Can you understand any of this?
A slew of Hooligans and their buddies were at the boycott. It was a real donnybrook! They smashed whisky bottles to smithereens and shouted phony slogans. They wore matching trousers and brogues. There were slobs galore hanging around who really dug what was going on and shouting, ‘shut your gob!’ to the crowd. It was a bunch of malarkey and no good shenanigans!
Though some words might be outdated or unfamiliar, you’ve probably heard most of these Irish words which made their way into the English language. As a living language, English takes words from all over the world and makes them its own. Irish is no exception and perhaps should be expected as so many Irish have emigrated to England, the United States, Canada, and Australia.
I love this quote by James D. Nicoll: “The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.” (I even have this quote on a T-shirt. English nerd alert, I know.) But aren’t words and their history fascinating?
Here are the words I used in my example that have Irish roots:
- Hooligan: This one surprised me. It actually comes from a surname, Houlihan (O hUallachain). They were apparently notorious for being a raucous bunch. The name became a sort of slur on the Irish, as ‘all Irish are unruly drunkards/hooligans’. Now it refers to someone up to no good in a mischief sort of way. Here’s a fun article for more information if you’re interested: https://qz.com/1306921/world-cup-2018-hooligans-is-an-ethnic-slur-in-history
- Donnybrook: This is a name of a district in Dublin. (Irish-Domhnach Broc) It has come to mean a free for all fight. That’s due to a fair that was held in Donnybrook every year from about 1204 to 1866. Must have been some fair! You can read more here: https://iomst.ie/a-brief-history-of-donnybrook-fair/#:~:text=This%20was%20the%20message%20to,fair%20was%20closed%20for%20good.
- Slew: According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, Slew may be from slua/sluag meaning army/host/throng. It was used as part of a war-cry. Here’s a fun little read: https://mashedradish.com/2016/03/17/four-leaf-etymologies-slew/
- Slogan: A call/cry.This goes hand in hand with slew. The war-cry was, ‘sluag gairm’, or a call to arms. The Scottish also used this term.
- Galore: Back to the Merriam-Webster dictionary; Irish from go leor. It meant ‘enough’. We tend to use it as more than enough. “There were pies galore at the Donnybrook fair.”
- Boycott: Another surprise. Boycott is a last name. Charles Cunningham Boycott was an English land agent in county Mayo. He, and others like him, evicted Irish tenants in heartless and cruel manners as well as overcharging rents. This led to a land war all over Ireland in the 1880s. (And led to mass emigration once again, the Famine being the first wave.) The town shunned him in every way they could; they stopped work, refused to sell to him, etc. He wrote to a London paper and troops were called in. Basically, all hell broke loose. The idea of shunning- or Boycotting – caught on and gave the poor of Ireland some power. It became a popular way to fight the British. Interesting article here for more: https://www.irishcentral.com/roots/history/irish-invented-boycott
- Smithereens: Pretty straight forward – smiodar to smidirin to smiddereens to smithereens.Means small fragments.
- Buddy: I stumbled into a hornet’s nest on this one. Some believe that much of our slang came from the streets of NYC with all the Irish and Irish gangs in the late 1880s to early 1900s. This is one of those words. Bodach, which translates to ‘strong, lusty youth’. Others disagree and would contend that it’s all malarkey. Fascinating article here: https://www.irishcentral.com/roots/history/irish-words-litter-new-york-slang
- Slob: from Vocabulary.com; Irish, Slab, which means ‘mud’. The expression slob comes from ‘slob of a man’. Meaning someone who worked in muddy land or bogs. https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/slob
- Whisky: ahhh, the water of life. Literally. Uisce means water. Beatha means of life. Usquebaugh. Interesting sideline; Whiskey is Irish and United States. Whisky is Scottish/Canadian. (It has to do with where the grain is distilled, but it was getting too technical for me.)
- Brogues: are shoes with small holes in them, originally meant to allow water and mud to ooze out, keeping one’s feet sorta dry. Now, they’re classy shoes. From Merriam-Webster: comes from the Irish word brog. Which means shoe. Probably comes from Old Norse (Vikings invasions). Brogue as an accent comes from a different word, barrog.
12. Dig: (slang) An dtuigeann tu? Do you get it? Dig it?
13. Gob: etymonline.com/gob says, ‘1540s Irish for mouth. Related to English gobbet. Related to goblet.’ I wonder if the British gobsmacked is also related?
14. Phony: Love this one! From Dictionary.com: “…likely comes from an old con known as the fawney rig. Fawney is…Irish for ‘finger ring,’ and rig is an old term for ‘trick’ or ‘swindle’. Check it out: https://www.dictionary.com/browse/phony#:~:text=While%20the%20exact%20origins%20of,trick%E2%80%9D%20or%20%E2%80%9Cswindle.%E2%80%9D
15. Trousers: The Irish were wearing trousers long before it became popular among men (and women). Trius to trouzes to trousers.
16. Shenanigans: What surprised me the most about this word is a disagreement of its origin. It could come from the Irish sionnachuighim which translates to “I play the fox”. There’s quite a discussion on reddit too—from defending Irish to saying it’s a Spanish word, (Chanada) to a German word (Schenigelei). Shenanigans is a fairly recent word that appeared about 1855 in California. Here is a short and sweet article for you to decide where you think it originated: https://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-she1.htm
17. Malarkey: Definitely Irish, right? Well…the Oxford dictionary says, ‘specific origin is unknown’. It only came into use in the 1920s. However, the Visual Thesaurus states that it was made popular by Thomas A. Dorgan, a cartoonist of Irish descent. It certainly sounds Irish. Check it out here: https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2012/10/12/162791655/whats-all-this-malarkey-about-malarkey#:~:text=According%20to%20Oxford%20Dictionaries%2C%20malarkey,word%20hasn’t%20been%20established.
One article I read pointed out (and rightly so) that compared to other languages, there aren’t a lot of Irish words in the English language. Speaking Irish, in Ireland, was looked down upon by the English. If you wanted to survive in the English controlled Ireland, one had to learn English. The Irish were made to feel shame in speaking their language. As the Irish immigrated, they wanted to fit in their new country, so they lost the Irish.
In Ireland, it became a secret language. Since Ireland reclaimed most of their country in 1922 they’ve worked to bring their language back. Roughly one million people speak Irish worldwide. It’s mostly a second language in Ireland, English being the first. The Connaught area has the most Irish speakers. Everyone on Inis Mor spoke Irish; it was really nice to listen to it. I found many speaking Irish in the Galway area. At LaGuardia I asked the man at the counter of Aer Lingus, who was from Ireland, if he spoke Irish. He appeared somewhat insulted and informed me he was from Northern Ireland and of course he didn’t speak Irish.
Were you familiar with any of the words on my list? What did you think about Shenanigans and Malarkey—Irish or not? Let me know if you found this interesting or helpful.
Slan for now.