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 '17 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). – Edwin Ashworth Mar 16 '17 at 20:41

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:


  • 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

  • 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 '17 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. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 16 '17 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 '17 at 20:27

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