Tag Archives: stage Irish

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

Cassidese Glossary – Acushla

For some time now, some of my on-line friends have advised me to provide a version of CassidySlangScam without the invective aimed at Cassidy and his supporters. In response to that advice, I am working on providing a glossary of the terms in Cassidy’s book How The Irish Invented Slang with a short, simple and business-like explanation of why Cassidy’s version is wrong.

Cassidy’s version is that acushla is from the Irish a chúisle, a vocative expression, or cúisle mo croí (pronounced ċushla macree), where cúisle means vein or pulse while mo croí supposedly means of my heart.

This is close to the truth but not correct or well-researched. The word for pulse or vein is cuisle, not cúisle, which would be pronounced kooshla, not kushla. The term of endearment is a chuisle, not a chúisle, and a chuisle mo chroí would be correct for ‘oh vein of my heart’, not cúisle mo croí. The ċ is a device formerly used in Irish orthography to show séimhiú (insertion of a h in modern Irish spelling), which is inappropriate in a phonetic description and in any case, it would be inappropriate here where the word does not begin with ch (according to Cassidy).

It is also quite clear that this is not an English word. If, as Cassidy claimed, there were hundreds or thousands of Irish words and phrases in English, you would expect common endearments like this to be top of the list, yet New Yorkers do not address one another as ‘acushla’. Such expressions are only found in English in the context of sentimental Irish melodramas or ballads, and their origin from Irish Gaelic has never been disputed.