Cockle-headed

James Brandon

Senior Member
English + French - UK
I have come across 'cockle-headed' and was wondering whether it is a recognised word and what the meaning would be. It is used in this book (below). Is it, literally, 'who has a head that looks like a cockle'?

Thanks.

He has a gloaming sight of what is reasonable, but he is crack-brained and cockle-headed about his nipperty-tipperty poetry nonsense.

Source: Title: Red Cap Tales. Stolen from the Treasure Chest of the Wizard of the North

Author: Samuel Rutherford Crockett. Release Date: September 17, 2007 [EBook #22656]

 
  • Thomas1

    Senior Member
    polszczyzna warszawska
    For what it's worth, this website says 'cockle-headed' is another variant of 'cockle-brained', which is defined as 'Chuckle-headed; foolish. Also cockle-headed.' (source), which led me to:
    chuckle headed


    chuck·le·head

    noun
    Slang. a stupid person; blockhead.


    Origin:
    1725–35; chuckle clumsy ( chuck2 + -le) + head


    Related forms chuck·le·head·ed, adjective


    Dictionary.com Unabridged
    Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2013.
    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/chuckle+headed
     

    James Brandon

    Senior Member
    English + French - UK
    OK, so the meaning of 'cockle-headed' would be the same as 'cockle-brained', i.e. stupid, a fool, a blockhead. I suppose the idea behind it is that cockles, being the animals that they are, do not have much of a brain.

    I cannot say I hear this often. Maybe it is regional or is archaic: it seems to go back a long way and there is that Scottish connection... It would be interesting to hear if some contributors are familiar with the term and use it or hear it on a regular basis, for instance in parts of Scotland.

    Thanks.
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    'Obsolete' rather than archaic:
    † cockle, adj.

    Etymology: perhaps attrib. use of cockle n.2

    Obs.

    Whimsical. Hence cockle-brained, cockle-headed.


    1708 P. A. Motteux Wks. F. Rabelais (1737) iv. lxvi. 272 May a million of..Devils anatomize thy Cockle brain.
    1817 Scott Rob Roy II. viii. 158 He's crack-brained and cockle-headed.
    ~OED, available online via a lot of UK libraries

    (cockle n² is the bivalve, by the way:))
     
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    James Brandon

    Senior Member
    English + French - UK
    If the most recent entry for this word is 1817, there could be a debate as to whether it should be called "obsolete" or "archaic", I suppose. It would be interesting to know whether it is used in conversation in this day and age, in some parts of the UK, say. But maybe it isn't.
     

    Thomas1

    Senior Member
    polszczyzna warszawska
    Something interesting:
    COCKLE-HEADED, adj. Whimsical, maggoty, singular in conduct, S. Cock-brained is used in the same sense in E. " He has a gloaming sight o' what's reasonable— but he's crack-brained and cockle-headed about his nipperty-tipperty poetry nonsense." Rob Roy, ii. 158.
    Perhaps in allusion to the shells or cockles anciently worn by pilgrims ; which, from the ostentatious and absurd conduct of many who wore them, might give occasion for the formation of this term as applicable to any one of an eccentric cast of mind.
    C.B. coegvalch, however, signifies conceited; proud.
    Source: Scottish Dictionary and Supplement: In Four Volumes. Suppl. Aai-Jux, Volume 3 By John Jamieson

    I think that the OED might give in its entry the oldest sample found. More of them:
    Them folk is cockle-headed, as any totter, diddycoy, pikey and tinker would tell.

    "Get out, all of you and take your cockle-headed animals with you. I want to be alone."
    Both Sides of the Coin - Page 177

    Of all the cockle-headed females!

    The last and the latest is from 1989.
     
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    James Brandon

    Senior Member
    English + French - UK
    So, then, if the most recent entry goes back to the late 1980s, the term is neither obsolete nor archaic. The link to pilgrims is interesting but it could be a folk etymology -- quite different from those suggested earlier on in this Thread. The Scottish angle seems present here too. It would be interesting to know whether the term is used and known in Scotland today -- perhaps in island and fishing communities!
     

    Thomas1

    Senior Member
    polszczyzna warszawska
    I think that it still might be obsolete. It was used in a novel, where you can find plenty of similar words/expressions. Another argument for this is that the author of the last novel, Cupboard Kisses, Barbara Metzger is known for her Regent Romance novels, which gives us a hint that their plot is set against the Regency England (the beginning of the nineteenth century). So 'cockle-headed', among other words and expressions, could have been used to give the novel a certain flavour.
    This doesn't, of course, rule out the possibility that the term may not be obsolete. :)
     
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    James Brandon

    Senior Member
    English + French - UK
    Good point: if it has been used recently, but in period novels, as it were, it does not mean it is in current use. We might assume, then, that it is obsolete/archaic. Thanks.
     
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