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A cockernonnie or cockernonie was an old Scottish women’s hairstyle. It was a gathering up of the hair, after a fashion similar to the modern chignon, and sometimes called a "cock-up". Mr. Kirkton of Edinburgh, preaching against "cock-ups" – of which chignons were the representative in the mid-19th century – said:

"I have spent all this year preaching against the vanity of women, yet I see my own daughter in the kirk even now, with as high a 'cock-up' as any of you all."

Etymology, Cock-Up[edit]

"Cock-up" is in common usage as another term for "foul-up" in British English. For example, "The Ministry of Defence's programme to make airworthy the eight Chinook Mk3 helicopters, which it acquired in 2001 for special operations work, has been a gold standard cock-up." BBC[citation needed] quoting Sir Edward Leigh on the failure to timely deliver Chinook helicopters to the military.

The contemporary British English usage of "cock-up" likely derives from the nautical usage of the term, to describe an arrangement of the yards of a square-rigged vessel in port, and therefore likely predates the cockernonnie derivation suggested above, square-rigged vessels being in use considerably before most of the Scots references quoted here. It is possible the term has two completely unrelated origins, however contemporary common usage is more likely to derive from the nautical term, which has an explicit association with foul-up, rather than the Scots term.

Modern folk etymology has sometimes suggested that "cock-up" refers to a male erection, or to the phrase "cacked up", but this is untrue.

Etymology, Cockernonnie[edit]

John Jamieson was of the opinion that "cockernonnie" signified a snood, or gathering of the hair in a band or fillet. Scott mentions it a couple of times in his novels.

"But I doubt the daughter’s a silly thing: an unco cockernony she had busked up on her head at the kirk last Sunday." (Old Mortality (1816)


"My gude name! If ony body touched my gude name I would fash neither council nor commissary. I would be down upon them like a sea-falcon among a wheen wild geese, and the best of them that dared to say onything o’ Meg Dods, but what was honest and civil, I would soon see if her cockenonie was made o’ her ain hair or other folks." (St. Ronan's Well 1824)


  • MacKay, Charles – A Dictionary of Lowland Scotch (1888)