GETTING THICK.

Stan Carey at Sentence First has a post about an Irish use of thick I wasn’t familiar with, to mean “angry, argumentative, sullen, or belligerent.”

It’s a versatile usage that often collocates with get and is typically associated with moody or petulant grumpiness, and sometimes with drunken antagonism. I heard the phrase regularly when I was growing up in the rural west of the country, and now in the urban west I still do, occasionally, in expressions such as:
She’s fierce thick over it. [fierce = very]
Don’t you be getting thick with me.
He got pure thick about it.
Thick out!

Note that “Thick out!” just means “Thick!”: “The out serves as a mild intensifier and colloquial marker.” Stan has many lively quotes, and it’s interesting that he used Twitter to collect them. I envy the Irish for growing up with such a trove of expressive English.

Comments

  1. dearieme says:

    “typically associated with moody or petulant grumpiness, and sometimes with drunken antagonism”: what, more than usual you mean?

  2. Hallo Mr. Hat,
    Intrigued by that discussion on “penguin” around here the other day (in “Only Fools and Charlatans”), I asked Anatoly Liberman (etymology guy) about it and he put up a column. He also said this by email:

    As to Gorky’s stress, I have no idea why he used it, except for the fact that he needed it for the line (glupyi pinguin). No one comments on it. At school we always asked about the strange form but got no answer. Ushakov gives pinguin and quotes this place from “Pesnia o burevestnike”! Yet such stress might be current somewhere.

  3. Bathrobe says:

    Interesting that the Germans &c call it a kind of goose. So do the Chinese (企鵝 qǐ’é, ‘standing goose’).

  4. Thanks very much for prompting Liberman’s column, Leonardo! I agree with Lockwood, who “makes a sensible suggestion that the etymon of penguin was some aboriginal word but that it could have been interpreted by Welsh sailors as a word group of their native language, in which case the pseudo-Welsh pen gwyn would be a typical case of folk etymology.” And I doubt that “such stress might be current somewhere”; if so, it would have been brought up sometime in the last century. It’s obviously just Gorky, and his reasons are buried with him in the Kremlin wall.

  5. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    I’m not sure that thick in the sense of stupid is especially Irish. It was a very common meaning in England 50 years ago (as in as thick as six short planks), and as far as I know it still is.
    On the other hand, my mother, who was Irish, used thick with to mean friendly with, and never to mean angry. However, the report refers to usage in Galway, and she was from Dublin.

  6. Nobody said thick in the sense of stupid is especially Irish; he’s talking specifically about the sense “angry, argumentative, sullen, or belligerent.”

  7. No he’s not. Read the article, dammit!

    In Irish English, there’s an additional nominal sense: thick = thick person, i.e., fool.
    This is not a usage I’ve adopted, nor am I the only one who doesn’t care for it, but it’s another idiom I’ve been hearing since childhood (not directed at me, mind). It’s like thicko, thicky, and thick-a. The Shorter OED records it as “originally school slang”, and quotes two Irish authors:
    The thick made out the Will wrong. (Seán Ó Casey, Juno and the Paycock)
    These awful country thicks wanted to take your stool. (Maeve Binchy, Circle of Friends)

    Athel’s right, it’s not just Irish. We said “as thick as two short planks”, and then there’s the famous Jethro Tull album from 1972, Thick As A Brick.

  8. German, especially Ruhr region: einen dicken Hals kriegen (get a thick neck) = become angry. When the pressure builds up until you blow your cap.

  9. J. W. Brewer says:

    Are there other examples of this usage of “out”? Is it a Hiberianism? I have assumed that when the Young People say “peace out” to terminate a conversation it’s a play on the old-technology pre-internet “over and out,” but maybe I was wrong about that.

  10. mollymooly says:

    Sentence First did imply thick (n) “dimwit” was Irish, but not that thick (adj) “dim” was.
    thick (adj) “friendly” is probably best known in “as thick as thieves”.
    IrEng “ADJ out” is akin to “out-and-out N” or “utterly ADJ”. Nothing to do with 2-way-radios. The syntax and prosody is usually “N BE \ADJ \out”, and ADJ is usually disapprobatory.
    Another IrEng is “ADJ altogether” instead of “altogether ADJ”.

  11. In Irish English, there’s an additional nominal sense: thick = thick person, i.e., fool.
    Where “nominal” refers to “noun,” as you can see from his example “thick = thick person.” Of course it’s used adjectivally in that sense elsewhere, ya thick. Read the article, dammit!
    Are there other examples of this usage of “out”? Is it a Hiberianism?
    Yes, definitely, and it has nothing to do with “peace out” (which I too thought of).

  12. Pipped by mollymooly!

  13. I thought Hiberians were from Spain and Portugal.

  14. Eimear Ní Mhéalóid says:

    I’d imagine that the “out” is a Hibernicism, as it seems to me to be another culchie phrase. Of the many examples Stan gives, I’d think “tired out” to be the most common; in fact, I did a double take to realise it wasn’t standard English. After that “sound out” and “happy out” are fairly common in my experience, but some of the other examples I’ve never heard. I wonder if there’s any connection with “out and out”.

  15. Eimear Ní Mhéalóid says:

    I see mollymooly mentioned that before me.

  16. Sentence First did imply thick (n) “dimwit” was Irish…
    …Where “nominal” refers to “noun,” as you can see from his example “thick = thick person.”

    Yeah, well he’s wrong. We called people “thicks” at school, in southern England 1964-71, and I’m sure “a thick-o” evolved from the noun form “a thick”. The big difference to me between “the man who runs Language Hat is a total thick” and “the man who runs Language Hat is a totally thick person” is that we would never have used the adjectival form, because it’s much lamer.

  17. …Though I might easily have called someone “a thick cunt”, so never mind.

  18. I realised just now that I open my medical histories with another one, ‘what has you in here?’ for ‘what brings you to hospital?’, while side-stepping the reply of a 1998 Ford Mondeo or whatever it may be.

  19. This use of out is new to me. However, tired out is unremarkable to me, and I imagine it to have a different origin: someone can be tired out, worn out, plumb tuckered out, … and you can tire someone out, wear someone out, or (I suppose) tucker them out.

  20. mollymooly says:

    Eimear’s comment calls to mind “[How are you? / I'm] grand out”, in my experience the commonest use of this “out”. I think it’s time to withdraw my claim that ADJ is usually disapprobatory.
    I am prepared to believe that “thick” is a piece of marginal slang that simply gained a bit more traction in Ireland than elsewhere. Irish people are prone to assume that anything we say ourselves but don’t hear on UK/US TV must be part of our special genius; we are disappointed to find it in Scotland, Bristol, Kentucky, etc. No doubt ‘Irish’ in the preceding sentence could be replaced with most other places.

  21. In an episode of The Thick Of It there’s a line about someone who’s said to be thick: “He’s so dense that light bends around him”.

  22. J. W. Brewer says:

    I am hoping “Hiberian[ism]” appears somewhere in Finnegans Wake, so that it can count as a learned allusion on my part rather than a mere typo.

  23. “Interesting that the Germans &c call it a kind of goose. So do the Chinese (企鵝 qǐ’é, ‘standing goose’).”
    Bathrobe, the Chinese expression is even better than that – 企 actually means to stand on tiptoe. I think “tiptoe goose” has to be one the most hilariously accurate descriptions I’ve ever come across.
    “Eimear’s comment calls to mind “[How are you? / I'm] grand out”, in my experience the commonest use of this “out”. ”
    I think this has a differnt origin from “he’s thick out” since you report it as part of a conversation. This is more like “Peace out” in which the “out” signals the conversation is over. At least that’s how I have seen “Peace out” used. This probably comes from two-way radio protocol, as in the Army, where “over” signals you have finished your utterance and “out” signals that you are ending the conversation.
    There is an ironic expression “Wilco out” in which “wilco” means you “will” “co”mply with an order or guidance, and you can hardly say “out” to someoone whose orders you comply with. It basically translates to “Yeah right; fuck you, sir.”

  24. dearieme says:

    “Hibernian” is a football club in Edinburgh and, I assume, the explanation of ignorant English journalists writing about someone being “Hibernian” when they mean “Caledonian”.

  25. Yeah, well he’s wrong. We called people “thicks” at school, in southern England 1964-71
    Ah well then, you have the right of it! I hope Stan is taking notes.
    tired out is unremarkable to me, and I imagine it to have a different origin: someone can be tired out, worn out, plumb tuckered out
    Yes, this is true for my dialect, but I wonder if the Irish expression is the same (and just happens to coincide with the local “X out” form) or if it’s an example of the latter that just happens to coincide with our usage? And how would you tell?

  26. Bathrobe says:

    @ Jim
    Yes, 企 does mean ‘stand on tiptoes’ in Mandarin, but in Cantonese it means simply ‘to stand’. I have no idea of the etymology of 企鹅 (where it came from, who started using it first), but it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that it came into Mandarin from Cantonese and originally meant ‘standing goose’. Just a thought; I could be completely off the track, of course.

  27. Bathrobe, either one works for me.
    I wonder how many other birds are called e2, if it’s a catchall term for big birds the way ying1 is for flying things like bats or owls (猫头鹰 alonside 鸺 and 鸮) or way “apple” is a catchall for unfamiliar types of fruit in English.
    “but it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that it came into Mandarin from Cantonese and originally meant ‘standing goose’. Just a thought; ”
    Sure is likely, since so much went that route, although it seems to me that a lot of it was that stuff that was not calqued, like ning2meng2 “lemon” and di4shi4 “taxi”. But I wonder about the translations like shi2ke4 “lithograph” and so on – those sound like coinages that overseas students invented, who came from the north and the central coast as well as the south.
    “I could be completely off the track, of course.”
    Anything is possible but not probable. I don’t know you, but I know that much.

  28. mollymooly says:

    This is more like “Peace out” in which the “out” signals the conversation is over.
    No no no, it isn’t that at all at all. “How are you” is typically at the beginning of a conversation.
    I wonder if the Irish expression is the same (and just happens to coincide with the local “X out” form) or if it’s an example of the latter that just happens to coincide with our usage? And how would you tell?
    I suspect the prosody differs, in ways beyond my poor power to explicate. OTOH “tired out” doesn’t leap to my mind as an instance of Irish “out”, but did to Eimear’s; which suggests you can’t tell.

  29. Mollymooly, when have you ever heard “Peace out” to start a ocnversation? That’s not how they use on MTV……..

  30. No no no, he’s saying “[How are you? / I'm] grand out” is typically at the beginning of a conversation, unlike “Peace out,” which comes at the end.
    This conversation is full of confusion and misunderstanding!

  31. Bathrobe says:

    @ Jim
    Well, there are 天鹅 tiān’é ‘swan’, 海鹅 hǎi’é ‘albatross’, and 唐鹅 táng’é ‘pelican’. But I can’t think of many others at the moment.

  32. Bathrobe says:

    That should have been 溏鹅.

  33. bruessel says:

    “Interesting that the Germans &c call it a kind of goose”.
    I think “Fettgans” is a synonym for one kind of penguin, in everyday life though, you would definitely call all these birds “Pinguine”.

  34. Eimear Ní Mhéalóid says:

    “Tired out” was one of Stan’s examples – I wouldn’t myself have put it with the others but I have no particular expertise here.

  35. The German zoological term Fettgans[1] refers to a King pinguin. Otherwise, Fettgans[2] is a force-fed goose – the type from which foie gras is obtained – and the cooked ditto. Fettgans[3] is also a disobliging description of a pretty (,) fat lady.
    Annoying fact: “ditto” in German is “dito“.

  36. “This conversation is full of confusion and misunderstanding!”
    What? Like calling swans geese? thanks Bathrobe!
    It’s interesting that German happens to do the the same, bruessel.
    Back a thousand years ago Edward Schafer used to point out that in Chinese the same zoologically unmotivated distinction between doves and pigeons applies as in English, arbitrarily distinguishing all the same species. Funny how often people do perceive things the same way.

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