RICKLE n a loose, carelessly thrown together pile of objects
Rickle is descended from Old Norse ‘hraukr’, a small pile of peats. It is so used in the Register of the Great Seal in the late sixteenth century, but Robert Henryson used it in the Taill of the Wolf and the Wedder (a1500) as a general rickle, probably of stones:
“The volff ran till ane rekill”.
Rickles of stones or sticks are common in quotations such as this clarification from Court of Session Papers relating to a petition of J. Chalmers (1759):
“What the Deponent means by a Stone dike, was a Rickle of Stones thrown in to stop People’s Passage”.
It is often applied to dilapidated structures as in S. R. Crockett’s Lochinvar (1897):
"An auld disjaskit rickle o’ stanes like the Hoose o’ Grenoch”.
In W. Alexander’s Johnny Gibb (1871), other decrepit items are:
“a secont-han rickle o’ a piano”
and, in Bon-Accord (1957):
“His latest deal in cars — a rael 1930 rickle o’ aul’ iron”.
A rather touching quotation comes from the Scots Magazine (1933) and describes
“A rickle of stone-grey sticks, the bones of a man of antique time”.
This brings us to a very popular idiom, familiar from the song Coulter’s Candy in which Jeannie appears as
“a rickle o banes covered ower wi skin”.
Dougal Graham in his Collected Writings (1779) uses a similar but less sympathetic image:
“A rickle o’ banes row’d up in a runkly skin”.
Seumus MacManus in In Chimney Corners (1899) writes:
“He began to consider how he could sell his rickle of a pony to advantage”.
Here the word possibly serves a dual function referring to the emaciation of the animal and to its state of near collapse. Not all rickles are bad though; Ane verie excellent and delectabill Treatise intitulit Philotus (1603) tells us
“ye sall haue … Rickillis of gould and jewellis”.
Written by Chris Robinson of Scottish Language Dictionaries.
First published 18th November 2013.