Friday, May 14, 2021

English embraces 'Erin galore'

| March 16, 2021 1:00 AM

Top o’the morning to ye.

Not that I heard anyone say that in Ireland; it’s probably as American as corned beef on St. Paddy’s Day. Seriously, actual Irish friends tell me shepherd’s pie will grace more Irish dinner tables tomorrow.

Real or imagined, Americans are infatuated with all things Irish. Cultural contributions from Celts and Gaels reach deeper than shamrocks (with not four, but three leaves to represent the Trinity, said St. Patrick), leprechauns, or Guinness. We evoke Irish heritage year-round without even knowing it.

Old Irish weaved its way into American English while steadfastly holding to Ireland’s various English dialects. Collectively called “Hiberno-English” (Hibernia is Latin for Ireland), here’s a sample:

Banshee: From “bainsidhe/beansidhe” — literally, female faery. In Irish mythology a banshee was an omen of death, which is probably why we think of them screaming.

Bog: “Bogach” — marsh or peatland

Boycott: An Irish ostracism of the infamous (English) Captain Charles Boycott, who refused to lower tenant farmers’ rents. This one soon spread as far as Japan (boikotto).

Brogue: “Brog” (1) a type of shoe, which was the original meaning; or now (2) regional accent

Clock: “Clocc” — handbell used by missionaries (also Old High German “glocka”)

Colleen: “Cailin” — a young woman (another common name, Erin, means Ireland)

Galore: “Go leor” — “til plenty;” a lot

Hooligan: A family name, “O’ huallachain,” anglicized as O'Houlihan (they must have been a rowdy bunch)

Kibosh: “kybosh” — put an end to ("that's put the kibosh on it"). Origin may be Yiddish, or from the Irish “an chaip bhais” ("the cap of death" — a judge’s black cap worn when imposing sentence of capital punishment; or worse, from “pitchcapping” — when the British tortured Irish rebels by pouring hot pitch on the captive’s head then, once dry, tearing off the “cap”)

Phoney: “Fainne” — literally, ring. A gilt brass ring worn by swindlers; became “fawney” in English. Also, “fainne” today refers to a pin which signifies commitment to speaking Irish.

Slew: “Sluagh” — a large number

Slogan: “Sluagh-ghairm” — a Gaelic battle cry

Smithereens: “Smidrin” — small fragments, atoms

And maybe you guessed this one: Whiskey — “uisce beatha,” the water of life.

“Erin go bragh!” Ireland forever.

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Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Contact her at