Peelie-wersh & Fankle

Peelie-wersh & Fankle – they could be a crime fighting duo, the name of a shop of some kind, or even the name of a band, but are in fact a couple of Scots expressions I came across recently in one of Alexander McCall-Smith’s books. He sprinkles such words in his novels based in Scotland and often doesn’t explain their meaning, saying that it’s obvious. Maybe to someone more familar with Scots, but not always to me. If you didn’t know, what would you think these words meant?

Peelie-wersh [‘pilɪwɛrʃ] means ‘sickly, delicate in constitution, colourless, insipid, nondescript. An example of use: “A peely-wersh young man in braw clothes a wee thing the waur for wear.” from Free Fishers by J. Buchan.

Peelie means ‘thin, emaciated, stunted’, and also appears in the expression, peelie-wally, which means ‘sickly, feeble, pallid, wan, thin and ill-looking; dull, insipid, colourless; a tall, thin, ill-looking person.

Wersh, which is also written wars(c)h(e), wairsche, warish or werch, means sickly, feeble (person); tasteless, insipid (food & drink); dull, uninteresting; lacking vigour, character or passion.

Fankle [faŋkl/faŋl] means to catch in a snare, to trap; to captivate; to tangle, ravel, mix up; to become ravelled or tangled, to catch (on); to move the feet (or hands) uncertainly; to stumble, to fumble. An example of use: “They fankle me try hoo I will, These twa wee bonnie flooers.”

Related words include:

– fankled, fanglet = confused, tangled, uncertain
– fanklin = stumbling, faltering

Sources: Dictionary of the Scots Language and Online Scots Dictionary

This entry was posted in English, Language, Scots, Words and phrases.

2 Responses to Peelie-wersh & Fankle

  1. Ned says:

    i wonder if this is the same as ‘fangle’ as in ‘newfangled’.

  2. Simon says:

    Fankle might well be related to fangle, as in newfangled, but the OED doesn’t give a definite etymology.

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