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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.

KNACK, v., n. Also knak, (c)nack, nakk, tnack (Ags.), and pl. form nax. For forms in t, see P.L.D. § 123, and K. [Sc. (k)nɑk, Ags. tnɑk]

I. v. 1. To make a sharp, cracking, clicking, or knocking noise; to snap the fingers, esp. in accompaniment to a dance or song (ne.Sc., Lth. 1960) or as a gesture of defiance; to break or snap with a sharp sound (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 96; Uls. 1953 Traynor; ne.Sc., Ags., Lth., Uls. 1960); of a clock: to strike (Ags. 1925); to strike sharply (Edb. 1898 J. Baillie Walter Crighton Gl., nax); fig. to work well and effortlessly, to “click”. Vbl.n., ppl.adj. knackin. Cf. Knick. Now only dial. in Eng.Sc. 1745 Lyon in Mourning (S.H.S.) I. 109:
The dance went merrily on, and the Prince skipped . . . nimbly, knacking his thumbs and clapping his hands.
Abd. 1768 A. Ross Helenore (S.T.S.) 125:
While all the knows wi' musick sweetly rang, An' honest Colin nack'd his thumbs an' sang.
Ags. 1790 D. Morison Poems 23:
Meg Lindsay lap, an' cnack'd her thums.
Bwk. 1823 A. Hewit Poems 106:
My teeth was nackin' i' my head.
Sc. c.1826 Burd Isabel in Child Ballads No. 257 A. vii.:
The knichts they knack their white fingers.
Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 96:
He took the stick, an' knackit it our's knee.
Mry. 1873 J. Brown Round Table Club 84:
He knackit his thooms at the Yearl o' Huntly, an' defy't 'm till's teeth.
Ags. 1912 A. Reid Forfar Worthies 56:
It [snuff] clears the e'en, it cleans the nose, It maks the brains to t'nack.
Abd. 1922 Banffshire Jnl. (14 Nov.):
Some newly painted [box carts] rattled along with, as the local expression had it, “knackin' axles”.
Kcd. 1957 Mearns Leader (15 Feb.):
His motor, choochin' an' k-nackin like a macheen gun.

Hence nacker, a sharp stroke with the tawse (Ags. 1960); pl. knackers, tnackers, two flat pieces of bone, wood, or other hard material used by children to make a clicking noise, castanets (Bnff., Abd., Ags. 1960). Also in Eng. dial. Cf. Clatter-Banes, 2.Kcd. 1853 W. Jamie Emigrant's Family 48:
Marble bools, and bits o' twine, Wi' knackers made o' banes.

Comb. knackin-tailed coat, a swallow-tailed coat, from the noise made by the flapping of the tails. Abd. 1965 Press & Jnl. (23 Oct.):
According to my father, who celebrates his 89th birthday soon the pickie say was the farm grieve's headgear in the days when the wealthy farmer wore a "knackin-tailed coat."

2. To strike or slash sharply, to make a sudden cut (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 96; Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928), nakk; ne.Sc., Ags., Per. 1960). Vbl.n. knackan, a sharp beating, a series of sharp blows. With aff: to strike or knock off, as with a sharp implement (Jak.; ne Sc. 1960).Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 96:
He got a good knackan for gain' awa on sought leave.
Abd. 1958:
Knackin' aff the neep-heids wi' the tapner.
Gsw. 1970 George MacDonald Fraser The General Danced at Dawn (1988) 83:
One, two, three, and a wee bit more, Mr Cameron, see the fine horns of the deer, colonel sir, how he knacks his thoos, God bless him.

3. “To talk in a pleasant, lively manner”, to chatter away (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 97; Abd., Uls. 1960); with aff: to tell stories, jokes, lies, etc. in quick succession, to “fire off” (Ib.). Obs. in Eng. from 16th c. Cf. Crack.Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 97:
He thinks nae mair o' knackin' aff lees nor o' pittin' aff's claise, an' gain' till's bed.
Bnff.2 1942:
The aul' 'umman sits at her shank an' knacks awa aboot a' the claik o' the countryside.

Hence †(k)nackuz, naxie, a quick, snappish talker, a continual chatterer (Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 306, 356). See -Us, -Sie.

4. To give a quick and witty answer, to make fun of, mock, taunt (Ayr. 1880 Jam., ‡Ayr.4 1928).Ayr. 1880 Jam.:
Ye canna maister him, he'll knack ye at every word.

5. To make a harsh, raucous sound in the throat (s.Sc. 1825 Jam.).

II. n. 1. A sharp, crisp, clicking, breaking or striking noise, a sharp blow, a snap, a crack (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 96; Cai. 1902 E.D.D.; Ayr.4 1928; Ork., ne.Sc., Ags. 1960); a humiliating kind of punishment, also in phr. to get one's nax, to receive such punishment (Edb. 1910 Scotsman (3 Sept.)). Also knackum, id. (Gregor). Also used adv. = crack!, as in phr. to play knack(ie), to knock or strike sharply (Abd. 1960).Sc. 1776 D. Herd Sc. Songs II. 141:
To ilka wall that he came by, He gar'd her head play knackie, O.
Edb. 1845 F. W. Bedford Hist. G. Heriot's Hospital (1859) 345:
I was found out as being one of the party, and I got a hearty nax.
Mry. 1865 W. H. L. Tester Poems 161:
We bards drink nought but drink divine, Till line on line clink knack again.
Ags. 1894 J. B. Salmond My Man Sandy (1891) i.:
Princie ga'e a squeek an' garred his heels play tnack on the boddom o' the cairt.
Ags. 1947 Forfar Dispatch (10 April):
She's still greetin on her sair back. She says it gae tnack.
Ork. 1956 C. M. Costie Benjie's Bodle 171:
He said he cheust heard id gaean a “knack”, an' there hid wis bracken.

Deriv. nacket(y), nackerty, “a game played by placing a tin can in a ring and kicking it out without being caught by the person who is it” (Lnk.13 1927).

2. Fig. A piece of quick repartee, a sharp or stinging retort; a joke, a clever or witty saying (Sc. 1880 Jam.).Abd.7 1925:
“That wis a gey knack ye gid 'im”, will be said to one who has made a sharp answer to some teasing remark made by another.

3. (1) A harsh sound made in the throat (s.Sc. 1825 Jam.); (2) in pl.: a disease in poultry affecting the throat, thought to be caused by too hot food (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B., nacks, nauks, 1927 E. C. Smith Braid Haaick 15, naa(c)ks). Also in Nhb. dial. Sometimes jocularly applied to any complaint in which the sufferer is affected by wheezing. Hence nacky, naukie, asthmatical, short-winded, e.g. of a hen (Lth., Rxb. 1825 Jam.).(2) Edb. 1821 W. Liddle Poems 110:
Maist gart ye tak' the knaks, ye fool, Ye turn'd sae snell.
Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.:
Shuirly ee have the nacks.

[Echoic. O.Sc. knak, = v., 4., c.1420. Cf. Mid. Du. knacken, to break, snap, M.L.Ger. knaken, Norw. knage, Sw. knaka, id.]

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"Knack v., n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 12 Jul 2024 <>



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