Tag Archives: etymology of begorrah

Begorrah!

I have had a message from a watcher of the site in New Zealand:

Just wanted to ask you a question,
(Long time lurker on your site)
I am looking for the origins of the word –
begorrah , Been Googling seems to be an Irish loan word into English
I have a wee bit of Irish & can’t see any obvious answers in Irish, other than a “stage Irish” ( Punch cartoon) translation
of ” by God “
My apologies but sometimes these things concern me !, shame Cassidy is dead ! I could have asked him & got a bullshit reply!
Go raibh maith agat ( in advance )
Chris O’Regan

I’m a bit pressed for time at the moment but I thought I would give a brief reply. Chris is asking where the word Begorrah comes from and it’s an interesting question.

Begorrah is what we call a minced oath, a kind of euphemism where a taboo expression is disguised. Thus the French say Sacré Bleu instead of Sacré Dieu, the Irish say dar fia instead of dar Dia and the English say jeepers instead of Jesus. Minced oaths are very common.

There are lots of minced oaths based on by God, such as by gum (and the iconic Yorkshire ‘ee bah gum!’), by gosh, by golly, by George, begob. Begorrah is a version of one variant of by God, begor. This is found as begorras in Somerset and begorrie in Scotland. In other words, begorrah has nothing to do with the Irish language.

The particular form begorrah, of course, is specifically associated with the Irish and particularly with the kind of phoney stage-Irish talk found in 19th century melodramas. (e.g “Begorrah, sure and isn’t it a fine soft morning that’s in it, ma vourneen oh …”)

Apparently, Pat O’Brien, the American actor, once claimed that it was never heard in Ireland and was invented by a vaudeville comedian called Pat White, who flourished in the decade before the First World War. A quick search of newspaper archives turns up examples of it in stage-Irish dialogue from (at least) the year 1838, so that’s plainly not true, though it is true that Irish people rarely say begorrah and never without a sense of irony!

And while the late Daniel Cassidy never actually wrote about begorrah, he did make up some arrant bullshit about how By Golly! comes from Irish ‘bíodh geall air’, which basically means ‘you bet’, or ‘that’s for sure’ (or ironically, it can mean ‘yeah right!’) This is a bad match in sound and meaning and doesn’t take into account all the related terms like begob, Golly!, Gosh!, and by gum.

Anyhow, Chris, greetings to you and the rest of the folks in the Land of the Long White Cloud. Bígí sábháilte agus kia kaha!

A brief post-script: It seems that Chris O’Regan, mentioned above, is a talented artist from Dunedin in New Zealand who specialises in metalwork based on ancient Celtic knotwork and animal designs. You can check out his products here:

Celtic Triskele 50 mm Pendant – Celtic Art Dagda Metalwork