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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1956 (SND Vol. IV).
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

FICKLE, adj.1, v., n. Also fichle, fichil, feckle. Sc. forms and usages of Eng. fickle.

I. adj. 1. Difficult, tricky (Ork., ‡Abd., Per., m.Lth., Rnf. 1950).Edb. 1812 P. Forbes Poems 150:
Some says I ha'e a fickle job, Baith troublesome an' fashious.
Ork. 1880 Dennison Sketch-Bk. 100:
Hid's no' the lad wha's tong' can creuk Roond fickle words o' an auld beuk.
Bwk. 1897 R. M. Calder Poems 255:
There's mony a bairn been urged to strive When fickle tasks were grievin'.

2. Of places, footholds, etc.: treacherous, insecure, unsteady.Lth. 1883 M. Oliphant Ladies Lindores II. xvi.:
It's a fickle corner in the dark. . . . A wrong step. . . .
Per. 1900 E.D.D.:
That is an unco fickle scaffold. Ye've fickle grun' to gang on.

II. v. 1. To puzzle, perplex (Lth. 1808 Jam.; Inv., Fif., Lth., Peb., s.Sc. 1951); to “stump.”Fif. 1812 W. Ranken Poems 117:
She's working now as weel's she dow, To clean her rhymes o' pob an' tow, Tho' sair it does her fickle.
Sc. 1818 Scott H. Midlothian xviii.:
“Sir,” replied the controversialist, “You cannot fickle me sae easily as you do opine.”
s.Sc. 1847 H. S. Riddell Poems 11:
Yet fickled as we thus are here, Our fate might been a waur ane.
Lth. 1856 M. Oliphant Lilliesleaf xxviii.:
It fickled Rhoda as sore as her German book, if she had put it into my hands, would have fickled me.
Sc. 1934 J. Buchan Free Fishers xvi.:
Eben will come by sea, the wind and tide bein' what they are — ye'll no fickle Bob wi' wind and tide.

Hence fickler, a puzzle, a baffling problem, a tricky task or question (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; m.Lth.1, Rxb.5 1950).

2. “To outdo (another) by a dare” (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.).Sc. 1825 Aberdeen Censor I. 155:
The Laird was like to burst wi' rage at being fickled by sic a hag-ma-hush carle.

III. n. 1. A puzzle (Rxb. 1942 Zai), a riddle; a dilemma (Bwk. 1942 Wettstein); perplexity.Fif. 1864 W. D. Latto T. Bodkin i.:
At what precise period o' the Christian Dispensation . . . the Bodkins first obtained a settlement in Buttonhole, is a fickle that has perplexed my noddle.
Fif. 1897 “S. Tytler” Lady Jean's Son xv.:
They retired to the kitchen to try Eppie Caw and auld Nick with “fickles.”
Sc.(E) 1913 H. P. Cameron Imit. Christ iii. xxvii.:
Ye'se nevir be i' lown nar lowse frae feckle.

2. A challenge to a difficult feat, a dare (Fif. 1909 Colville 128, fichil; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.). In pl., a game of such feats (Rxb. 1923 Ib.).

IV. Combs.: 1. fickle H's, noughts and crosses (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.); †2.fickle-pins, “a game in which a number of rings are taken off a double wire united at both ends” (Per., Knr. 1825 Jam.; Fif. 1890 A. Burgess Poute 65, fichil-).

[Found once in Mid.Eng., 1398, in sense I. 2. The other meanings are prob. developments under the influence of difficult, which was formerly accented on the second syllable (see Defeeckwalt) and phs. also of Fyke.]

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"Fickle adj.1, v., n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 21 Jul 2024 <>



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