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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid


FANKLE n., v. tangle, muddle, twist


Fankle is derived from fank, meaning a coil of rope, or to twist or tangle.  Fankles or fankling can be physical, as in this quotation from Robin Jenkins’ Fergus Lamont (1979):


“She spoiled every game she took part in […] if it was skipping ropes she got them fankled round her neck”;


or this from Jimmy Boyle’s Hero of the Underworld (1999):


“Having given me a rapid introduction to animal innards, he accurately tossed the trespassing hearts or lungs or whatever to their rightful tanks. I, meantime, found myself slithering in a fankle of intestines”. 


Figurative uses include this 1995 example from Chris Dolan’s Poor Angels:


“He’d suggested she go to her Mum’s — where she always went when she got into one of her fankles ...”,


and this rather more philosophical example spoken by a character in Robin Jenkins’ The Thistle and the Grail (1994):


“But human affairs aye get into a fankle.”


As we can see from the Dictionary of the Scots Language ( life in times gone by was beset by fankles and fankling too, with the verb forms appearing before the noun ones. The earliest referred specifically to being caught in a snare.  For example, in 1724 Allan Ramsay  in his  collection of poems Ever Green, tells of:


“Our Ryal Lord [Quha] now is fast heir fanklet in a cord”,


and the following 1788 example cited in the Scots Magazine uses fank in a similar sense:


“And thoch I’m fankit i’ my tether, And darna thole ilk kind o’ weather”.


Fankle can also mean to stumble, as illustrated by this quote from Dr Duguid by John Service (1887):


“Her auld guidman as he cam warplin’ an’ fanklin’ owre the muirs”.  


You may well say “Nae wunner ma mind’s in a fankle” (from the Bellshill Speaker, 1923).


Scots Word of the Week is written by Ann Ferguson of Scottish Language Dictionaries, 25 Buccleuch Place, Edinburgh EH8 9LN (0131) 650 4149 For £20 you can sponsor a Scots word. 

First published 27th February 2017.