This is a little carbuncle of a word, isn’t it? Quite the thing to spot on a page. It seems to be made of bits of other short words mashed together – you almost feel as though you recognize it, but nope, you don’t even quite have a sense of what word it might be supposed to be. Pluck? Plonk? Some pieces of plural, pluperfect, lout, look, polka, um…

To add the the muddle, but also to clarify the pronunciation (maybe), it’s also spelled plook and pluke. The latter form may be rather unpleasing to look at, due to its strong resemblance to a word for something distasteful. The former almost seems silly – you get that oo as in loony, kook, spook – but really, if you dropped the p, it would end up with a rather ordinary look. But it nonetheless rhymes with kook. Except that some people (the OED tells me) say it like pluck.

You’re unlikely to encounter this word, anyway, outside of the occasional Scottish usage, though it was formerly more widespread in English. But what is a plouk? Is it something that makes a dripping noise – “plouk, plouk, plouk”? Nope. Is it something to do with plies or plaid or pleurisy or pleather or plurals? Not per se. Does the sound make you think of a single spot, such as you might jab your finger into? You’re closer now. And does it make you think of plug? The words may be cognate.

But a plouk is not a plug. It’s a spot, alright, but the result of something being plugged – a pore. Let me quote from a modern Scottish novelist, Irvine Welsh, in his best-known work, Trainspotting (that’s a signal that those averse to disgusting things or Scots dialect should just stop reading now): “Billy, ma contempt for you jist grew over the years. It displaced the fear, jist sortay squeezed it oot, like pus fae a pluke.”

Mm-hmm. It’s a zit. Especially a bright red one. A scarlet pimple. A carbuncle. Compared by authors (in the OED’s quotes) to ripe tomatoes and currant berries. If you were to colour in the o in the middle of plouk with red, you’d produce something like the effect. That might add to the overtones of polka, but I don’t know that you’d want to poke a dot like this one. Or pluck it. You may be waiting for that o on your forehead to become a u or that p on your cheek to become a k, and then back to the smooth l, but think of the future effects, and remember from your school blackboards that PLO means “please leave on”… u know?

3 responses to “plouk

  1. “To add the the muddle, but also to clarify the pronunciation (maybe), it’s also spelled plook and pluke.”

    I used to think that ‘but also’ is used only when you have used ‘not only’ in the sentence. 🙂 [ Here we have an implicit ‘not only’, I suppose]

    A very enjoybale piece James! Vivid and resonant!

    • A “not only” is not required for “but also”, not even an implied one. If you use “not only” it adds a distinct discursive tension. If I were to write “Not only to add to the muddle, but also to clarify the pronunciation,” I would be implying that the addition to the muddle was deliberate, and I would be assigning these motivations to the spelling. In fact, “to add to the muddle” and “to clarify the pronunciation” are functioning as sentence adverbs – commentary by the author on the discursive effect, similar to “What’s more…” This phrasing presents it as something that is happenstance, whereas the discursive tension of “Not only” would remove the casualness and add a stronger sense of intention through the tension.

  2. I got the point. Thanks for the elucidation! 🙂

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