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Scots word

pliskie n. a prank or trick

An enquiry from a museum interested in making a display about Scots words which meant playfulness led me to consider a range of interesting words in this semantic field. Some words covered innocent fun and others were definitely mischievous, even unkind. Pliskie was one I explored further and it certainly had a darker tone. It can be a noun used to denote a malicious trick, often with bad consequences. A quotation from Burns' The Author's Earnest Cry and Prayer xvii (1786) laments the effect of a pliskie on Scotland. Scotland is the 'she' in this section:

"This while she's been in crankous mood
Her lost Militia fir'd her bluid;
(Deil na they never mair do guid, Play'd her that pliskie.)"

It is also used in this way in James Hogg's Tales (1874):

"I would play him sic a plisky as he shouldna forget till his dying day."

The ie may indicate a diminutive, added on to plisk which is Middle Scots and is quite a rare form. Pliskie is also present in the Northern English dialect. It is related to the word plisket, a variant of which, placket, is used by John Galt.

The Dictionary of the Scots Language shows that it can have a gloomier meaning. Plisky is used to mean a predicament or a woeful state as illustrated in the quotation from W. Liddle Poems (1821):

"Was it ale or whisky That d...d ye into sic a plisky?"

My exploration about tricks and playfulness seemed to be going in a totally different direction from the idea of playfulness with more than a hint of trouble and rowing associated with pliskie as is indicated in the quotation from H. Johnson's Martha Spreull (1884):

"Ae day there was a terrible pliskie atween them."

The harm done by pliskies also includes a hint of deception in some instances. The Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual for 1883 illustrates this:

"Atweel, guidwife and I played ye plisk when I set aff the day."

Another area of meaning which might appeal to anyone involved in writing and the world of the imagination, is pliskies meaning fanciful ideas. Extravagant notions and wild ideas are referred to in William Shelley's Flowers by the Wayside (1868):

"She took some pliskie in her head,
And cowed me wi' a clarty slight."

Old Habkin, who scatters pennies at his daughter's wedding, is described as pliskie and the pennies he scattered were hot, in Service's Dr. Duguid (1887):

"Auld Habkin o' the Pethfit, who was a pliskie body, scartled a wheen scadded pennies on the street at his dochter's waddin'."

The word cropped up recently when I was visiting some primary children. It was a word that appealed to them. They had heard it well used in The Eejits (2006), which is a translation of Roald Dahl's book The Twits (1980). The translation into Scots is by Matthew Fitt and the book is published by Itchy Coo. The horrible tricks which Mr and Mrs Twit play on each other are particularly vicious. The children I met loved the sound of the word and probably the mischief contained in it too!

Be sure to visit the online Dictionary of the Scots Language for more information on pliskie and any other Scots words used in this article.