I just finished Charles Stross’s The Atrocity Archives (thanks, bulbul!), and I enjoyed it greatly, barring some moral concerns about using the Holocaust as a plot mechanism for a light-hearted fantasy/sf/spy thriller with a touch of romantic comedy (because I am a tiresome old fart). Stross has fun mingling terms from modern computer geekery and (pseudo-)ancient Magick, and one of the latter is the noun geas, meaning a magical injunction or prohibition. I had run across it before (not surprising, considering my youth was misspent reading all the fantasy and sf I could get my hands on), but not for decades, which means I had no idea of its origin or pronunciation (as a wee lad I mentally said “JEE-ass,” but was very dubious about it). Now, with the resources of an overgrown reference library and the near-infinite internet, I set out to remedy that. It wasn’t in M-W or AHD, but there it was in the New Oxford American Dictionary (3 ed., 2011): “geas /geSH/ noun (pl. geasa /ˈgeSHə/ ) (in Irish folklore) an obligation or prohibition magically imposed on a person”; the etymology said simply “– origin Irish.”
Now I had a problem. It is impossible to reconcile the spelling “geas” and the pronunciation /geSH/; the iron rule of Irish spelling is that a lenited final consonant (/SH/ is the lenited form of /s/) is preceded by i, and /geSH/ would have to be spelled “geis.” (Similarly, the plural geasa could not be pronounced /ˈgeSHə/ but would have to be /g’asə/.) As it turns out, the Wikipedia entry is under that spelling (which I’m pretty sure I’d never seen before), and it says “The Scottish Gaelic spelling ‘geas’ is also common.” So that explains that: the spelling is from Scottish Gaelic (where it would be pronounced /g’as/, with palatal g, presumably altered by analogy with the plural), and the pronunciation is from Irish geis; it’s parallel to colonel, where the spelling is from French and the pronunciation from Spanish coronel. However, it is physically impossible for me to look at the spelling “geas” and think “/geSH/,” so I am going to adopt the spelling “geis” — assuming /geSH/ is in fact the accepted pronunciation. Is it? (I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard anyone say it.) Are any of you familiar enough with the word to have a confident sense of how it’s pronounced?
Another interesting feature of the novel for me was the UK slang, some of which was unknown to me; a striking example is shower (“What a sorry shower you are!”), which my Cassell Dictionary of Slang tells me is “1. [1930s+] an unimpressive group of people. 2. [1940s+] a term of abuse aimed at a single person” and that it’s an abbreviation of shower of shit. Is this something all you UKanians are familiar with?