12 Words Peculiar to Irish English.

Stan Carey posts about words or usages “characteristic of Irish English (aka Hiberno-English), whether integral to its grammar or produced on occasions of unalloyed Irishness.” A couple of samples:

1. Plámás is an Irish word borrowed into Irish English meaning ‘empty flattery or wheedling’. It’s sometimes used witheringly in reference to political speech, for some reason.

5. Fooster (often foosther to evoke vernacular pronunciation) is a verb denoting fiddling or fidgeting, a kind of busy activity that is aimless or inefficient. You can stop foostering around now in search of an unsatisfying synonym.

This is the sort of thing I love. Thanks, David!

Comments

  1. Chris Booth says:

    Hmm, nice list, but I don’t know about “peculiar to Irish English”. “Oxter” is pretty commonly used in Scots English, and we also have “footer” with much the same meaning as the “fooster” he mentions.
    And if “feck” has a surprising etymology, why doesn’t he tell us about it?

  2. My favorite is “banjax.”

  3. David Marjanović says:

    Any guesses as to where plámás originally comes from? With its p it can’t have a Gaelic origin.

  4. Apparently from blancmange.

  5. Oxter is < OE ōxta (the /r/ is probably contamination from Old Norse), and so it is a shared primitive character, saying nothing about affiliation. The compounds armhole and armpit (the former has not survived) arose in the 14C and displaced oxter in the dialects leading to Standard English, but not necessarily elsewhere.

  6. Does fooster, like the British footle, ultimately come from the French foutre, in other words ‘to screw around’?

  7. Gearóid Ó Fathaigh says:

    Plámás is regularly said to be from blancmange – must be a Hiberno-Norman loan

  8. Chris Booth: The 12 words in Stan’s post are links to his separate articles about them. But for convenience, I’ll reproduce the etymology here:

    “In faith” becomes the improbable “in faith’s kin” shortened to “i’fackins”, which gradually shrinks to “fac” and “feck” . . .

  9. Y: I wondered the same thing.

  10. speedwell says:

    My in-laws in County Tyrone use “wile” (spelled that way when they write it, though I think it is “wild”) as an adjective or intensifier that is slightly to fully negative. “I didn’t ask her before I took her scarf and she was wile ragin'”, my mother-in-law might say, or “You better check your car before you leave this morning, there’s a wile frost” from my sister-in-law the other day. I note that I have heard it from every member of my cohort (30 to 50 years old) but of the children, only from the 17-year-old boy, the oldest of all the kids.

  11. Thanks for the link, LH. There’ll be another set in due course, after I’ve blogged separately about a few more Irishisms.

    @Chris: All of this information is either in the post I wrote or in the posts it links to. Do keep up.

    @Brett: Banjax(ed) is an excellent word and is on the list. I may do a twofer with bockety.

    @speedwell: It was from a Donegal friend that I first heard that use of wile. I discuss it briefly in my post on fierce, as they’re used very similarly.

  12. per incuriam says:

    With its p it can’t have a Gaelic origin
    Not sure it’s quite that clear-cut. Once the Gaels finally overcame their p-aversion they seem to have gone a bit overboard with the new letter, not just in borrowings e.g. “pónaire” (bean), “plúr” (flour), or indeed the present example, but also in some native words e.g. “poc” < "boc".

    One of Stan Carey's twelve is "amn't", which is described as "non-standard". I'm always intrigued by this idea of a "standard" for spoken English. I mean, who sets it? Sounds likes a nice back door for ones inner prescriptivist…

  13. I’m always intrigued by this idea of a “standard” for spoken English. I mean, who sets it?

    Well, nobody, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Like pornography, we know it when we see it. You’re surely not maintaining that “amn’t” is standard? The problem is not with the idea of “standard English” but with the idea that anything that’s not standard is ipso facto bad.

  14. per incuriam says:

    we know it when we see it

    But who’s this “we”? The discussion at Stan’s blog shows that there are those who don’t “know it when they see it”.

    You’re surely not maintaining that “amn’t” is standard?

    Eh, no… my point was clearly about the very idea of a “standard”, not its content.

  15. Right, but the idea depends on examples. If you agree that “amn’t” isn’t standard, then the idea of a standard isn’t meaningless.

    The discussion at Stan’s blog shows that there are those who don’t “know it when they see it”.

    Not sure what you mean; can you give an example? Arguing that particular forms are not in fact peculiar to Irish English does not have anything to do with the idea of a standard.

  16. Per incuriam: The variety called “Standard English” is a dialect that has a spoken as well as a written form: some people (including yours truly) grew up speaking it. Unlike other dialects, it doesn’t have a specific pronunciation. Amn’t doesn’t belong to it, nor does ain’t. I’m willing to agree that calling it “Standard” is something of a misnomer, although its written form does serve the same function as (written) standard Czech or Finnish.

  17. @John Cowan: Standard English isn’t a dialect, or at least not a single one. Your and my native dialect (standard American English) does not have the same vocabulary as standard British English, for example.

  18. per incuriam says:

    If you agree that “amn’t” isn’t standard, then the idea of a standard isn’t meaningless

    I agreed no such thing. Nor did I argue that the idea of a standard was “meaningless”. What I’m curious to know is what it does mean. On its face, it seems rather a loaded term in this enlightened age. And your reference to a judicial dictum on obscenity rather strengthens this impression.

    Not sure what you mean; can you give an example?

    See comments on the “amn’t” entry. Commenter Jimmy for example says “I’ve never realised I was using the ‘incorrect’ grammar with my use of amn’t!”.

    @John Cowan
    Unlike other dialects, it doesn’t have a specific pronunciation

    Now we’re talking – different people can pronounce the same thing as “aren’t”, “ain’t” or “amn’t” and all of them are standard. I think I get it.

  19. Part one of that article actually does have words peculiar to (rather than just characteristic of) Irish English, and this one struck me:
    1. Smacht is a noun loaned from Irish meaning control, discipline, or order. You might put smacht on something or someone, like an untidy room or an unruly team.
    I can’t help feeling it’s related to “smack” in English – phrases like “the smack of firm government” seem to fit “smacht” better than either other sense (“smack” meaning “blow”, which is probably onomatopoeic? and “smack” meaning “taste” which is Germanic.)

    In which case, I wonder which way it went? “Craic” after all is an Irishing of “crack”.

  20. Brett: Slight variations in vocabulary don’t make a dialect boundary. AAVE is a national dialect of the U.S., although it incorporates local words (sometimes shared with non-AAVE speakers, sometimes not) in different cities. I say “stand on line” as part of my variety of Standard English; you probably don’t unless you live in or near NYC or Minneapolis-St. Paul.

    Per Incuriam: It’s possible that there are still Standard speakers who say /eɪnt/ or /ɛnt/ for aren’t, but I doubt it: it’s pretty much a mark of non-Standard varieties now. Amn’t is definitely not part of any kind of Standard English: it’s morphologically separate.

  21. There’s room for argument about whether the concept of Standard English should accommodate local varieties or be restricted to elements that are shared by speakers / writers of standard English worldwide. But if you believe in varieties of standard English, then “amn’t” is certainly standard Irish English, as Stan says. It raises no eyebrows even in formal contexts.

    I see Stan notes the oddness of “the double negative question amn’t I not, which I’ve come across in […] tags (I’m not drunk neither, amn’t I not)”. Those never sounded right to me, and the “right” way of tagging negatives in my childhood was “sure I’m not?” etc. – e.g., “He isn’t really an astronaut, sure he isn’t?”. Accent on “sure” (pronounced “sher” as in Shirley, contrary to the Stage Irish norm: /u/ is reserved for the adjective*). I think I might still use that construction in informal contexts, e.g., with my own daughter. (I just asked her “You’re not hungry, sure you’re not?” and she didn’t hear anything odd about it.) Maybe Stan’s already covered this one?

    *I should clarify that I’m pretty sure that “sure” isn’t an adjective in these tags, though I don’t know what it is. In other stereotypically Irish English uses it’s a discourse marker (“Sure everyone knows that”).

  22. But if you believe in varieties of standard English, then “amn’t” is certainly standard Irish English, as Stan says. It raises no eyebrows even in formal contexts.

    That’s fair enough, and I of all people shouldn’t need to be reminded that different speech areas have different standards.

  23. I was responding more to JC’s remark that amn’t definitely isn’t part of any kind of Standard English, Hat.

  24. David Marjanović says:

    Once the Gaels finally overcame their p-aversion they seem to have gone a bit overboard with the new letter, not just in borrowings e.g. “pónaire” (bean), “plúr” (flour), or indeed the present example, but also in some native words e.g. “poc” < “boc”.

    Thought so. Not too surprising either, seeing as my linguistic ancestors have done the same (lots of place names and surnames with p < b). There are even words in my dialect where I can’t say if they have an etymological /p/ or not…

  25. per incuriam says:

    @ajay
    “Smacht” in English I’ve never heard but the Irish word is native, from the same PIE root that yielded German “Macht”, English “might” etc. An instance of s-mobile no doubt.

    @John Cowan
    Thank you for your explanations but I am none the wiser. It all seems rather circular, arbitary, and subjective. Not the sort of things normally associated with a “standard”. Smacks to me of prescriptivism lite.

  26. Per, descriptively a standard variety of a language is one that by consensus in a language community at large(*) has come to be regarded as unremarkable and unobjectionable; as such it is useful for linguistic expression when you have no advance knowledge of who your recipient is and you do not want how you say things to be in the way of what you want to say.

    Whether such a consensus exists and whether texts that adhere to it are received more positively in relevant contexts are observable facts; whether there is consensus that a given word, expression or construction is standard is indeed harder to determine without relying on the subjective impressions of individual speakers, but Google Ngrams and other corpora help.

    For a prescriptivist on the other hand their individual conception of ‘proper’ language has been imbued with mystical qualities above and beyond that, sometimes as being the only thing keeping the barbarian hordes without the gates and preventing the immediate collapse of civilization as we know it, but always as something the mastery of which marks their separation from the lazy and the stupid.
    ______________
    (*) The way the world currently works, texts like public announcements, news articles, and job applications are rarely intended for use beyond the borders of a specific national state, and consensus does not necessarily form between the language communities of national states even though they are part of a larger linguistic continuum, or at least the consensus is only on a less detailed level and slower to converge.

  27. Well said.

  28. But incomplete. There are standard languages that are products of design rather than evolution: N’Ko, Standard Finnish, Bokmål, Nynorsk.

  29. My definition is purely synchronic, evolution or design does not enter into it. And you can have as many official committees as you like producing dictionaries and grammars attempting to regulate standard usage — until there is a consensus among the users of the language to put the result into practice, the committees will just be prescriptivists with better paygrades. (I’ll mention l’Académie française here so no-one else has to).

    Such a consensus does seem to exist for the Finnish and Norwegian examples (I know nothing about N’Ko), though I doubt on general principles that all aspects of the official standards have made it into standard usage in the descriptive sense.

  30. per incuriam says:

    Whether such a consensus exists and whether texts that adhere to it are received more positively in relevant contexts are observable facts

    Thanks for the lucid exposition but my question concerned only spoken forms such as amn’t not texts.

    Even in the case of texts though, is the term “standard” not somewhat unfortunate from a descriptivist standpoint? An “is” standard such as you describe slides easily into a crypto-prescriptivist “ought”.

  31. Per, the first paragraph should have made it clear that I include all forms of linguistic expression in my definition. If you don’t accept my intended reading of the word text to include spoken productions of language — I believe that reading is standard in some academic contexts at least — then yes, my phrasing could usefully be extended to include speech.

    As to your second point, standard variety seems to be a standard term, even among descriptivists, and I have no wish to fight consensus on this. It is true that the adjective has other senses that relate to official correctness, and confusion might arise; you might prefer acrolect which is almost synonymous though I think it is most often used of spoken language.

  32. An “is” standard such as you describe slides easily into a crypto-prescriptivist “ought”.

    If you worry too much about slippery slopes, it becomes nearly impossible to say anything. “Standard” is standard usage, and prescriptivists gonna prescribe no matter what word we use.

  33. Also note that even descriptivists may arrogate to themselves the right to define the terms of their art. Just like Humpty-Dumpty, though hopefully with less arrogance.

  34. Trond Engen says:

    There are standard languages that are products of design rather than evolution: N’Ko, Standard Finnish, Bokmål, Nynorsk.

    The Norwegian written languages are products not so much of design as of political attempts to engineer the sociolinguistic environment in favour of their base. Still. the development of Bokmål doesn’t differ much from that of any small national language, and Nynorsk hardly more than any other small national language standardized in 19th century Europe. What’s special in Norway is rather the opposite: There’s no teaching of a spoken Standard Language. As a result, a Standard Nynorsk Speech is non-existent (except as reading and in theaters, and then always with clear dialect features), while Bokmål helps establish the Oslo-based sociolinguistic folk-norm for dialect-free speech.

  35. @speedwell, that reminds me of a usage I learned about the other day, AAVE “wilin”. Different sense than “wile”, constructions likely related — and reading the name “Tyrone” made me hold up for a moment and get things straight!

    “Wilin” means roughly “acting crazy” or “partying hard”, viewed generally with admiration. It does *not* seem to have had connotations of violence, but it might have gotten turned into the newspapers’ idea of “wilding”, a violent rampage against strangers, attributed to the (innocent) young men in the 1989 Central Park attack.
    https://africanamericanenglish.com/2014/07/03/anything-you-say-can-and-will-be-used-against-you-the-case-of-wilding/

  36. There’s no teaching of a spoken Standard Language […] (except as reading and in theaters, and then always with clear dialect features).

    The same is of course true of English and German, with the same exceptions

  37. per incuriam says:

    If you don’t accept my intended reading of the word text to include spoken productions of language — I believe that reading is standard in some academic contexts at least — then yes, my phrasing could usefully be extended to include speech

    I accept it fine, just wasn’t familiar with it (it would perhaps be odd for somebody familiar with “text” used to include “speech” to be looking for elucidations of “standard”).

    It is true that the adjective has other senses that relate to official correctness, and confusion might arise

    Which is what is curious – why out of all the more neutral possibilities a word with such connotations was adopted as a term of art that would inevitably escape back into the wild.

    Although for a term of art it does seem to be used rather variably.

    Anyhow, I now see that Wikipedia speaks of “Standard Englishes” rather than “Standard English” and that this approach extends to sub-state level (Scottish Standard English). Which makes things much more inclusive assuming appropriate perimeters for the different varieties. But that would appear to invalidate the use of “standard” in the sort of context I found curious (not to say absurd), and it would then make no sense to say that “amn’t”, for example, isn’t standard English – it’s just not standard English English or New Zealand English or whatever. Likewise “septante” can stay standard French and “heuer” standard German – they’re just not standard across all or most of the respective language areas.

    If you worry too much about slippery slopes, it becomes nearly impossible to say anything. “Standard” is standard usage, and prescriptivists gonna prescribe no matter what word we use

    I did not make my point well. People hearing their own usage is “non-standard” are liable to interpret that as meaning “incorrect”. See, for example, the quoted comment above in response to Stan’s original post (which of course did not use words like “correct” or “incorrect”).

  38. There’s no teaching of a spoken Standard Language […] (except as reading and in theaters, and then always with clear dialect features).

    The same is of course true of English and German, with the same exceptions
    For German, that is not totally true – the way you word it sounds as if anything goes pronunciation-wise in German classrooms. In my experience, there are regional norms of pronunciation, and if pupils deviate from that – whether they show clearly dialectal features, foreign-language interference (e.g. pupils with an immigrant background) or deviating features from a different regional standard, they are corrected by the teachers. I grew up in Northern Germany, where I moved when I was about 2-3 years old, but my speech had (and still has) features from the Rhine-Ruhr area, where my parents grew up. These features would have been unremarkable and left uncorrected if I would have gone to school in the Rhine-Ruhr area, but in Northern Germany my teachers tried (with mixed success) to make me drop them.
    What is different in Germany to other countries I know is that the regional variants of the standard pronunciation are not stigmatized in public life outside of a school context, and that in some regions (mostly in Southern Germany) you can also drift fairly far into dialect in public, as long as you adress an audience from that region.

  39. speedwell says:

    Ahem. My 24-year-old niece in Australia wishes to inform me that SHE is “the biggest of all the wains” (there’s another of those Irish words, and it’s more usually “weans” = “wee anes”, probably from the Scottish side of the family), and she uses “wile” as well. Sorry, Fiona 🙂

    tangent, I am not exactly sure how what used to be “Tír Eoghain” (Owen’s Land) became a common-to-the-point-of-stereotypical African-American name. Surely one of the pros here can enlighten us?

  40. Hans,

    It works in a similar way in the US. Teachers (and more effectively peers) will also “correct” dialect features and pronuciations not considered appropriate to that region. I moved from Washington DC to New Hampshire when I was eleven and soon discovered that the way I pronounced words like “water” or “milk” was considered wrong. I have also noticed that in places like Boston politicians often favor regional pronunciations more than their constituents do.

  41. David Marjanović says:

    I have also noticed that in places like Boston politicians often favor regional pronunciations more than their constituents do.

    Two possible reasons: 1) the average age of politicians is higher than that of their constituents; 2) they try too hard to sound folksy. When Wolfgang Schüssel was head of the conservative party and Federal Chancellor of Austria, he randomly dropped the dialectal vowel [ɒ̈] into his otherwise Standard German speeches in parliament, a combination that few other people would make.

  42. I am not exactly sure how what used to be “Tír Eoghain” (Owen’s Land) became a common-to-the-point-of-stereotypical African-American name.

    Urban Dictionary confirms the stereotype, with examples like “Six Tyrones came into the room.” Not particularly reliable-looking sources suggest that the name became popular among mothers because of Tyrone Power (1914-1958), an actor best known for his swashbuckling and romantic-lead work. (Power was named after his father Tyrone Power (1869-1931), an English actor, who was named after his grandfather Tyrone Power (1795-1841), an Irish actor.)

    Black women were perhaps more likely to be able to name their children whatever they wanted, as the fathers were more likely to be out of the picture. Once the name caught on among blacks, whites started not to use it, an analogue of “white flight”, whereby neighborhoods settled by blacks start to be abandoned by whites. (GM faced similar problems with its Cadillac line once it became popular with black nouveau riches, because the far more numerous white nouveau riches tended not to buy Cadillacs after that.)

Trackbacks

  1. […] Hat shares some words peculiar to Irish […]

Speak Your Mind

*