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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1960 (SND Vol. V). Includes material from the 1976 and 2005 supplements.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

HOWK, v., n.1 Also †howck, hou(c)k; hoak, hoke (Wgt., Kcb., Uls.); hock, hok(k) (Sh.); ¶hauk (Ork. 1936 Ork. Agric. Jnl. XI. 15); ¶huck (Gsw. 1793 R. Gray Poems 40); †holk. [Sc. hʌuk; I.Sc. hɔk; Gall. hok]

I. v. 1. To dig, delve the soil (Sc. 1710 T. Ruddiman Gl. to Douglas Aeneis), to make a trench or the like in the earth, to uproot or remove from the ground by digging. Ppl.adj. houket, disinterred, dug up. Gen.Sc. Also vbl.n.. Also fig. and humorously, to howk the nose, to pick the nose (Ags. 1957).e.Lth. 1705 Trans. E.Lth. Antiq. Soc. II. 48:
The great skaith done by swine by houcking and working up the common grass.
Sc. 1725 Ramsay Gentle Shepherd ii. ii.:
At Midnight Hours, o'er the Kirk-yards she raves, And howks unchristen'd We'ans out of their Graves.
Sc. 1743 Scots Mag. (Nov.) 525:
It's a' black aneath the nails wi' houkin o' yird.
Edb. 1773 Fergusson Poems (S.T.S.) II. 141:
The cald, clad grave, Whare Geordie Girdwood, mony a lang-spun day, Houkit for gentlest banes the humblest clay.
Ayr. 1786 Burns Address to Deil ix.:
And in kirk-yards renew their leagues, Owre howcket dead.
Ayr. 1822 Galt Sir A. Wylie ciii.:
To howk out a rotten tooth.
Sc. 1824 Scott St Ronan's W. ii.:
The best land in his aught to be carved, and bigged, and howked up.
Rxb. 1826 A. Scott Poems 37:
At houking ditches, or, in time o' need, At cutting drains he earn'd his daily bread.
Ags. 1860 A. Whamond James Tacket xii.:
He saw me howkin' taties fornent our back shop window.
Wgt. 1877 G. Fraser Sketches 60:
Jamie hoked a hole in the floor.
Sh. 1888 B. R. Anderson Broken Lights 86:
He made a pit, an' hockit deep.
Inv. 1905 J. Fraser Reminisc. 152:
We're busy howkin the tatties, and a good crop they are.
Sc. 1949 Scots Mag. (May) 114:
As I was howkin' in the yaird, A rumblin' 'mang the clods I heard.
Gsw. 1966 Archie Hind The Dear Green Place (1984) 18:
It happened that about the same time the Glasgow merchants were howking at the river bed further downstream in order to make the deep channel which allowed Glasgow to become the great sea port which nature intended it to be.
em.Sc. 1988 James Robertson in Joy Hendry Chapman 52 71:
' ... But he bummelt an stummelt aroun i the derk, an the affcome o't wis he gaed heelster-gowdie intae a grave that wis newly howkit for a burial the morn's morn. ... '
m.Sc. 1988 William Neill Making Tracks 9:
Eftir an eident howkin o the yird,
the Reverend Tumshie offert up a prayer,
ower bruckle auncient banes set lair on lair,
Cai. 1992 James Miller A Fine White Stoor 149:
A month or so before, he had flayed the turf from the ground, howking it out with the tuskar and letting it fall in mossy dollops into the bank, the ditch left where he had dug the previous year's fuel.
Abd. 1996 Sheena Blackhall Wittgenstein's Web 14:
He wintit tae rin awa bit the muckle bird caed him ower an, haein haived him onno the grun, lowpit on him, howkin its cleuks inno his kyte.

2. Fig. in various extended uses: to unearth, bring forth, extricate. Gen.Sc.Edb. 1843 J. Ballantine Gaberlunzie viii.:
He winna be lang o' howkin the auld fiddler out o' his hole.
Lnk. 1881 D. Thomson Musings 173:
When mem'ry houks auld stories up, Our lives begin anew.
m.Sc. 1927 J. Buchan Witch Wood vii.:
There's been mair witches howkit out o' Woodilee and brunt than in ony ither parochine on the Water o' Aller.
Ags. 1932 Barrie Julie Logan 89:
There is naught that houks the spirit from you so much as knowing better.
m.Sc. 1979 Ian Bowman in Joy Hendry Chapman 23-4 (1985) 41:
When we won through in-bye,
howkin' the brattice up, ... Naebody steered
... That wis it. Nae hope there.
We let the brattice drap.
Ags. 1988 Raymond Vettese The Richt Noise 16:
Tak up the words, the hameart tools,
and wi 'em we'll howk f'ae deepest mools
the body yet an' find the hairt, ...
Sc. 2000 Herald 19 May 19:
There are days when howking rough and uncut gems from the Scottish cultural face is made easier by the people one meets, and yesterday Springburn seemed to have a concentration of them.
Abd. 2000 Sheena Blackhall The Singing Bird 40:
Somebody whyles will aye
Howk up a roosted argy-bargy
Frae in aneth a buss
An yark it aff tae the cowp.

3. To hew, to excavate coal from a mine, or stone from a quarry. Gen.Sc. Ppl.adj. howking, mining; deriv. ¶howkerie, a quarry.Edb. 1773 Fergusson Poems (S.T.S.) II. 124:
For whin-stanes, howkit frae the craigs, May thole the prancing feet of naigs.
em.Sc. 1842 Children in Mines Report i. 29:
Father houks the coal below.
Lnk. 1865 J. Brown Horae Subs. (1882) 358:
This reading and howking village [Leadhills].
Ags. 1874 J. Maclaren Hist. Dundee 140:
The quarry, which was derisively named the “howkeries,” had to be filled up.
Lnk. 1922 Hamilton Advertiser (2 Sept.):
Here lies an auld collier, Saft seams he could howk.
Sh. 1933 J. Nicolson Hentilagets 12:
Dan mony a while he sits an he hokks, Ta fin oot da kind an da age o da rocks.
Sc. 1951 Scots Mag. (Jan.) 293:
In one of the quarries on the island men still howked slates, and fishermen still go in search of lobsters.
wm.Sc. 1954 Robin Jenkins The Thistle and the Grail (1994) 112:
"If I had to earn my living howking coal, I could. You'd starve to death."

4. To hollow out, to scrape or scoop out the inside of something, as of animals gnawing turnips. Gen.Sc.; to carve, engrave.Rnf. 1870 J. Nicholson Idylls 36:
Big neeps we'll howk for Hallowe'en.
Fif. 1896 G. Setoun R. Urquhart vii.:
We maun a' scart our names on something, an' there's less harmless ways than on dead rocks. Ye've howkit his out, I see.
Sc. 1920 D. Rorie Auld Doctor 27:
Ye can howk i' the kebbuck an' howk again As lang as there's kebbuck to pree.
Abd. 1955 People's Jnl. (3 Dec.):
It [piglet] also fed with them, and learned to “houk a neep.”
Arg. 1992:
But, eh, ye jeest, ye hoked yer men oot, hoked yer men ... [referring to the removal, with a pin, of winkles from their shells]
Dundee 2000 Ellie McDonald Pathfinder 10:
Please Miss, gie's back the name
I houkit out o yon auld schule desk
afore compromise or expediency existit.

5. tr. and intr. To root like a pig, burrow in the earth (Mry. 1825 Jam.). Gen.Sc. Also jocularly of a human being.Abd. 1865 G. Macdonald Alec Forbes xx.:
I jist got a ba' i' the how o' my neck, 'at amaist sent me howkin' wi' my snoot i' the snaw.
Wgt. 1877 G. Fraser Sketches 364:
She [pig] gaed tae the bing o' prawtas, an' hoakit awa' the boards wi' her nose.
Uls. 1898 A. McIlroy Meetin'-Hoose Green xii.:
A large sow which had broken into the green, and was “hoking” amongst the graves.
Rxb. 1927 E. C. Smith Braid Haaick 9:
The sow at's hed the nose o'd rung hes gien owre howkin its puidge.

6. Of the skin: to chap or crack, to become sore and pitted (ne.Sc. 1957). Cf. Hack, v., 4.Abd. 1955 W. P. Milne Eppie Elrick iii.:
We ean aye sclaik on a sclairtie o' saa aifter ye're throwe, an' 'at 'll haad 'em on howkit.

7. Fig.: to investigate, to search through, to carry out research in (Abd. 1925), to penetrate into, to dig into, to poke one's nose into. Gen.Sc.Slk. 1824 Hogg Tales (1874) 522:
What made ye gang howkin in there to be a poor man's ruin?
Ayr. 1887 J. Service Dr Duguid 122:
There was owre muckle of the howking and speering at me on the roadsides.
Fif. 1894 J. W. McLaren Tibbie and Tam Foreword:
In my howkin' amang love screeds, locks o' hair, and lapsed policies o' frien'ly burial societies, I gathered as mony particulars as wad mak' a stirrin' biography.
Sh. 1949 J. Gray Lowrie 71:
Bit nae doot ye'll be hockit a lok ita da Greek da sam as mesell, an' kens aa aboot hit.

8. To loiter or loaf about, to stand around idly, to pass the time in idleness, freq. with on or about (Abd., Kcd., Rxb. 1957). Cf. Hole, v., 5. Vbl.n., ppl.adj. howkin-aboot (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 81).Ib. 80–81:
The drunken swab houcks on in the public-hoose. . . . He's a sweer filsch o' a cheel, or than he wid gang awa, an' wirk, an' nae houck-aboot at haim is he diz.
Fif. 1993:
Dinnae howk aboot the hoose.

9. Deriv. howker, one who digs, in various senses: a miner; a grave-digger (Per. 1957); a worker employed at the potato harvest (Ayr. 1870). Gen.Sc.Gsw. 1842 Children in Mines Report ii. 355:
The “howker” or picker is allowed to work out five carts of coals a-day.
Dmb. 1894 D. MacLeod Past Worthies 125:
In and before Shakespeare's time the sextons of “Merrie England” were famous for their witty sayings on grave subjects. Of the past and present race of houkers of graves in auld Scotland the same may be said.
Rxb. 1917 Kelso Chron. (19 Aug.) 2:
He has now a marvellous respect for tattie howkers.
Gsw. 1933 F. Niven Mrs Barry iii.:
Irish people. Perhaps they'd be what were called potato howkers.

II. n. 1. The act of digging or burrowing (Gall. 1825 Jam.; I.Sc. 1957); a hole, excavation; a bite, nibble. Fig. phrs. to be in a howk, to be “in a hole,” in a rut, in difficulties (Fif. 1957); to gie a ploo mair howk, to set the sock so as to cut deeper into the furrow (Ags., Kcb. 1957).Kcb. 1789 D. Davidson Seasons 62:
His faithfu' dog, . . . list'ning to the chirp O' wand'ring mouse, or moudy's carkin hoke.
Kcb. 1815 J. Gerrond Works 212:
Not greedier grumphy steals a hoke At Clennochan's potato.
Fif. 1916 G. Blaik Rustic Rhymes 122:
Puir folk ne'er get oot o' the howk, An' mony seem themsel's to gowk.
wm.Sc. 1928 J. Corrie Last Day 10:
We'll never be onything else but in a howk.

2. A habitual resort for lazy, idle people, a lazy, idle gathering; a continued stay in one place in idleness (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 80); a dull inactive place. Cf. v., 8. and Hole, n., 5.Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 80:
He keeps a sad houck at the still (distillery).
Per. 1949 N. B. Morrison Winnowing Years ii. i.:
The howk of the village, Nicholas! To live in it just as though we were village folk.

III. Combs.: 1. howk-back, a bent or hump back (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 81; Ags. 1957). Hence howk-backit, having a bent back, hunchbacked (Gregor); 2. howk-chowk, v., “to make a noise as if poking in deep mud”; howk-chowkan, vbl.n., the noise thus made (Ib.).

[O.Sc. holk, v., to dig, etc., from c.1500, n.Mid.Eng. holk, id., 13.., M.L.Ger. holken, to make hollow. See P.L.D. § 78.]

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"Howk v., n.1". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 22 May 2024 <http://www.dsl.ac.uk/entry/snd/howk_v_n1>

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