get into a fankle, hopefully temporarily, when you are nervous. Having to speak in public is enough to set some people straight into a fankle, sometimes resulting in them losing the place, literally and figuratively, halfway through the speech.

It is common for business affairs to get into a fankle. People who start their own businesses with great enthusiasm and talent, but with little aptitude for numbers or accounts, can soon end up with their financial affairs in a fankle. The remedy is to call in an expensive accountant or the administrator.

Originally, it was something more concrete than business affairs that got into a fankle. Inexperienced knitters, for example, can get their wool so tangled up that it ends up in a fankle. Amateur anglers can get their fishing lines in a similar state.

Fankle can also act as a verb meaning tangle, although this use is now less common. If you are tossing and turning restlessly at night you can get the bedclothes so fankled up that you can scarcely get out from under them. Children, especially those new to the art of skipping, can get their skipping ropes fankled and, figuratively, income tax affairs can get fankled, although this is unwise

The verb fankle originally meant to trap or catch in a snare. In origin, fankle comes from fank meaning, as a noun, a coil of rope, a noose or a tangle and, as a verb, to tangle or twist or to catch in snare, net or trap. This is not to be confused with fank meaning a sheepfold which is derived from Gaelic fang.

I hope you are having a fankle-free day. If you are not, do not worry. You will not be alone.

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.