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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid





A pimple; a boil; a swelling


Plook was certainly not my favourite word as a teenager, even though mirrors very often brought it to mind, and, as the Herald put it in October 2000,


"If your coupon is trapped in Plook Central, it's time for desperate measures".


Fortunately there are many remedies in the modern age, but if you were struck by the "plook-evil" in medieval Scotland, you might not have fared so well. This word is generally understood to denote a disease characterised by boils or other unctuous protuberances. Some medieval plooks were different, as the word was also used for the protrusion on a vessel that marked the level corresponding to a specific measure. In George Mackenzie's late seventeenth-century Observations on the Acts of Parliament (of Scotland), we find the following account:


"By our custom there is a plouck in every jugg or stoup and the wine is only measured to the mark or plouck but ale and strong waters are measur'd to the top".


Written references to these plooks can be found as late as the March edition of Ideal Home magazine in 1950, which explains that,


"To test whether a Tappit Hen is genuine, put the fingers a little way inside the neck, and there should be a small pimple in the metal called the 'plouk' or 'plouck', which was the full measure mark".


Although later plooks are frequently of the creeshy variety, figurative uses surface from time to time. An article in Noctes Ambrosianae, from an 1827 issue of Blackwood's Magazine, once used the charming figurative expression:


"I fear the plook o' war 'll no come to a head".


In origin, Scots plook it is related to late Middle English plouke "a pustule, a pimple", recorded in a small number of fifteenth-century texts, but apart from this connection its etymology is uncertain. Or in other words, lexicographers don't know where plooks come from. We're an odd bunch.



This Scots word of the week was written by Dr Maggie Scott.

This word of the week is spoken by Dauvit Horsbrough, an academic from Aberdeenshire, now living in Angus.


Originally published 27th August 2007.