Sunday, April 17, 2011

Actually Not Scottish for “Dickhead”

For this week, a word that I picked because it sounds like something mean and because it’s one of those words whose definition doesn’t actually help you understand what it means.
cockernonnie (KAHK-ər-nah-nee) — noun: the gathering of a young woman’s hair under the snood or filet.
So cockernonnie (also cockernony) apparently refers to a hairstyle, and Google tells me gives me some idea what it might look like. But as for the snood and the filet? Me being a man living in the twentieth century, I didn’t have a clue what snood or filet meant. I could only guess.

Or, you know, I can just look these words up too. So what’s a filet? In this instance, a headband. And what’s a snood? Well, if you’re Scottish it can be a filet, according to Merriam-Webster. If you’re not, it’s “a net or fabric bag pinned or tied on the back of a woman’s head for holding the hair.” So there — I was able to understand the definition by only having to look up two additional words. It’s seems like this word cockenonnie insists on not being readily understandable. Even Wikipedia’s example of the word being used in a sentence is less than clear. “But I doubt the daughter’s a silly thing: an unco cockernony she had busked up on her head at the kirk last Sunday.” Thanks heaps, Sir Walter Scott!

But here’s the good part of this particular word: it has a synonym, and that word is cock-up — as in, “What a lovely cock-up you’re sporting on your head, Mrs. Pooterman!” According to Wikipedia, it’s not a reference to an erection, but I’m otherwise unclear why it would refer to the hairstyle, since both cockernonnie and cock-up can mean foul-up or snafu. (Wikipedia cites a BBC report that refers to a failed British military program as a gold-standard cock-up.) Wouldn’t a style that gathers all the loose hairs into one place be anything but a mess?

And no, I can’t imagine why the game Snood would be named after a woman’s hair accessory. What a cock-up.

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