Slovenly, brittle, fragile, untidy - that’s a bit like the weather

The word bruchle is sometimes confused with bruckle, which, as an adjective, verb and noun, is found in Ireland, Scotland; and in England, in Northumberland, Durham and Yorkshire. It means brittle, fragile, and figuratively, uncertain, changeable, untrustworthy - just like the weather. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

The word bruchle is sometimes confused with bruckle, which, as an adjective, verb and noun, is found in Ireland, Scotland; and in England, in Northumberland, Durham and Yorkshire. It means brittle, fragile, and figuratively, uncertain, changeable, untrustworthy - just like the weather. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

The Scots verb bruchle, means to wrap or muffle up a person in an untidy manner. It is always used with the preposition up. Hence bruchlan, wrapping up closely and untidily; and bruchle-up, a wrapping-up of someone in a slovenly fashion. “The’ve an aul’ bruchle-up o’ that bairn o’ thirs ilky time it they gang oot wee’t.”

The word is sometimes confused with bruckle, which, as an adjective, verb and noun, is found in Ireland, Scotland; and in England, in Northumberland, Durham and Yorkshire. It means brittle, fragile, and figuratively, uncertain, changeable, untrustworthy.

“My things are but in a bruckle state,” wrote Scott in Waverley in 1814. “Lasses and glasses are bruckle ware,” wrote the poet Henderson in 1832. “Bruckle health,” is mentioned in the Ballymena Observer in 1892. Hence bruckleness, noun, the state of being bruckle; bruckly, adjective, brittle; figuratively, uncertain, and bruckly, adverb, in a brittle manner. In Scotland it is very often said of the weather.

Hence bruckley, adjective, of cattle and horses: given to breaking down fences.

The verb means to crumble away, to break off easily, generally used with off or away. In Wiltshire, Dorset, Shetland and Orkney it is applied to some kinds of stone which crumble away when exposed to the weather; also to the dead leaves on a dried branch. Hence bruckling, crumbling. “The wall is built of very bruckling stone,” was recorded by the English Dialect Dictionary in Wiltshire. Barnes’s Dorset glossary of 1863 defines bruckle as “a quantity
of broken pieces of rock, or other hard stuff.’

The word has been traced to around 1400 in literature, to one of the Legends of the Saints which refers to þis brukil lyf (life). It is a derivative of the weak stem of Old English brecan, break.

There is another bruckle, to make dirty. Hence bruckled, of the weather, wet and dirty, stormy. Captain Grose, writing of East Anglia in 1790, had: “That child’s hands are all over bruckled.” Griffin, in Doctrine of the Asse (1663), wrote: “We commonly say to dirty children that the gardener will sow leeks in their faces; we may more truly tell our bruckled professours that the devil will sow tares in their souls.”

There is a Dorset word bruckle-hearted, used by the poet and lexicographer Barnes, which means, of cabbage plants, having no central shoot, “blind”. The word is also used figuratively of people.

And for you botanists, in Scotland bruckles are carex stellulata, the prickly-headed carex, and in old Aberdeen, Juncus squarrosus, known to us as bent.