Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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SPUNK, n., v. Also sponk, spounk (Cai.); ¶spank, and erron. sprunk. Dim. spunkie. [spʌŋk; Cai. spʌuŋk]

I. n. 1. (1) A spark of fire, a quick flicker of light, a glimmer (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Sh. 1914 Angus Gl.; Fif., Lth., Ayr. 1923–6 Wilson; I., n., em.Sc.(a), wm.Sc. 1971). Sc. 1819  Scott Bride of Lamm. xxvi.:
Not a gleed of fire, except maybe a spunk in Mysie's cutty-pipe.
Sc. 1827  Wilson Noctes Amb. (1855) II. 31:
As an Editor, he is, compared wi' Christopher North — but as a spunk to the Sun!
Dmf. 1836  A. Cunningham Lord Roldan I. viii.:
She's a spunkie to a star.
Sh. 1899  J. Spence Folk-Lore 114:
If spunks were seen adhering to the bottom of the maet kettle when taken off the fire, snow was near if in winter, and cold, windy weather if in summer.
Ork. 1904  Dennison Sketches 20:
As t'ick as de sprunks fae a stithy.
Abd. 1955  W. P. Milne Eppie Elrick vii.:
A saa a bit spunkie o' licht.
Sh. 1957  Sh. Folk-Bk. III. 31:
A peerie spunk 'ill mak a mukkle low.

(2) by extension: a tiny, poor, miserable fire, also in phr. a spunk of fire, id. (s.Sc. 1802 J. Sibbald Chron. Sc. Poetry Gl.; ne.Sc. 1971). Comb. spunk-hole, a fireplace (Abd. 1921). Ayr. 1786  Burns Ordination xiv.:
We'll light a spunk, and ev'ry skin, We'll rin them aff in fusion.
Peb. 1805  J. Nicol Poems I. 48:
I see thee, shiverin, wrinklet, auld, Cour owre a spunk that dies wi' cauld.
Sc. 1815  Scott Guy M. xi.:
Ye may light a spunk o' fire in the red room.
Rxb. 1821  A. Scott Poems 88:
But, by the social cantie hearth, The cottage spunkie bleezing forth.
Sc. 1893  in Child Ballads (1965) V. 213:
The wife gaed hame to her ain hole-house, Lookit in at her ain spunk-hole.
Ags. 1903  Arbroath Guide (14 March):
We sat tryin' to toast oor taes at the wee spunk o' fire glowin in the grate.
Abd. 1955  W. P. Milne Eppie Elrick ii.:
I'se awa an' kittle up a bit spunkie o' a lowe.

(3) fig. the least particle or vestige, gen. of some moral quality (I., n.Sc., Per. 1971). Sc. 1702  R. Wodrow Early Letters (S.H.S.) 193:
Its evident hou useful your desing may be to these that have any spunk of love to Christianity.
Sc. 1724  Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) III. 82:
Ilk Creature . . . That had a Spunk of Sence.
Ayr. 1785  Burns Jolly Beggars Recit. vii.:
O for a spunk o' Allan's glee.
Sc. 1886  Stevenson Kidnapped xviii.:
He has some spunks of decency.
Ags. 1921  V. Jacob Bonnie Joann 17:
No a spunk o' pride in till her.

(4) the spark of life, vital spark, existence. In Sc. criminals' slang: life. Phr. lag for spunk, life imprisonment. Edb. 1773  Fergusson Poems (S.T.S.) II. 114:
Life's Spunk decay'd, nae mair can blaze.
Sc. 1808  Jam.:
We say of a dying person, “He has the spunk of life, and that is all.”
Rnf. 1813  G. MacIndoe Wandering Muse 75:
I'd gar ae single frown ding out thy spunk.
Sc. 1821  D. Haggart Life 61:
Now under sentence of lag for spunk.
Edb. 1839  W. McDowall Poems 119:
E'en frae the time his spunk began, Till it maun close.
Fif. 1864  W. D. Latto T. Bodkin xxxi.:
The blude-thirsty pagans micht come an' put oot my spunk withoot mercy.
ne.Sc. 1884  D. Grant Lays 12:
I maunna say the carlie wrang, He's lost the vital spank.
Kcb. 1890  A. J. Armstrong Musings 144:
I'll gaur them grasp the spunk o' life.

2. (1) Tinder, touchwood, as a means of raising fire from a spark (Sc. 1721 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. Gl.), also in Eng.; later, a sliver of wood dipped in a preparation of sulphur and used for the same purpose (Sc. 1782 J. Sinclair Ob. Sc. Dial. 128; s.Sc. 1802 J. Sibbald Chron. Sc. Poetry Gl.). Hist.; in modern usage, since the mid. 19th-c.: a phosphorous friction match, a lucifer (Per., Fif., Lth., Ayr. 1915–26 Wilson; Bwk. 1942 Wettstein; Rxb. 1942 Zai). Gen.Sc. Also fig. Sc. 1755  S. Johnson Dict.:
Sponk, a word in Edinburgh which denotes a match, or anything dipt in sulphur that takes fire.
Abd. 1794  J. Anderson Peat Moss 30:
The natives where such fir abounds are in the practice of splitting it into chips, somewhat thicker and larger than those used in the towns for sponks, and employing these instead of candles for giving light.
Sc. 1822  Scott Pirate vii.:
A gathering peat on the kitchen fire, and a spunk beside it.
Dmf. 1822  Scots Mag. (Sept.) 308:
When ill Rab Duff and me laid brunstane i' the logie, and were ta'en i' the verra act o' clapping a spunk till't. Ayr. 1830 Galt Lawrie Todd vi. v.: The puff of passion to which he had put the spunk was out.
Ags. 1853  W. Blair Aberbrothock 15:
Maister Bell's discoorses are no that ill to mak spunks for bawky pipes.
Mry. 1872  W. H. Tester Poems 143:
Has sworn to tax the little lowes That emanate frae spunks.
Abd. 1879  G. MacDonald Sir Gibbie xxvii:
The san' paper 'at they hed been lichtin' a thoosan' or twa lucifer spunks upo'.
Per. 1881  D. Kippen Crieff 199:
Spunks were narrow pieces of fir roots about six inches long, with brimstone on the points, which ignited at the sparks in the tinder-box.
wm.Sc. 1886  Trans. Gael. Soc. Inv. XII. 394:
The making of these matches, or “spunks” as they were called, gave occupation in the long evenings to the male part of the family, who split up fine pieces of fir, and dipped the ends into melted brimstone or sulphur, and thus produced a rude lucifer match.
Fif. 1894  D. S. Meldrum Margrédel ix.:
The young lads about Kirkcaldy are like a wheen weet spunks sin' she left.
Lnk. 1910  W. Wingate Poems (1919) 72:
It's never but on Sawbath that the spunks rin dune.
Bnff. 1923  Banffshire Jnl. (29 May):
A bawbee box o' spunks.
Cai. 1961  “Castlegreen” Tatties an' Herreen' 22:
Fan 'e got hom' 'e wife wis tryan' till licht 'e spounks.
Abd. 1967  Huntly Express (3 Feb.) 2:
Can ye gie me a spunk, maister?

(2) A thin slip of wood, a spill used for making spunks as above; a splinter, smithereen, chip, in gen. (Per. 1915 Wilson L. Strathearn 268); fig. something of no value. Adj. spunkie, like a spill. Dmf. 1810  R. Cromek Remains 148:
The deil sat grim amang the reek, Thrang bundling brunstane matches; Ye'll run me out o' wun spunks.
Sc. 1824  Scott Redgauntlet xvii.:
All broken to pieces; fit for nought but to be made spunks of.
Fif. c.1850  W. D. Latto Twa Bulls 26:
Wi' that he leaped among the trunks, An' knocked the luckless box to spunks.
Abd. 1851  W. Anderson Rhymes 72:
To hear a' his stories they never wad tire, As they sat in a burichie roun' his spunk fire.
Mry. 1887  A. G. Wilken Peter Laing 45:
The bull gaed to the han' barrow an' brak it to spunks.
Ags. 1890  Brechin Advert (28 Oct.) 3:
[To] ding baith kist an' whistles a' to spunks.
Edb. 1915  T. W. Paterson Auld Saws 109:
For spites they raise, for wrangs they breed, A spunk they care!
Abd. 1916  G. Abel Wylins 87:
Haill toons are ca'd to spunks.
w.Sc. 1929  R. Crawford Quiet Fields 37:
The burn's hained tune was spunkie thin.

(3) Fig. a hot-tempered irascible person, adj. spunky, fiery in temper, irritable. Also U.S. Also of a lively, spirited person. Sc. 1808  Jam.:
A mere spunk, a lively creature: used of one who has more spirit than bodily strength or appearance of it.
Ayr. 1822  Galt Provost xxvi.:
The spunky nature of Mr. Hirple was certainly very disagreeable often to most of the council.
Ayr. 1834  Galt Stories of Study III. 100:
He was, I maun allow, at times, a spunk of a birkie.
Sh. 1898  Shetland News (28 May):
“If dey iver tüllie — ” “Lord prosper me as dey'll no be lang man an' wife afore dat tak's place — Der baith alaek — spunks!”

(4) Combs.: (i) spunk-backit, having a thin, weak back; fig. weak, irresolute, “spineless”; (ii) spunk-basket, a basket for holding spunks (Sc. 1911 S.D.D.); (iii) spunk-box, a tinder-box, used in an indecent sense in 1721 quot.; a match-box. Gen.Sc.: (iv) spunk-flask, a powder flask carrying the materials for firing a gun; (vi) spunkie-piece, a fowling piece, shotgun, musket (spunkie- is used metri causa for spunk-); (vi) spunk-laddie, a boy match-seller; (vii) spunk-maker, a maker of matches; †(viii) spunk-man, a seller of matches; (ix) spunk-selter, id.; (x) spunk-shanks, thin legs like match-sticks, spindle-legs (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.), hence spunk-shankit, with thin legs (Lth. 1971). Cf. (i); (xi) spunk-splitter, = (vii); †(xii) spunk-wife, a woman who sells matches; (xiii) spunk-wood, match-wood. (i) Per. 1881  R. Ford Readings 79:
A firlot o' meal was nae canny burden for siccan a spunk-backit bodie.
Abd. 1932  D. Campbell Bamboozled 24:
An' like a spunk-backet sheepy-maay ye wad follow their daft example.
(iii) Sc. 1721  Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) I. 23:
Gin he likes to light his Match At your Spunk-box.
Per. 1889  T. Edwards Strathearn Lyrics 35:
When a bool tirled oot o' oor pooch to the flure, It was put in a roond penny spunk-box secure.
Ayr. 1890  J. Service Notandums 90:
He sat on a spunk-box and wailed piteouslie.
Dmf. 1922  P.S.A.S. LVII. 12:
Wooden Spunk-box in the form of a barrel.
Kcd. 1958  Mearns Leader (1 Aug.):
Bus tickets, spunk boxes, an' caramel papers.
(iv) Per. 1835  J. Monteath Dunblane Trad. (1887) 122:
His Spunk-flask at his hurdies hung.
(v)   Ib.:
His mawkins o'er his shouthers strung — His wild-fowl at his shot-bag slung, . . . His spunkie-piece his only rung.
(vi) Fif. 1866  J. D. Morton C. Gray 115:
The wee Spunk Laddie.
(vii) Edb. 1828  D. M. Moir Mansie Wauch xx.:
Hiring beds at twopence a night to spunk-makers.
(viii) Rxb. 1901  R. Murray Hawick Char. 46:
He settled down as a “spunk-man” or, as he preferred to call himself, a wood-merchant.
(ix) Edb. 1872  J. Smith Jenny Blair (1881) 49:
I saw a spunk-seller in the hands o' five blue-bottled warriors.
Ags. 1888  Barrie Auld Licht Idylls xii.:
An itinerant match-seller known to Thrums and the surrounding towns as the literary spunk-seller.
(xi) Edb. 1843  J. Ballantine Gaberlunzie 9:
“The Spunk Splitters.” Note. The profession of spunk splitting is now at an end.
(xiii) Lnk. 1887  A. Wardrop Mid-Cauther Fair 213:
I'll ding the business into spunkwood.
Fif. 1894  W. D. Latto T. Bodkin ix.:
Andro's tackety shoe had dung his fiddle into spunk wud.
Lnk. 1902  A. Wardrop Hamely Sk. 86:
The frame dang intae spunkwud, the gless tae shivers.

II. v. 1. (1) To sparkle, twinkle, glimmer. Rnf. 1835  D. Webster Rhymes 116:
I'll cheer thy artless breast, the while The stars spunk in the lift sae hie.

(2) to emit sparks, to scatter fiery particles in all directions (Sh., Per. 1971). Ork. 1880  Dennison Sketch-Bk. 117:
Paets an' scon's an' tang an' a' Geed sprunkan' on the fleur.

(3) with jocular extension of meaning: to be parched, to be burning for a drink. Arg. 1930  :
Hae ye a drink o' watter or a drink o' mulk? I'm jist spunkun. . . . I'm fair spunkun for a drink.

(4) to move like a flash, to dash. Per. 1878  R. Ford Hamespun Lays 24:
Aff the twa spunkit like dog-huntit deer.

2. Fig. (1) with out, (i) of information, news, scandal: to leak out, to become known, get abroad (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Mry. 1971); (ii) of disturbances, signs of unrest: to break out sporadically. (i) Slk. 1820  Hogg Shep. Cal. (1874) i.:
It at last spunkit out that Rob Dodds had got hame safe enough.
Sc. 1822  Scott F. Nigel xxxiii.:
It could not be but something of it would spunk out.
Edb. 1828  D. M. Moir Mansie Wauch xvi.:
The whole business soon spunked out.
Dmf. 1836  A. Cunningham Lord Roldan xiii.:
We winna let it spunk out just yet.
Per. a.1843  J. Stewart Sketches 43:
It spunkit oot I'd gat a letter.
Lnk. 1880  Clydesdale Readings 147:
Had it no spunkit oot he had twa weans already.
Abd. 1921  M. Argo Janet's Choice 23:
An' to think it was deen hidden-wyes, . . . bit thingies like that spunk oot!
(ii) Sc. 1824  Scott Redgauntlet xxiv.:
The disturbances that are beginning to spunk out in the colonies.

(2) with up: (i) to become heated, to flare up in anger or passion (Fif., Wgt. 1971); (ii) to revive in spirit, to cheer or perk up (Ags., Per. 1971); (iii) of voices: to pipe up. (i) Arg. 1898  N. Munro J. Splendid viii.:
He spunked up like tinder. “Do you call me a liar?” he said.
Gsw. 1947  H. W. Pryde First Bk. McFlannels vi.:
She began timidly, but spunked up to add, “If you think I would stoop to touch your scuddy wee mat —.”
(ii) Sc. 1832  C. Bowles Probation 127:
She spunked up after a while, and said she wad try to win hame to Rannoch.
Sc. 1907  N. Munro Daft Days xvii.:
After that she spunked up wonderful.
(iii) Sc. 1834  Chambers's Jnl. (March) 66:
I hear their little voices spunking up in the morning about me.

[O.Sc. sponk, a spark, 1533, a vestige, 1536, the earliest examples of the word, which occurs first in Eng. in 1582 in the sense of tinder, and in the sense of spirit, pluck, in 1773. Despite N.E.D., the word is prob. much earlier, and meant orig. touchwood or tinder, deriving from Ir. sponc, Gael. spong, tinder, which is recorded from the 14th-c., ultim. from Lat. spongia, Gr σπογγια, a sponge.]

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"Spunk n., v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 11 Dec 2017 <http://www.dsl.ac.uk/entry/snd/spunk>

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