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I've been reading Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and I came across several uses of the word "dockle", usually in the context of light teasing. While I can find some small evidence online of its usage elsewhere, I can't find any actual explanation of its etymology or meaning. The book is set in a lower-class borough of Brooklyn in the early 1900's, if that helps.

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    Can you supply the quote?
    – k1eran
    Mar 16, 2017 at 16:14
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    There seems to be no evidence that this candidate word has ever been considered part of the English lexicon (which, if true, would make the question off-topic). Mar 16, 2017 at 20:41
  • I can recall reading this word a few times while I was in school. Archaic at best, in the US.
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 12, 2020 at 17:15

2 Answers 2

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My Mom used the term "dockle" frequently. It was always used to mean a socially awkward person. Often clumsy or dim-witted, as well.

She was a first generation German, with immigrant parents from the Schwabia region. My Grandfather landed in Philadelphia around 1900, and my Mom was born in 1914. The household spoke mostly German until around 1925 or so. They referred to themselves as "Schwopes." And "dockel" was something I understood well, as a small kid.

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From "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn " by Betty Smith:

When none came, she taunted: "Why don't you bust out crying, you dockle?

The following etymological dictionary says it means "doll" which is probably used in the book as a mocking term:

Dockle:

  • Frisian dok, G. docke ; a little bundle as of thread, a wisp of straw, also a doll ; Swabian dockle, a doll ; dokheln, to play with a doll.

A dictionary of English etymology, H. Wedgwood - 1859 - ‎History

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  • I'm slightly confused, your quote says 'Fris' and 'Swab' which I take to be Frisian and Swabian(?). Your own text says probably of scottish Origin, where does that assertion come from?
    – Spagirl
    Mar 16, 2017 at 17:11
  • Dok is also the source of the normal Scandiwegian words for dolls (Danish/Norwegian dukke, Swedish docka); and the ending -el/-le is of course one of the regular, common diminutive suffixes in West Germanic, including English. Mar 16, 2017 at 20:25
  • @JanusBahsJacquet - yes, I think the term was actually never an English one, but a Dutch/German one used by immigrants who settled in the USAat that time.
    – user66974
    Mar 16, 2017 at 20:27

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