“Pawky”

This blog has been around eleven years, so I missed my chance to choose a Person of the Decade, but if I did it would be New York Times book critic Dwight Garner. He has been featured eight times, most recently here; put his name in the search field at right to see the rest. His ninth appearance comes via Nancy Friedman, who reports this sentence in his review yesterday of a collection of speeches and essays by Margaret Atwood: “there is some smart material and pawky wit in Burning Questions, even if they huddle, trembling, like ferns behind a waterfall.” (Besides NOOBs, Garner is a dab hand at similes.)

I confess I was unfamiliar with “pawky.” The OED says it originated in Scotland, Ireland and the North of England, and provides as definition an impressive list of adjectives: “Artful, sly, shrewd; arch, roguish; jaunty. Now usually: having or showing a sardonic sense of humour; wry, quirky, subtle.” There’s also a secondary definition: “Haughty, proud; insolent, impertinent.”

There seems to have been yet another meaning for the word — either taciturnity or cheapness, judging by the context clues in this item the Times picked up from the London Globe and printed in 1904:

Ngram Viewer shows the word reaching its peak in Britain in about 1895 and declining steadily since then; at this point, it presumably comes off as archaic. And it never really caught on in America. Indeed, the Times is a font of NOOBs, but its most recent use before Garner’s came in a 2012 review of a memoir by British author Candia McWilliam:

“American readers of What to Look For in Winter may experience the uncomfortable feeling of having been forced to swallow a dictionary of Scottish and British colloquialisms — ‘shoogling,’ ‘bodging,’ ‘couthie,’ ‘pawky,’ ‘kenspeckle.’”

All right, consider the gauntlet thrown. If Dwight Garner can manage to work “kenspeckle” or “shoogling” into a review, I will dub him the man of the century.

13 thoughts on ““Pawky”

  1. I can testify to the Scottish-ness of “pawky” because my grandparents, both of Scots-Irish descent, used it (but apologetically, as something said by a parent). That puts it into late 19th C .

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. Pawky is so archaic I had to look it up. Don’t thing I’ve ever heard it (and I used to live in the north of England).

    There used to be a shoe shop near my called Shoogle, but it now seems to be a barbers.

  3. I don’t know the word at all, but I’m going to suggest that its core meaning is something close to “behavioral protuberance.” Its various interpretations are all things that might cause a “proper” person to feel socially uncomfortable.

  4. Never heard any of these words. My maternal grandparents were Ulster-Scots so I heard “wee” and “twiced” but never pawky

  5. I have not encountered “pawky” or, with the exception of “bodging”, any of the other words. “Bodging”, more commonly seen in the term “bodge job”, is to carry out a clumsy, crack-handed repair of something.

    1. There is also bodger, a clumsy workman, but I see a bodging was was a type of woodworking.

      There was also a children’s TV series called Bodger and Badger, about handyman Simon Bodger and his talking badger. (Never heard of it until googling bodger just now.)

  6. Any fan of Sherlock Holmes should recognise the word (if not necessarily understand it). It appears at the very beginning of the novel “The Valley of Fear”, in this conversation between Holmes and Watson:

    “You have heard me speak of Professor Moriarty?”
    “The famous scientific criminal, as famous among crooks as — ”
    “My blushes, Watson!” Holmes murmured in a deprecating voice.
    “I was about to say, as he is unknown to the public.”
    “A touch! A distinct touch!” cried Holmes. “You are developing a certain unexpected vein of pawky humour, Watson, against which I must learn to guard myself.”

    1. Well, Conan Doyle was born and raised in Edinburgh to parents of Irish descent, which may explain why he was familiar with such a word.

  7. I’ve come across ‘pawky’ before, probably in print rather than real life. But I didn’t place it as Scottish, though that was no surprise.

    More familiar is ‘bodging’ (more usually to bodge). I soon word-associated to bosh bosh, job done – a completely different meaning from the obsolete main definition of ‘bosh’ (nonsense).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s