Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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HOWK, v., n.1 Also †howck, hou(c)k; hoak, hoke (Wgt., Kcb., Uls.); hock, hok(k) (Sh.); ¶hauk (Ork. 1936 Ork. Agric. Jnl. XI. 15); ¶huck (Gsw. 1793 R. Gray Poems 40); †holk. [Sc. hʌuk; I.Sc. hɔk; Gall. hok]

I. v. 1. To dig, delve the soil (Sc. 1710 T. Ruddiman Gl. to Douglas Aeneis), to make a trench or the like in the earth, to uproot or remove from the ground by digging. Ppl.adj. houket, disinterred, dug up. Gen.Sc. Also fig. and humorously, to howk the nose, to pick the nose (Ags. 1957). Sc. 1725 Ramsay Gentle Shepherd ii. ii.:
At Midnight Hours, o'er the Kirk-yards she raves, And howks unchristen'd We'ans out of their Graves.
Sc. 1743 Scots Mag. (Nov.) 525:
It's a' black aneath the nails wi' houkin o' yird.
Edb. 1773 Fergusson Poems (S.T.S.) II. 141:
The cald, clad grave, Whare Geordie Girdwood, mony a lang-spun day, Houkit for gentlest banes the humblest clay.
Ayr. 1786 Burns Address to Deil ix.:
And in kirk-yards renew their leagues, Owre howcket dead.
Ayr. 1822 Galt Sir A. Wylie ciii.:
To howk out a rotten tooth.
Sc. 1824 Scott St Ronan's W. ii.:
The best land in his aught to be carved, and bigged, and howked up.
Rxb. 1826 A. Scott Poems 37:
At houking ditches, or, in time o' need, At cutting drains he earn'd his daily bread.
Ags. 1860 A. Whamond James Tacket xii.:
He saw me howkin' taties fornent our back shop window.
Wgt. 1877 G. Fraser Sketches 60:
Jamie hoked a hole in the floor.
Sh. 1888 B. R. Anderson Broken Lights 86:
He made a pit, an' hockit deep.
Inv. 1905 J. Fraser Reminisc. 152:
We're busy howkin the tatties, and a good crop they are.
Sc. 1949 Scots Mag. (May) 114:
As I was howkin' in the yaird, A rumblin' 'mang the clods I heard.

2. Fig. in various extended uses: to unearth, bring forth, extricate. Gen.Sc. Edb. 1843 J. Ballantine Gaberlunzie viii.:
He winna be lang o' howkin the auld fiddler out o' his hole.
Lnk. 1881 D. Thomson Musings 173:
When mem'ry houks auld stories up, Our lives begin anew.
m.Sc. 1927 J. Buchan Witch Wood vii.:
There's been mair witches howkit out o' Woodilee and brunt than in ony ither parochine on the Water o' Aller.
Ags. 1932 Barrie Julie Logan 89:
There is naught that houks the spirit from you so much as knowing better.

3. To hew, to excavate coal from a mine, or stone from a quarry. Gen.Sc. Ppl.adj. howking, mining; deriv. ¶howkerie, a quarry. Edb. 1773 Fergusson Poems (S.T.S.) II. 124:
For whin-stanes, howkit frae the craigs, May thole the prancing feet of naigs.
em.Sc. 1842 Children in Mines Report i. 29:
Father houks the coal below.
Lnk. 1865 J. Brown Horae Subs. (1882) 358:
This reading and howking village [Leadhills].
Ags. 1874 J. Maclaren Hist. Dundee 140:
The quarry, which was derisively named the “howkeries,” had to be filled up.
Lnk. 1922 Hamilton Advertiser (2 Sept.):
Here lies an auld collier, Saft seams he could howk.
Sh. 1933 J. Nicolson Hentilagets 12:
Dan mony a while he sits an he hokks, Ta fin oot da kind an da age o da rocks.
Sc. 1951 Scots Mag. (Jan.) 293:
In one of the quarries on the island men still howked slates, and fishermen still go in search of lobsters.

4. To hollow out, to scrape or scoop out the inside of something, as of animals gnawing turnips. Gen.Sc.; to carve, engrave. Rnf. 1870 J. Nicholson Idylls 36:
Big neeps we'll howk for Hallowe'en.
Fif. 1896 G. Setoun R. Urquhart vii.:
We maun a' scart our names on something, an' there's less harmless ways than on dead rocks. Ye've howkit his out, I see.
Sc. 1920 D. Rorie Auld Doctor 27:
Ye can howk i' the kebbuck an' howk again As lang as there's kebbuck to pree.
Abd. 1955 People's Jnl. (3 Dec.):
It [piglet] also fed with them, and learned to “houk a neep.”

5. tr. and intr. To root like a pig, burrow in the earth (Mry. 1825 Jam.). Gen.Sc. Also jocularly of a human being. Abd. 1865 G. Macdonald Alec Forbes xx.:
I jist got a ba' i' the how o' my neck, 'at amaist sent me howkin' wi' my snoot i' the snaw.
Wgt. 1877 G. Fraser Sketches 364:
She [pig] gaed tae the bing o' prawtas, an' hoakit awa' the boards wi' her nose.
Uls. 1898 A. McIlroy Meetin'-Hoose Green xii.:
A large sow which had broken into the green, and was “hoking” amongst the graves.
Rxb. 1927 E. C. Smith Braid Haaick 9:
The sow at's hed the nose o'd rung hes gien owre howkin its puidge.

6. Of the skin: to chap or crack, to become sore and pitted (ne.Sc. 1957). Cf. Hack, v., 4. Abd. 1955 W. P. Milne Eppie Elrick iii.:
We ean aye sclaik on a sclairtie o' saa aifter ye're throwe, an' 'at 'll haad 'em on howkit.

7. Fig.: to investigate, to search through, to carry out research in (Abd. 1925), to penetrate into, to dig into, to poke one's nose into. Gen.Sc. Slk. 1824 Hogg Tales (1874) 522:
What made ye gang howkin in there to be a poor man's ruin?
Ayr. 1887 J. Service Dr Duguid 122:
There was owre muckle of the howking and speering at me on the roadsides.
Fif. 1894 J. W. McLaren Tibbie and Tam Foreword:
In my howkin' amang love screeds, locks o' hair, and lapsed policies o' frien'ly burial societies, I gathered as mony particulars as wad mak' a stirrin' biography.
Sh. 1949 J. Gray Lowrie 71:
Bit nae doot ye'll be hockit a lok ita da Greek da sam as mesell, an' kens aa aboot hit.

8. To loiter or loaf about, to stand around idly, to pass the time in idleness, freq. with on or about (Abd., Kcd., Rxb. 1957). Cf. Hole, v., 5. Vbl.n., ppl.adj. howkin-aboot (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 81). Ib. 80–81:
The drunken swab houcks on in the public-hoose. . . . He's a sweer filsch o' a cheel, or than he wid gang awa, an' wirk, an' nae houck-aboot at haim is he diz.

9. Deriv. howker, one who digs, in various senses: a miner; a grave-digger (Per. 1957); a worker employed at the potato harvest (Ayr. 1870). Gen.Sc. Gsw. 1842 Children in Mines Report ii. 355:
The “howker” or picker is allowed to work out five carts of coals a-day.
Dmb. 1894 D. MacLeod Past Worthies 125:
In and before Shakespeare's time the sextons of “Merrie England” were famous for their witty sayings on grave subjects. Of the past and present race of houkers of graves in auld Scotland the same may be said.
Rxb. 1917 Kelso Chron. (19 Aug.) 2:
He has now a marvellous respect for tattie howkers.
Gsw. 1933 F. Niven Mrs Barry iii.:
Irish people. Perhaps they'd be what were called potato howkers.

II. n. 1. The act of digging or burrowing (Gall. 1825 Jam.; I.Sc. 1957); a hole, excavation; a bite, nibble. Fig. phrs. to be in a howk, to be “in a hole,” in a rut, in difficulties (Fif. 1957); to gie a ploo mair howk, to set the sock so as to cut deeper into the furrow (Ags., Kcb. 1957). Kcb. 1789 D. Davidson Seasons 62:
His faithfu' dog, . . . list'ning to the chirp O' wand'ring mouse, or moudy's carkin hoke.
Kcb. 1815 J. Gerrond Works 212:
Not greedier grumphy steals a hoke At Clennochan's potato.
Fif. 1916 G. Blaik Rustic Rhymes 122:
Puir folk ne'er get oot o' the howk, An' mony seem themsel's to gowk.
wm.Sc. 1928 J. Corrie Last Day 10:
We'll never be onything else but in a howk.

2. A habitual resort for lazy, idle people, a lazy, idle gathering; a continued stay in one place in idleness (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 80); a dull inactive place. Cf. v., 8. and Hole, n., 5. Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 80:
He keeps a sad houck at the still (distillery).
Per. 1949 N. B. Morrison Winnowing Years ii. i.:
The howk of the village, Nicholas! To live in it just as though we were village folk.

III. Combs.: 1. howk-back, a bent or hump back (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 81; Ags. 1957). Hence howk-backit, having a bent back, hunchbacked (Gregor); 2. howk-chowk, v., “to make a noise as if poking in deep mud”; howk-chowkan, vbl.n., the noise thus made (Ib.).

[O.Sc. holk, v., to dig, etc., from c.1500, n.Mid.Eng. holk, id., 13.., M.L.Ger. holken, to make hollow. See P.L.D. § 78.]

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"Howk v., n.1". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 1 Jun 2020 <>



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