Tag Archives: English words from Irish

Clamour

One of the most ridiculous claims made by Daniel Cassidy is that the English word clamour derives from the Irish words glam mór. Glam means ‘bark, bay; howl, shout, roar’ and mór means ‘big’. This claim is made in several reviews of Cassidy’s book, such as this one: “The words and phrases of Ireland are as woven into the clamour (glam mor, great howl, shout and roar) … of American life as the hot jazz (teas, pron j’as, cd’as, heat, passion, excitement) of New Orleans.” However, it seems not to have made it to the book itself. Perhaps someone pointed out how ludicrous the claim was and Cassidy decided to surreptitiously bury it without comment. Several of Cassidy’s more gullible and deluded fans are still spreading it online.

And believe me, this claim really is total nonsense. Clamour (clamor in the American spelling) is on record in English since the Middle English period. It was used by Chaucer in the Canterbury Tales in 1385. Middle English took it from Old French and it ultimately derives from the Latin clamare, meaning to shout. It has cognates in Spanish and Portuguese. It has no connection with an Irish word for barking, except that an American nutcase who was completely barking thought it was Irish.

Loreto Todd and Green English

I recently came across a terrible St Paddy’s Day article by Mark Bergin which references Daniel Cassidy and his crazy theories. With regard to Bergin’s article itself, which is full of nonsense, the less said the better. However, it did point me in an interesting direction, to a book which I had never read before, Green English by Loreto Todd. It is strange that I had never encountered this book before as I had read one of the author’s books on pidgins and creoles decades ago and we both live in the same small contested piece of land known variously as the Six Counties or Northern Ireland.

The book, originally published in 1999, has a certain amount in common with Cassidy’s. It shares Cassidy’s conviction that the mainstream dictionaries and particularly the OED have not looked sufficiently closely at the contribution to English from Irish. A tiny handful of the derivations of English words from Irish are the same as those given by Cassidy. I will deal with this handful in more detail below. 

However, to compare Todd to Cassidy would not be fair. Todd is or was a real academic, with experience in universities all over the world and a string of publications in book form or in journals. Most of the book is a good, though short and not terribly original, look at the possible influences of Hiberno-English (and the Gaelic component in it) on world English. She loves the Irish language (as do I) and writes a very laudable section about how the world is poorer for the loss of minority languages.

The problem that I would have with the book is a general sloppiness and an overall air of romanticism. Todd is a romantic about language and she gets carried away at times and makes claims which lack any kind of evidence.

Among examples of the sloppiness is a tendency to use Gaelic or G willy-nilly as a term for Irish or Scottish Gaelic, without distinction (sonsy, for example, is plainly from Scottish Gaelic, not Irish). Another is the lack of consistency in terms of spelling. Sometimes the spellings are derived from the forms given in English dictionaries (cainnt, sean-tigh), sometimes they are the modern standard spelling. Her Irish is by no means perfect. For example, she thinks a stóir is the correct Irish version of the Hiberno-English asthore. The grammar books and dictionaries insist that it is a stór. She says that the OED doesn’t recognise the origin of puss as in sourpuss as Irish, which seems to be completely untrue, though a lack of proper referencing means that it is impossible to check which version of the OED she is referring to.

The claims which lack any evidence at all are more serious and I would like to discuss this in greater depth. There is a complicating factor here in that we need to be clear what Todd is actually claiming. She seems to be making a claim that when languages are in contact, a similar word in one language can reinforce the use of a word in another, even if it’s not a borrowing. The example she gives is a certain African pidgin, where the word uman is plainly English woman, but apparently in a local language, Efik, the word for woman is uman anyway, so this would reinforce its use.  

There are several problems with this. The most obvious is that it is completely untestable. In this English-based pidgin, would people have used uman for woman anyway or did the Efik language have some impact? Maybe, but I can’t think of any convincing way of proving it. The derivation from woman seems sure, the influence of Efik is nothing more than a ghostly presence. It is when she gives examples of the Irish words which might have influenced English in this way that the sloppiness and the romanticism come together to produce a bit of a train-wreck. For one thing, it is unclear whether she is claiming that these words are derived from Irish or reinforced by it. For another, she makes no attempt to look at the history of the word and see what other scholars have said about its derivation. While she invites people to consider the list at the end of the book and draw their own conclusions, she doesn’t give them sufficient information to do this.

For example, she claims that cuddle may have been reinforced by (or derive from) Irish codail, which means sleep. Really? Why? I can’t see a close semantic connection between cuddle and sleep and it seems to me that this word is somehow linked to words like coddle and huddle. The same with hug, which Todd links to Irish cuaich (properly cuach in the modern spelling). This doesn’t sound like hug, even in the past tense form chuach, and in any case, most sources link hug to a Norse word meaning ‘to comfort’.

Then there is her claim that the pronoun she in English might be a loanword from Irish . The usual explanation is that she developed out of a demonstrative pronoun in a parallel way to the development of sie in German. This makes sense to me and linguists will tell you that borrowing of pronouns is really uncommon. Perhaps she is right in saying that Irish should have been considered as a source .. but not for very long!

She says that while many linguists, including Irish linguists, believe that craic came into Irish from English crack, she is not so sure and thinks it might be the other way around. She cites as ‘evidence’ that the first use of it is found in Scots and that Spenser used it, and Spenser lived in Ireland. This is really clutching at straws. Scots, of course is mostly Germanic and there is not much Gaelic in it, and Spenser hated the Irish and wrote for his wealthy patrons on the other side of the Irish Sea. There would be no reason for him to put words into his writings which were not English, so her claim seems unlikely here.

Again, arsehole in English is, according to Todd, either borrowed from or reinforced by (what a tiresome get-out that is!) the Irish asal, meaning a donkey. Why not English arse+hole?

There are a lot of others. Jig (derived from French giguer) is linked to Irish dígeann meaning climax (ooh er, missus!) Teem (to drain, from Norse) is linked to Irish taom, which comes from a Norse word for to drain. Drool, which is really linked to words like drivel and dribble, is from dreolán, meaning a fool (why? I know plenty of fools but few of them actually dribble …) Spree is variously given as spré (to scatter, squander – FGB actually defines it as spread, dowry, spark) or as spréigh, while in Irish the word equivalent to spree is always spraoi. And as for through-other, this could be influenced by Irish trína chéile but the fact is that this phrase is found in Northern England and Scotland and is cognate with durcheinander in German.In other words, I can’t see much, if any, value in her speculations here.

Before I leave this (rather long) post, let me deal with the handful of words where Todd’s claims are the same as Cassidy’s. Both of them derive so long from slán, ignoring well-known derivations from German and Scandinavian languages. Brag is derived by both of them from bréag, bum from bumaire, and cop (to stop, seize or think) from ceap, hack from each, and twig from tuig. (There may be one or two others but I really can’t be bothered comparing every claim of Todd with every claim made by Cassidy). The only one here likely to be correct is twig. The rest of the handful of words in common between Todd and Cassidy (mavourneen, achushla, poteen etc.) are also found in other dictionaries and sources and didn’t originate with either of them, so they are irrelevant to the argument that Irish words have been ignored.

However, it is important to stress that the claims in Todd’s book do not confirm or support Cassidy’s claims in any way.  Todd didn’t find áilteoir scaoilte in helter-skelter or uath dubh in hoodoo or béal ónna in baloney or steall béideán in stool pigeon or indeed any of the hundreds of other crappy made-up pieces of nonsense in Cassidy’s book. If Cassidy had been right, you would expect at least half of the words and phrases in his book to be found in Todd’s book as well, not the pathetic handful which we really find.

 

Irish Words in English – A List

The fantasist Daniel Cassidy, in his absurd book How The Irish Invented Slang, pretended that there had been a conspiracy against Irish words among English-language dictionary-makers. He did this to cover up the incompetence of his ‘research’. At the same time, he invented hundreds of ridiculous fake Irish expressions like pá lae sámh and sách úr and claimed that these were the origin of common English expressions. However, while packing his book full of imaginary rubbish, he was far too lazy to research the subject properly, so he missed dozens of Irish words which are in the mainstream dictionaries. Here is a list of Irish words in English. I have spent a couple of months compiling it. It is probably not exhaustive and if anyone can think of any I’ve missed, please let me know!

 

banshee = bean sí, fairy woman. A spirit which appears before a death in an Irish household.

barmbrack An Irish fruit loaf. From bairín breac, speckled loaf.

bodhrán.  A winnowing drum used as a musical instrument.

bog  (from bogach meaning “marsh/peatland”) a wetland (according to OED).

bonnaught  A type of billeting or a billeted soldier. From Irish buannacht, billeting or billeting tax.

boreen (from bóithrín meaning “small road”) a narrow rural road in Ireland.

brat – a cloak or overall – now only in regional dialects (from Old Irish bratt meaning “cloak, cloth”)

brehon  A judge of ancient Irish law. From Irish breitheamh.

brogue  (from bróg meaning “shoe”) a type of shoe (OED).

brogue  A strong regional accent, especially an Irish or one. Not as the OED says, a reference to the footwear of speakers of the brogue, but from barróg, an Irish word for a lisp or accent.

callow A river meadow, a landing-place, from Irish caladh.

camogie  From Irish camóg, small hooked object, a camogue. The women’s equivalent of hurling.

carrageen moss. From Irish carraigín, ‘little rock’.

carrow  An ancient Irish gambler, from cearrbhach.

caubeen  An Irish beret, adopted as part of the uniform of Irish regiments of the British Army. From cáibín.

clabber, also bonny-clabber (from clábar and bainne clábair) curdled milk.

clarsach  An ancient Irish and Scottish harp, from Irish cláirseach.

clock  O.Ir. clocc meaning “bell”. Probably entered Germanic via the hand-bells used by early Irish missionaries.

coccagee Cac na gé, goose shit. The name of a type of cider apple found in Ireland, so called for its green colour.

colcannon A kind of ‘bubble and squeak’. Probably from cál ceannfhionn, white headed cabbage.

colleen (from cailín meaning “a girl”).

conk Slang term for a big nose. The term Old Conky was a nickname for the Duke of Wellington. Dinneen gives coinncín as ‘a prominent nose’ and this seems to be related to terms like geanc, meaning a snub nose.

coshering Nothing to do with Jewish dietary law. Coshering (from Irish cóisir, feast) was when a lord went round staying with his subjects and expecting to be entertained. Because of this cóisireacht can mean ‘sponging’ in Modern Irish, though cóisir usually just means a party.

coyne. A kind of billeting, from Irish coinmheadh.

cross  The ultimate source of this word is Latin crux. The English word comes from Old Irish cros via Old Norse kross.

cudeigh  A night’s lodging, from Irish cuid na hoíche.

curragh  An Irish boat made from skins or tarred canvas stretched over a wooden frame. Irish currach.

drum, drumlin, from Irish droim, droimlín. A ridge or small hill of glacial origin, such as in the landscape of Down.

drisheen is a type of black pudding associated with Cork. From drisín.

dudeen  A clay pipe, from Irish dúidín.

dulse  From Irish duileasc, originally meaning water leaf. A type of edible seaweed.

erenagh A hereditary holder of church lands. Irish aircheannach.

esker  From eiscir, an elongated ridge of post-glacial gravel, usually along a river valley (OED).

Fenian From Fianna meaning “semi-independent warrior band”, a member of a 19th-century Irish nationalist group (OED).

fiacre  a small four-wheeled carriage for hire, a hackney-coach, associated with St Fiacre area of Paris.  Named for Saint Fiachra.

fiorin  A type of long grass, derived from Irish feorthainn.

Gallowglass  (from gallóglach) a Scottish Gaelic mercenary soldier in Ireland between mid 13th and late 16th centuries.

galore (from go leor meaning “plenty”) a lot.

gillaroo  A type of fish. From Irish giolla rua, red lad.

glib  An obsolete term for a kind of haircut associated with warriors (because it protected the forehead) banned by the English. Irish glib, fringe.

gob  (literally beak) mouth. From Irish gob. (OED)

grouse  In slang sense of grumble, perhaps from gramhas, meaning grin, grimace, ugly face. (Not from Cassidy’s cráite!)

griskin  (from griscín) a lean cut of meat from the loin of a pig, a chop.

hooligan (from the Irish family name Ó hUallacháin, anglicised as Hooligan or Hoolihan).

keening  From caoinim (meaning “I wail”) to lament, to wail mournfully (OED.

kern  An outlaw or a common soldier. From ceithearn or ceithearnach, still the word in Irish for a pawn in chess.

Leprechaun a fairy or spirit (from leipreachán)

Limerick (from Luimneach). The limerick form was particularly associated in the 18th century with a group of Irish language poets called Filí na Máighe.

lough  (from loch) a lake, or arm of the sea.

madder  Also mether. A traditional square-sided wooden drinking vessel, Irish meadar.

merrow  An Irish mermaid. Irish murúch.

moiley  An ancient breed of Irish hornless cattle, from maol, bald or hornless.

ogham Ancient Irish alphabet. The Irish is also ogham (pronounced oh-um).

orrery A mechanical model of solar system, named for the Earl of Orrery. This is an old Irish tribal name, Orbhraighe.

pampootiepampúta A kind of shoe with good grip worn by men in the Aran Islands.

phoney (probably from the English fawney meaning “gilt brass ring used by swindlers”, which is from Irish fáinne meaning “ring”) fake.

pinkeen  From pincín, a minnow or an insignificant person. This in turn comes from English pink + Irish diminutive –ín.

pollan A fish found in Irish loughs, Irish pollán.

pookawn A fishing boat, from Irish púcán.

poteen (from poitín) hooch, bootleg alcoholic drink.

puck  (in hockey)  Almost certainly from Irish poc, according to the OED.

puss  As in sourpuss, comes from Irish pus, a pouting mouth.

rapparee An Irish highwayman, from ropaire (a stabber)

rath  A strong circular earthen wall forming an enclosure and serving as a fort and residence for a tribal chief. From Irish rath.

shamrock (from seamróg) a shamrock, diminutive of seamair, clover, used as a symbol for Ireland.

Shan Van Vocht (from seanbhean bhocht meaning “poor old woman”) a literary name for Ireland in the 18th and 19th centuries.

shebeen (from síbín meaning “illicit whiskey, poteen”, apparently a diminutive of síob, which means drift, blow, ride) unlicensed house selling alcohol (OED).

shillelagh (from sail éille meaning “a beam with a strap”) a wooden club or cudgel made from a stout knotty stick with a large knob on the end.

shoneen  A West Brit, an Irishman who apes English customs. From Irish Seoinín, a little John (in a Gaelic version of the English form, Seon, not the Irish Seán).

Sidhe Modern Sí, the fairies, fairyland.

slauntiagh An obsolete word for sureties or guarantees, which comes from Irish sláinteacha with the same meaning.

sleveen, sleiveen (from slíbhín) an untrustworthy or cunning person. Used in Ireland and Newfoundland (OED).

slew (from slua meaning “a large number”) a great amount (OED).

slob (from slab) mud (OED).

slogan  (from sluaghairm meaning “a battle-cry used by Gaelic clans”). I think this is more likely to be of Scottish origin.

smithereens small fragments, atoms. In phrases such as ‘to explode into smithereens’. This is the Irish word smidiríní. This is obviously Irish because of the –ín ending but the basic word seems to be Germanic, something to do with the work of a smith.

spalpeen  A migratory labourer in Ireland. From spailpín.

spunk  Tinder, from Latin spongia via Irish or Gaelic sponc. It later acquired the meaning of ‘semen’.

tanist  The deputy and successor of a chieftain or religious leader. A term used in anthropology. From Irish tánaiste, secondary person.

tilly (from tuilleadh meaning “a supplement”) used in Newfoundland to refer to an additional luck-penny. It is used by Joyce in the first chapter of Ulysses.

tory Originally an Irish outlaw, probably from the word tóraí meaning “pursuer”.

trousers  From Irish triús.

turlough  A seasonal lake in limestone area (OED). Irish turloch ‘dry lake.’

uilleann pipes. Irish belows-blown bagpipes. Uilleann is Irish for ‘elbow’.

usker From Irish uscar, a jewel sewn into an item of clothing.

whiskey From uisce beatha meaning “water of life”.