Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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GOWK, n.1, v.1 Also gouk, gock, goak; gok(k) (I.Sc.), guk, gook (Sh.), †gouke, †gowck, †gouck; †gawk, †gauk; go(w)g. [Sc. gʌuk, but I.Sc. gɔk, Sh., ne.Sc., wm.Sc., Uls. + go:k]

I. n. 1. The cuckoo, Cuculus canorus (Sc. 1782 J. Sinclair Ob. Sc. Dial. 197, gawk; Slg. 1808 Jam., gock; Abd. 1824 G. Smith Douglas 33, gouck; Uls. 1880 Patterson Gl., goak; Per. 1915, Ayr. 1923 Wilson; ‡Arg.1 1931; Mry., em.Sc. (a), Peb., Lnk., Gall., Dmf., Slk., Uls. 1955). Also in Eng. (mainly n.) dial. Sometimes used for the snipe, Capella gallinago (I.Sc. 1879 Folk-Lore Rec. II. 77; Sc. 1915 S. Gordon Hill Birds Scot. 162), a contr. form of horse-go(c)k, id., see Horse, n., 1. Also fig.: “one who harps too long on one subject” (Sc. 1776 D. Herd Sc. Songs II., Gl.). Sc. 1721  J. Kelly Proverbs 362:
You breed of the Gouke, you have ay but one Song. Spoken to them that always insist upon one thing.
Sc. 1768  Letters Mrs Rutherford (1900) 74:
Your house is taken, and we expect you in April, the gowk season.
Ayr. 1786  Burns Letters (Ferguson) No. 23:
I hope, sometime before we hear the gowk, to have the pleasure of seeing you at Kilmarnock.
Kcb. 1789  D. Davidson Seasons 43:
The gouk, returned frae his foreign nest, Haps, silent wi' his mate, frae tree to tree.
Edb. 1791  J. Learmont Poems 112:
The gouk's serenading the grove.
Ork. 1805  G. Barry Hist. of Ork. 311:
The Cuckoo . . . or gouk of this place, is found, though but rarely, in the retired and romantic hills of Hoy and Waes.
Fif. 1825  Old Rhyme in Jam.2:
On the ninth of Averil, The gowk comes o'er the hill.
Slk. a.1835  Hogg Tales (1874) 283:
I'm no sae simple a bird as to big my nest with the gowk.
Dmb. 1846  W. Cross Disruption xxxviii.:
The tittling it follows the laigh-fleein' gowk.
Ags. 1932  A. Gray Arrows 82:
And aye the gowk's owercome was heard: Cuckoo, Cuckoo, Cuckoo, Cuckoo, Cuckoo.

2. A fool, simpleton, dolt, lout (Sc. 1858 Sc. Haggis 60, gowg; ne.Sc. 1874 W. Gregor Olden Time 39, gowck; Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928), gok). Gen.Sc. Also attrib. Dims. gowkie (Rnf. 1835 D. Webster Rhymes 60), goukie; gockie (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff., Bnff. 1945). An ungainly person (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.). Also used = April fool (Ib.; Ork. 1929 Marw., gokk), gen. in phr. an April gowk (Arg.1 1929; Ags., Fif., m.Lth. 1955). Common in Eng. dial. Sc. 1725  Ramsay Gentle Shep. v. i.:
What ails thee, Gowk! — to make sae loud ado?
Abd. 1768  A. Ross Helenore 96:
Indeed we've seen the warld leave wealthy fouks, But they butt part that marry, are but gouks.
Edb. 1773  R. Fergusson Poems (1925) 88:
Daft gowk, in Macaroni dress, Are ye come here to shew your face.
Ayr. 1795  Burns Heron's Election 1. iv.:
And even a Lord may be a gowk, Wi' ribban, star, and a' that?
Per. 1816  J. Duff Poems 80:
Puir glaiket goukie, wi' yere duds o' braws, Thou'rt gude for naething but to fleig the craws.
Slk. 1820  Hogg Winter Ev. Tales II. 234:
“What's ta'en the gowk lassie the day?” said she; “I think she be gane fey.”
Sc. 1822  Scott F. Nigel xxxv.:
They make April gouks of you Cockneys every month in the year.
Sc. 1832  A. Henderson Proverbs 157:
The first day of April, send the gowk anither mile.
Kcb. 1894  Crockett Raiders i.:
Haud her nose doon, ye gowk!
m.Sc. 1917  J. Buchan Poems 29:
A bawbee buys a walth o' prent, And every gowk's in Paurliament.
Rxb. 1925  Kelso Chron. (3 April) 4:
The Gowks were occasionally sent on queer, daft-like, wonderful errands, that awoke boisterous laughter in the hearts of the perpetrators of the joke.
Abd. 1931  D. Campbell Uncle Andie 21:
Fat div ye tak' me for? — an Awprile gowk in the heicht o' simmer?

Hence gowkie, adj., stupid, loutish (m.Lth.1 1955). Dmb. a.1853  in D. Macleod Poets Lennox (1889) 273:
Let gowkie Fashion's glaikit slaves To gaudy, flauntin' cities run.
Cai. 1869  M. Maclennan Peasant Life 267:
A good-looking country laddie, but gowky withal, and soft of head and heart.
Gall. 1955  Gall. Gazette (19 Nov.) 2:
A big, turnip-faced gowkie lookin' chap.

3. A joke, a leg-pull, a trick, esp. an April joke (Ork. 1929 Marw.; m.Lth.1 1955). Lnk. 1920  G. A. H. Douglas Further Adventures Rab Hewison 109:
Gouks we played on yin an' a'.
Ork. 1929  Marw.:
Dunno thoo believe him; it's just a gokk.

4. Phrs.: (1) (the) gowk and (the) titlin(g), lit. the cuckoo and the meadow-pipit which follows it in its flights, hence applied to two inseparable companions or to an incongruous pair, esp. a tall and short person seen together (‡Abd., Per., Fif. 1955); also used attrib.; †(2) to build a gowk's nest, to make something wonderful but absurd, to produce a “mare's nest”; (3) to gie (someone) the gowk, to befool, to jilt (someone) (Lnk. 1955); (4) to hunt (th)e gowk, to go on a fool's errand, to be made a(n April) fool of (Lnl. 1718 News from Bathgate 8; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; em. and s.Sc. 1955), also to gang (on a) hunt-the (a) -gowk, id. (Rxb.5 1955). Hence huntegowk, n. = the game of April fool, a fool's errand, esp. one on April Fool's Day (Sc. 1825 Jam.; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B., rare; ‡Clc., Fif., em.Sc. (b), wm.Sc., Dmf. 1955), also attrib.; April Fools' Day (Ayr, c.1900, huntigog; ‡Clc., Fif., Gall., Dmf. 1955); an April fool, a person sent on a fool's errand (Uls. 1880 Patterson Gl., huntagowk; Ork.1 1914, hint-e-; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B., hundie-; Ork., m. and s.Sc. 1955); †(5) to see the gowk in one's sleep, “to imagine a thing without any solid foundation; to be given to vagaries” (Fif. 1825 Jam.); also used in proverbial phr. to indicate a change of mind (see quot.). (1) Rxb. 1801  Leyden Complaynt Scot. 377:
As grit as the gouk and the titlene.
Ayr. 1822  Galt Sir A. Wylie iv.:
Charles . . . was sent to the master's school, where he and Andrew soon became inseparable . . . the gouk and the titling . . . (as the two boys were called).
Dmf. 1836  A. Cunningham Lord Roldan I. vii.:
The tane is lang, black aviced, a tinker-like slough of a fallow; and the tither is wee ferret-eed and fiery — a gowk and titlin sort of pair.
Abd. 1851  W. Anderson Rhymes 206:
They never were single, an' when they gaed out, Like the gowk an' the titlin' they travelled about.
(2) s.Sc. c.1770  Scots Mag. (Sept. 1817) 105:
I just think ye hae thrawn away twa bonny estates, and built a gowk's nest. [Of an impoverished Scotch laird who had erected an over-elaborate and expensive mansion-house.]
(3) Sc. 1808  J. Finlay Ballads II. 66:
Ye hae gi'en me the gowk, Annet, But I'll gie you the scorn.
(4) Sc. 1728  Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) II. 52:
Has Jove then sent me amang thir Fowk, Cry'd Hermes, here to hunt the Gowk?
Sc. 1777  J. Brand Pop. Antiquities (1849) I. 139:
On the first day of April Hunt the Gowk another mile.
Sc. 1815  Scott Guy M. xlv.:
It would look unco-like, I thought, just to be sent out on a hunt-the-gowk errand wi' a land-louper like that.
Slg. 1862  D. Taylor Poems 17:
To gie sae mony “hunt the gock” Afore the time.
Ayr. 1887  J. Service Dr Duguid 150:
He . . . shouts “Hunt 'e gowk!” i' their lug.
Sc. 1889  Jokes (1st Series) 99:
I never got sic a huntiegouke in a' my days. [The speaker had been invited to a funeral but found it had already taken place.]
Fif. 1894  J. W. M'Laren Tibbie & Tam 60:
A wheen o' the news-laddies . . . began shoutin' “Hint-a-gowk! hint-a-gowk! hint-a-gowk, April!”
Edb. 1894  P. H. Hunter J. Inwick xv.:
We had seen ower mony o' their dodges in oor time, to let the Tories mak a hunt-'e-gowk o' us noo.
Rxb. 1925  Kelso Chron. (3 April) 4:
In the days of our grandfathers, the first of April brought with it Hunt-the-Gowk, when merry pranks were played on facile victims by oldsters and youngsters.
Lth. 1928  S. A. Robertson Double Tongue 57:
Till jist aboot the Hunt-the-Gowk a letter brought the news O' Archie's death.
Ork. 1931  Orcadian (7 May):
Orrapow . . . gaed 'im a bit o' da rouch side o' 'is tongue an' telt 'im 'e wadna be made a hintygock bae siccan a rugfis whalp.
Fif. 1932  M. Bell Pickles & Ploys 133:
Noah kennin' fine that the Lord wouldna gi'e him a hunty-gowk.
ne.Sc. 1934  Sc. N. & Q. (Nov.) 173:
Futtle-th-Pin gyangs hunt-a-gowk, An' Sweertie e'es th' win, Th' sleepy Laird o' Never-deen Fa's trachlin far ahin.
(5) Fif. 1825  Jam.:
Ye'll see the Gowk in your sleep, “You will, on second thoughts, repent of that which you now do, or resolve to do; when you awake in the morning, you will see matters in a different light.”

5. Combs. (esp. with gowk's): (1) gowk aits, oats sown after the arrival of the cuckoo (Bwk. 1879 Folk-Lore Rec. II. 58; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B., -yits; Abd., Rxb. 1955), specif. after the 1st May (Bnff.2, Abd.28 1945); also in Nhb. dial.; †(2) gowkbear, the golden maidenhair or haircap moss, Polytrichum commune (Ayr. 1811 W. Aiton Agric. Ayr. 35); (3) gowk's cheese, ? the wood sorrel, Oxalis acetosella; †(4) gowk's clover, id. (Bwk. 1853 G. Johnston Botany E. Borders 50; Slk. 1955); (5) gowk('s) day, April-fool's day (em.Sc.(a), ‡Rnf. 1955); in pl. the first two (s.Sc. 1866 W. Henderson Folk-Lore 71) or three (Ork. 1929 Marw., Ork.5 1955) days of April; (6) gowk('s) errand, a fool's errand (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Fif. 1844 J. Jack St Monance 115, gouk-; Uls. 1901 J. W. Byers Lecture IV. in North. Whig; Ork., ne., em. and wm.Sc., Wgt., s.Sc. 1955); also in n.Eng. dial.; †(7) gock's gilliflower, the bitter cress, Cardamine amara (Rnf. 1837 Crawfurd MSS. XI. 64); †(8) gowk-horn, ? a head-dress in the shape of a horn or having a horn-shaped ornament; †(9) gowk's-hose, a name given to various plants with bell-shaped flowers, esp. to flowers of the Campanula family, e.g. the great bell-flower, C. latifolia (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Slg. Ib., gock's), and the wild or wood hyacinth, Scilla nonscripta (Dmb. 1825 Jam.); †(10) gowk's meat, = (3) (Sc. 1777 J. Lightfoot Flora Scotica I. 238, gouke-; Bwk. 1853 G. Johnston Botany E. Borders 50; ‡Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.); also in Nhb. dial.; cf. cuckoo-meat, id., s.v. Cuckoo; †(11) gock-o(-a)-hoy, adj., “silly and childish in speech and behaviour” (Sc. 1911 S.D.D. Add., -a-); also used substantivally = a ‘softie' (Abd.4 1930); (12) gowk seed, seed sown in May (Bch. c.1930; Rxb. 1955); cf. (1) above; †(13) gowk's shillins, the yellow rattle, Rhinanthus crista-galli (Lnk. 1825 Jam.), so called because of the jingling sound made by the ripe seeds in the capsules; †(14) gowk-shoe, the wood or hedge violet, Viola sylvatica (Edb. 1886 B. & H. 217); cf. Gael. bròg na cubhaige; †(15) gowk's siller, -sixpences, = (13); also in Nhb. dial.; (16) gowk('s)-spit(tle(s)), = Eng. cuckoo-spit (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 239, gowk-spittles; Per. 1879 Sc. Naturalist V. 64; Uls. 1901 J. W. Byers Lecture IV. in North. Whig; Mry., Abd. em.Sc.(a), Wgt., Slk. 1955); also gowk-spit (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B., Rxb. 1955), gowspittle; sometimes used as a derogatory term for a weak person; (17) gowk stane, see quot.; (18) gowk('s) storm, a spring storm of short duration occurring about the middle of April with the arrival of the cuckoo (Sc. 1825 Jam.; ne. and em.Sc.(a), m.Lth., Slk. 1955), or “about the end of April or the beginning of May” (Uls. 1849 W. Thomson Nat. Hist. Birds Ir. I. 357; Uls.2 1929); also fig.; (19) gowk's-thimles, -thumles, the harebell or bluebell, Campanula rotundifolia (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 69, -thimles; Abd. 1955). (1) Bnff. 1930  Bnffsh. Jnl. (22 April) 7:
[This season] there must be a considerable acreage of gouk aits.
Abd. 1951  Huntly Express (2 March):
One of these delayed farmers . . . concludes he will be sowing gouk oats — that is, oats sown in May.
(2) Ayr. 1845  Stat. Acc.2 V. 151:
With gowk-bear, stool bent, white bent, tormentil, and various of the sedge grasses.
(3) Slk. 1892  W. M. Adamson Betty Blether 98:
It maun be a great change frae the doughips, haws, gowk's cheese, sourocks, an' ar'nuts that ye'll hae worried in the land o' yer nativity.
(5) Fif. 1893  “G. Setoun” Barncraig 130:
When he lifted his pack to gang awa', he said he would be back on Gowk's day.
Dmf. 1899  Country Schoolmaster (Wallace) 331:
Do you no ken this is the gowk's day, and that I was sent for to a house where I wasna wanted?
Fif. 1916  G. Blaik Rustic Rhymes 135:
I was gey shure Dauve didna ken That gowk's day had come roond again, Or he'd been tryin' some caper.
(6) Edb. 1823  M. & M. Corbett Petticoat Tales I. 227:
“Somebody,” continued Robin, “sent them on a gowk's errand, to look for smuggled whiskey in my house; but the chiels gaed aff as wise as they came.”
Ayr. 1823  Galt R. Gilhaize I. xv.:
After all it looked like a gowk's errand.
s.Sc. 1838  Wilson's Tales of the Borders V. 10:
Ye hae gien us a gowk's errand.
Fif. 1895  “G. Setoun” Sunshine & Haar iv.:
He has gone on a gowk's errand, I'm doubtin'.
(8) Edb. 1697  Coll. Dying Testimonies (Calderwood 1806) 42:
Such as approach that holy ordinance, in such a light, vain and foolish garb, like gowkhorns, tope-knots, and I know not what to call them.
(10) Sc. 1863  Border Mag. (Sept.) 153:
In Scotland, the people have little taste for salads, and hence the use of this plant is consigned to children, who know it very well as “Gowk's Meat,” or “Cuckoo Sourocks.”
(15) Bwk. 1853  G. Johnston Botany E. Borders 156:
From the shape of the capsules the plant is called Gowk's-sixpences; and as the capsules rattle when in seed, it is also called Gowk's siller, being, like the fool, unable to conceal its wealth.
(16) Dmf. 1820  Blackwood's Mag. (Sept.) 655:
Was there ever such a gowspittle extant!
Gall. 1824  MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 115:
Gowks' spittles, pizion adders, May dew, and fumarts' tears.
Abd. 1832  A. Beattie Poems 223:
I wadna gi'e that gray gouk spit, For a' their art.
Dmf. 1836  A. Cunningham Lord Roldan III. x.:
D'ye mind when we aye called ye gowk-spittle, because providence had put ye sae shabbily together?
Sc. 1842  Wilson Recreations C. North I. 204:
Wood-lice — the slaver of gowk's-spittle — midges . . . infest that Virgin's bower.
Abd. 1897  G. Macdonald Salted with Fire xiii.:
James lay hidden like a certain insect in its own gowk-spittle.
(17) Lnk. 1880  W. Grossart Shotts 110:
Locally called the Gauk Stane — a name sometimes given to standing-stones in the north of Scotland.
(18) Sc. 1829  Scott Tales of a Grandfather (1869) xlix.:
He trusted the present would prove but a gowk storm.
Mry. 1845  Stat. Acc.2 XIII. 29:
This district is subject, in the spring season, to a succession of storms called . . . the borrowing days, the Toochet's storm, the Gouk's storm (the equinoxial), and the gab of May.
Sc. 1879  Folk-Lore II. 52:
In Scotland . . . the advent of the cuckoo calls forth the old season's spite, and the consequence is “a gowk storm.”
Fif. 1930  Times (13 May) 19:
The first [of the three cold snaps of spring or early summer] is the “Gowk's Storm” (from the 11th till the 14th of April), when the cuckoo has just come. This the English call the “Borrowing Days.”
(19) ne.Sc. 1881  W. Gregor Folk-Lore 148:
The bluebell (Campanula rotundifolia) was in parts of Buchan called “the aul' man's bell,” regarded with a sort of dread, and commonly left unpulled. In other parts it was called “gowk's thumles.”

II. v. 1. To befool, deceive (Cld. 1880 Jam.), usually in connection with April fooling (Ork. 1929 Marw.; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.; Ags., m.Lth., Uls. 1955), sometimes with ower. Also intr. †to go about being made an April Fool of; to play the fool (Abd. 1955). Freq. goaker (Bch. 1924 Swatches o' Hamespun 69). Sc. a.1737  A. Fergusson Major Fraser's MS. (1889) I. 193:
The Major told him that he believed the Queen put him a gouking.
Ayr. 1833  J. Kennedy Geordie Chalmers 213:
But tak tent, my frien', an' dinna be gowket a'thegither.
Mry. 1887  W. H. L. Tester Poems 166:
But I got gowket after a' An' tint the train, as people will.
Fif. 1890  A. Burgess Poute 26:
She kaad ye Jok — a laady's nem — and gowkit me.
Ork. 1915  Old-Lore Misc. VIII. i. 40:
A'm telt a hantle mair was gocked ower.
Bch. 1921  Swatches o' Hamespun 8:
As a swatch o' some o' the jobbies they socht him [a half-witted tailor] tae dee, fat wid ye think o' a goakin' chiel speirin' gin he wid tak's mizzer an' mak' a pair o' breeks oot o' aul' buckram leggin's?
Lnk. 1922  T. S. Cairncross Scot at Hame 1:
Dancin' till late at e'en Where spae-wives gowked and chaffed.

Hence †(1) goukerie, a prank, foolery; (2) gowking-day, April-fool's day. (1) Lnl. 1892  R. Stewart Leg. from Lothians 147:
The whole affair is neither more nor less than a bit lassie's silly goukerie.
(2) Sth. 1897  E. W. B. Nicholson Golspie 109:
On the 1st of April people send those who do not remember that that is the gowking-day agowking.

2. To fool around, “to idle about from one house to another” (Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928)); “to wander up and down, knock about” (Sc. 1911 S.D.D.; Bnff.4 1927; Ags. 1955, rare). Per. 1878  R. Ford Hame-spun Lays 109:
Wha' hasna' heard o' auld Tam Broon? He's ever gowkin' up an' doon.
Sh. 1892  G. Stewart Fireside Tales 255:
I wis faered somebody micht be gaen goaken aboot late as it wis.
Sh. 1908  Jak. (1928):
To geng gokin wi' de head i' de air.

3. To give a silly laugh, to snigger. Ags. 1896  Barrie Sentimental Tommy xxi.:
Francie Crabb found Tommy sniggering to himself in the back wynd. “What are you goucking at?” asked Francie, in surprise, for as a rule, Tommy only laughed behind his face.

[O.Sc. has gowk, gouk(e), gok, etc., the cuckoo, from c.1450; a fool, simpleton, from a.1585; gowk(s) storm, from 1584; O.N. gaukr, the cuckoo, Norw. dial. gauk, id., dull, stupid person, gauka, to talk nonsense, to repeat the same thing continually. The section under v. 2. might equally well be placed under Gowk, v.2]

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