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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid


LUCKEN adj. closed, joined, fastened


Derived ultimately from Old English, the most common usage of lucken in modern times is in the compound luckenbooth.  Luckenbooths were booths or shops in a market which could be locked up, and were common in Scottish towns.  The luckenbooths in Edinburgh were referred to in somewhat uncomplimentary terms by Sir Walter Scott in Heart of Midlothian (1818):


“A huge pile of buildings called the Luckenbooths, which, for some inconceivable reason, our ancestors had jammed into the midst of the principal street of the town”.


Applied to the hands, lucken meant clenched into a fist, as in the vivid


“Mine armes being broake, my hands lucken and sticking fast to the palmes of both handes, by reason of the shrunke sinewes”


from William Lithgow’s Rare Adventures and Painful Peregrinations (1632).


But lucken-fittit meant having toes joined together by a membrane - web-footed – as in


“‘Lucken toes,’ that is, toes joined by a web, indicated luck”


from Walter Gregor’s Notes on the Folk-Lore of the North-East of Scotland (1881).  


A lucken-gowan is a flower such as the globe-flower, whose petals are drawn together like a bud; lucken is also used of vegetables that have a firm, close heart, like cabbage.  A lucken haddock or whiting is a fish that is cut open and cleaned but not split down to the tail – so, more closed than open.

Leather described as lucken had been consolidated and thickened by tanning and hammering.  So in a 1758 edition of the Caledonian Mercury, we read of


“twenty-three Hydes Lucken-leather in whole Hydes”.


Figuratively, lucken could be used of anything drawn together, contracted, or close-joined.  Thus lucken-brows or browed referred to close-knit or frowning brows.  In an 1832 edition of Fraser’s Magazine, we read of someone


“knitting her thick lucken brows, till they stood mingled.” 



This Scots Word of the Week was written by Ann Ferguson of Scottish Language Dictionaries.

First published 23rd May 2016.