I was reading Lauren Beukes’ NYT review (archived) of Jenni Fagan’s novel Luckenbooth, and of course I was struck by the title — it turns out a luckenbooth is “a booth or shop in a market which can be locked up, common in medieval Sc. towns, and specif. in hist. usage of a row of such shops in the High Street of Edinburgh to the north of St Giles Kirk, demolished in 1817” (SND) and the etymology is:

[O.Sc. lukkin, locked, from 1438, webbed, c.1470, lwkyn bothys, 1456, Mid.Eng. loken, O.E. (ge-)locen, pa.p. of lūcan, to lock, which survived in Eng. as louk till the 15th c. and in Sc. till the 17th.]

You can read about the Luckenbooths of Edinburgh at Wikipedia, with images and lively quotes (Walter Scott: “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”). But there were other interesting things in the review, like a reference to the “Brallachan — a brilliant shapeless creature of the night,” which is an error for brollachan (“The Anachan and Brollachan/ They love the Mussel-ebb”), presumably derived from Gaelic brollach ‘a mess’; see the Second Wiki article for details on this “dreaded demonic being in the Scottish highlands.” And this paragraph particularly grabbed me:

Like a magpie, Fagan picks the shiniest details from history that will have you Googling between chapters: a polar bear called Baska Murmanska that paraded with the Polish regiment just after World War I, Britain’s Witchcraft Act, the infamous International Writers’ Conference of 1962, a real-life ’70s gang who dressed in masks à la “A Clockwork Orange,” the notorious madam Dora Noyce.

The linked “edited history” of the International Writers Conference is long and worthy, but can make the eyes glaze over; as a supplement I recommend Stuart Kelly’s much perkier piece for the Guardian:

Writing to the philosopher Hannah Arendt, the novelist Mary McCarthy described it memorably. “People jumping up to confess they were homosexuals or heterosexuals … an Englishwoman describing her communications with her dead daughter, a Dutch homosexual, former male nurse, now a Catholic convert, seeking someone to baptise him.”

McCarthy also mentioned the conference’s most notorious contretemps, one which has resonances and ramifications to this day for Scottish letters, not all of them wholly positive. The second day, given over to the state of Scottish literature, had featured “a registered heroin addict [Alex Trocchi] leading the Scottish opposition to the literary tyranny of the communist Hugh MacDiarmid”. This was the notorious spat where Trocchi claimed all his writing was inspired by sodomy and MacDiarmid called him cosmopolitan scum.

I’m sorry I missed it!


  1. Jen in Edinburgh says

    I feel like I was supposed to read Trocchi’s Young Adam, but I don’t think I ever actually did. I didn’t remember his name.

    I do like ‘cosmopolitan scum’

  2. J.W. Brewer says

    What are thought to be the non-positive ongoing resonances and ramifications of the contretemps in question? Surely the overthrow of Communist tyranny by anyone, including without limitation junkies and sodomites (if that was a word still used in 1962?), ought to be viewed as a move in the right direction by all persons of good will?

  3. PlasticPaddy says

    O, the Clabbydhu, it loves the Trinch,
    The Cruban the quay-neb,
    While the Anachan and Brollachan,
    They love the mussell-ebb.
    The Muirachban the Dorling loves,
    And the Gleshan, and Guildee,
    They love to plouder through the Loch,
    But Flory, I love thee!

    cruban = turtle
    brollachan = (razor shell) clam (Ir breallach)
    clabbydhu = black mussel (northern horse mussel)

    Jen can tell you the rest😊

  4. Trond Engen says

    So both lucken and booth are borrowed from Scandinavian, and the former is even conjugated (West) norsely, but the compound doesn’t seem to exist in the source language. If so, this could be a Norse compound made by Anglo-Saxon speakers in Britain, and that’s sociolinguistically interesting.

  5. The linked “Second Wiki” article appears to be machine-translated from the German Wikipedia article Brollachan. Generally, Second Wiki looks to be a machine-generated ad-farming site scraped from Wikipedia, though making slightly more pretense of originality than some such sites by collecting content from multiple languages.

  6. Huh, weird. Thanks for that — I wondered what was going on there.

  7. The Guardian article is entertaining. I particularly liked this short paragraph:

    Lawrence Durrell praised the linguistics department in Edinburgh University for creating “a computer that can already write sonnets and will be writing novels by Christmas”.

    I can only assume that this computer was dismantled and thrown into the abyss by the Big Novelists Consortium.

  8. On second thoughts, maybe the computer somehow found its way into the possession of Dan Brown.

  9. Jen in Edinburgh says

    I’m not sure either lucken or booth are Norse borrowings rather than cognates, are they?

    ‘Lucken’ is just the same form as ‘bitten’ or ‘trodden’, lingering longer in the north, and although booths for selling things are now usually called stalls, the word is still about.

    I don’t think I’ve ever thought about a connection between Scots ‘booth’ and Gaelic ‘bùth’ before, though – hiding in plain sight…

  10. David Marjanović says

    I’m not sure either lucken or booth are Norse borrowings rather than cognates, are they?

    The whole family of lock, both noun and verb, is conspicuously absent from German.

    Booth, however, is in (originally Low) German as Bude “shabby shack, a few wooden boards put together, dysphemistically one’s own dwelling or any other”.

  11. Etymonline gives cognates in Old Frisian, Dutch, Gothic and Old High German, as well as an Old Saxon verb, and offers German “loch” – opening, hole. I’m not an expert, but David, are you saying that’s wrong?

    I thought lock, stock and barrel meant selling the whole shop, including the lock that shuttered it. Etymonline says that it derives from the parts of a firearm. There was a movie – Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. I always thought that was a joking usage, but apparently it’s direct.

  12. David Eddyshaw says

    Welsh has bwth “booth, cottage” (usually bwthyn), though it seems to be, boringly, just borrowed from English, rather than Irish or Norse. Attested from as early as 1400 according to GPC, though.

  13. PlasticPaddy says

    @Jen, de
    here are some etyma (Irish, then Gaelic equivalent)
    roth = roth ex pC *rōto-
    both =(?) bùth ex pC *butā
    ? = mùth (borrowed from Latin?)
    OIr cud/cuth = cuth (borrowing from Latin caput)
    scoth = sgath
    mothaigh = mothaich
    OIr moth = moth ex pC *muto

    From this sample I would tend to say bùth is indeed a borrowing from Norse and not a Gaelic cognate, but maybe you meant it was a Northumbrian cognate.

  14. Lithuanian has viešbutis ‘hotel’ and bendrabutis ‘dormitory’, where the -butis part seems to be native, while the Ukranian будинок is a loan.

  15. I wonder how lock and lakatos are related, if at all.

  16. By “The whole family of lock, both noun and verb, is conspicuously absent from German” David M may have meant specifically Modern German, and he may have missed das Loch ‘hole, pit’ because of the different semantic development. As explained in the OED entry for lock, n.2 (revised 2015):

    The Germanic noun base is derived from a verbal base with the likely meaning ‘to close, lock, fasten’ (see louk v.1), and appears to have denoted both the device or mechanism for closing and the space enclosed (compare branches I. and II.), as reflected by the variety of senses in the surviving languages, several of which developed more specific secondary senses, e.g. ‘hole, opening’.

    A lock on a canal, or an air lock, is the most prominent use of the “space enclosed” sense in English.

    The cognates don’t have the ‘fastening device’ sense in the other modern West Germanic languages, but there are some with other senses. Etymonline is right about Dutch luik ‘hatch, shutter’, and Wiktionary says there are others: German Luke ‘hatch (as in door)’ (via Low German) and Lücke ‘gap’; Low German Lock ‘hole’; other German dialect words.

    Trond, Jen: by “OSc.” the DSL abbreviation means “Older Scots”, not “Scandinavian”; if they meant “Scandinavian” they’d say “Scand.” The obsolete verb louk ‘to enclose, cover, contain’ was originally general English, as quoted in the original post: “which survived in Eng. as louk till the 15th c. and in Sc. till the 17th.”

    All the dictionaries say that booth was in Middle English, which got it from Norse; the DSL says the Scots buth, buith, etc. is derived both from Middle English and also from Scandinavian.

  17. What does this mean?
    >O.E. (ge-)locen, pa.p. of lūcan, to lock, which survived in Eng. as louk till the 15th c. and in Sc. till the 17th.]

    … that “Louk” survived in English as a distinct word from lock, meaning lock? If that’s what it means, I must be an etymon-lumper, because I’d just call them the same word.

  18. David Eddyshaw says

    I wonder how lock and lakatos are related, if at all

    If Wiktionary is to be believed, lakat “padlock” is from Italian, which got it from French, which got it from “a Germanic language.”
    (I can’t see why Italian couldn’t have got it from a Germanic language, myself.)

  19. Louk vs. lock: same origin in Proto-Germanic, but distinct pronunciations for different parts of speech makes them different words, much like blood and bleed.

    The DSL etymology is being very concise in glossing the verb louk as ‘to lock’; actually it had a broader range of meanings, as you can see in the various definitions of lucken and in their full entry for louk (verb) ‘to close; draw together; enclose, surround, etc.’, or in the OED’s definitions, as quoted above.

    The modern verb lock ‘to fasten with a lock’ is derived from the noun, first appearing c1300, and is (or originally was) more specific in meaning than the older verb louk, and spelled and pronounced differently.

  20. David Marjanović says

    Ha! Brain fart due to Germanic vowel shenanigans.

    Luke f. should be root-cognate with Loch n., but both have a short *k, like OE lūcan, and can be related to the family with long *kk only more distantly.

    Lücke is probably not in the latter, because it could easily be from Proto-Germanic *lukja- through West Germanic consonant lengthening. The same *j would have later caused the observed umlaut.

    But lock has to have had a Proto-Germanic *kk as far as I understand. Rather than being descended from lūcan, it should be its iterative/durative, where a Pre-Germanic *luKnó- (with any of the nine velar plosives in the middle) would have regularly given *lukka-.

    That way it could actually be related to the lock of hair, which is repeatedly curled/twisted/turned like a key in a lock… I should look (!) this up.

  21. Good luck!

  22. The complete version of the poem cited by PlasticPaddy can be found (with an explanation) at Studies in Lowland Scots (1909) by James Colville: Field Philology, plus a whole lot more.

    I’m suspicious about the Brollachan being some kind of demonic being. The only references to that I could find were modern ones that seem to be related to D&D or some other kind of game. The one exception was to a book by Alan Garner, but I don’t have that book to follow up. Otherwise, in both Scots and ScG, you get meanings related to either a tangled mess, or a clumsy lumpish person.

    I’d like to see something in a more standard sort of folklore collection.

    Some of the on-line discussions seem to be mixed up with the each-uisge (water-horse), which is a real tradition, which makes me think that those pages may have been produced by scraping other pages.

  23. David Marjanović says

    Good luck!

    Ah, the twists of fate…

  24. @maidhc: This brollachan folktale purports to have been collected in the mid-nineteenth century.

  25. Brett: That does seem to be a real folktale, although short and not very informative. I’ll have to keep my eye out for more.,

  26. Trond Engen says

    Yes, sorry, I misread the dictionary entry. I think because of the double k in lukkin.

    My first observation was rather the phonetic similarity of Scottish and Norse, and only on second reading did I catch the borrowing which wasn’t.

    There’s a similarity between the forms here and those of fyke ~ fokk in the other thread.

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