Stan of Sentence First has a most enjoyable post about an excellent word:

On a walk last week, I overheard a woman speak a word (Irish English slang, chiefly Munster I think) that I hadn’t heard in a long time: cnáimhseáiling, or knawvshawling. The opening c or k* is pronounced distinctly: /’knɔːv’ʃɔːlɪŋ/. After making a quick note on Twitter, I was too busy to elaborate until now, but you won’t hear me knawvshawling. The word means muttering complaints, whingeing, sullen grumbling, finding fault, or — another very Irish idiom — giving out:

Finish your plate now and don’t mind your cnáimhseáiling.

The Anglicised spelling knawvshawling is a loose phonetic approximation, as are knauvshauling and cnawvshawling. There are short entries in an online dictionary of Cork slang and a directory of Irish slang, but I think the word deserves a longer write-up.

His write-up is well worth reading; I will add a mildly interesting linguistic observation of my own. When I studied Modern Irish, it was the western dialect of Connemara that I learned, and in that dialect initial cn- is pronounced /kr/, so that the word cnáimh ‘bone’ (the first part of cnáimhseáil) is pronounced /krɑ:w’/, sounding something like “croive.” But this word is apparently not used in Connemara, only in the southern dialect region, so that if I follow my natural inclination and pronounce cnáimhseáiling “croiveshawling,” I’ll be using a pronunciation no actual Irish person uses. Ah well, I’m told it’s a grand language by them that knows.

Oh, if you’re wondering about that asterisk after “c or k,” it goes to the following footnote:

* I’ve just noticed how accidentally apt is this arrangement of letters.


  1. Your footnote reminds me of “Torc”, New Mexico.

  2. Not my footnote but Stan’s; at any rate, thanks for the link—I knew about the town but didn’t know it was locally known as T or C.

  3. Yes, to clarify, the town is known as “T or C”. “Torc” is an error a relative of mine (along with, presumably, other T or C inhabitants) used to get in her mail all the time.

  4. And then of course there’s dord

  5. To double-clarify, “T or C” is an abbreviation for “Truth or Consequences” similar to LA being an abbreviation for Los Angeles.

  6. LH: Crawnshawler is an alternative form that shows a closer connection to the word as you would pronounce it. Bernard Share includes this spelling in his Slanguage dictionary, but doesn’t add any detail to it. For some reason I left it out of my post. Thank you for the link!
    Ben: ‘c or k‘ reminded me of dord too.

  7. mollymooly says:

    The anglicised kn- for cn- has the side effect that mountains named cnoc- (“hill”) become Knock-, with a silent K. In Connacht you get some names like Crocklissoughter with the cn- to cr- change Hat describes, but more are like Knockbrack without. Notice they didn’t anglicise to “Krocklissoughter”, cos that would have looked silly.
    BTW anybody know what’s happened to the Hiberno-English archive? Looks like the server’s fallen over rather than it’s actually gone.

  8. mollymooly: A lovely example! There’s also Crockanure, Cnoc an iubhair: the hill of the yew. P. W. Joyce has collected some Knock- examples here.
    The Hiberno-English archive has been down since around April; at least, that’s when I noticed and queried its sudden disappearance. (No one knew, alas.) I’ve been meaning to find someone to email about it. The book serves the purposes of research and enjoyment, but I miss the facility of linking to entries in online discussions.

  9. The pronunciation cn- is quite possible in Munster Irish, and somehow I have the idea that this (c/g)n > r process is not very ancient. I have little idea of Irish historical phonology though. I have confined myself quite consciously to the modern language.

  10. Ah well, I’m told it’s a grand language by them that knows.
    Indeed. Muise. Or in Ulster: Leoga. 🙂
    IMHO though the dialect enthusiasts have been too puritanical about not using words from other dialects. When I first got acquainted with folklore from Ring of Waterford, I immediately recognized descriptive nouns which I had thought existed only in Central Donegal Irish, of which I used to be an aficionado. Nowadays, I prefer to use standard Irish, but enriched with whatever dialectal expressions occur to me, and I couldn’t care less about which dialect they come from. This sort of Irish has been so well received by native speakers, that I think I am on the right track.

  11. The pronunciation cn- is quite possible in Munster Irish, and somehow I have the idea that this (c/g)n > r process is not very ancient. I have little idea of Irish historical phonology though.
    Well, I’ll tell you who does have an idea of Irish historical phonology, and that’s Thomas F. O’Rahilly, and I thank you for giving me an excuse to pull off the shelf his Irish Dialects Past and Present, something I do about once a decade. Let us turn to O’Rahilly’s Chapter II “CN, GN, ETC.”:

    In the combinations cn, gn, mn, tn, Northern Irish has substituted a nasalized r for n, while Southern Irish retains the n. In the Aran Islands, and also on part of the Galway mainland, usage is mixed, n and r being used indifferently. … Scottish Gaelic, like Irish, retains the n in writing; but in Scottish speech it is always, or nearly always, pronounced as r. …

    This change of n to r is undoubtedly a comparatively late one. English spellings of Irish names in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries show little or no trace of it… It is probable that in those districts in which r eventually gained the upper hand, both n and r were for a long time in use side by side, as they are in Aran to-day.

    Of course, the book was published in 1932 (I have the 1972 reprint, bought in Dublin in 1975), so more may have been learned about the history of the change in the intervening eighty or so years; if anyone has further information, please share it.

  12. In Victoria B. C. there is a Knockan Hill, which fills the view from the kitchen window of Craigflower Farmhouse, built in the 1850s. I imagine the Scottish family of the farm manager (whose name I unfortunately forget) called it the knockan, but the provincial government, when it recorded the name, added the generic. It seems that no-one remembers when the ‘k’ was pronounced.
    It would appear that in the mid-nineteenth century, the change from ‘n’ to ‘r’ had not occurred within the hearing of that family when they left the Scottish countryside near Edinburgh.

  13. The above information, I should add, is not generally known. It is believed that the name comes from a Songhees (local Salish language) word meaning ‘rocks on top’.

  14. Alternatively, they pronounced it /kr-/ but spelled it in the normal Scots Gaelic way.

  15. Whaddayaknow, I’m a knawvshawler.

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