Mark Woods has joined the “secret nest of O’Brien fans” and spread before us a cornucopia of links (scroll down to the photo of the glowering fellow in the fedora), from a dark bedtime story to a scholarly analysis of O’Brien’s “bad story about the hard life,” An Beal Bocht: mouthing off at national identity. I do believe my favorite is this extravagantly mutated version/parody of an entry in a traditional Irish-English Dictionary like the famous Dinneen’s (I should mention that cur is an actual verbal noun meaning ‘the act of putting’ &c; I have no idea where genuine meanings leave off and madness begins):

Cur, g. curtha and cuirthe, m. —act of putting, sending, sowing, raining, discussing, burying, vomiting, hammering into the ground, throwing through the air, rejecting, shooting, the setting or clamp in a rick of turf, selling, addressing, the crown of cast-iron buttons which have been made bright by contact with cliff-faces, the stench of congealing badger’s suet, the luminance of glue-lice, a noise made in an empty house by an unauthorised person, a heron’s boil, a leprachaun’s denture, a sheep biscuit, the act of inflating hare’s offal with a bicycle pump, a leak in a spirit level, the whine of a sewage farm windmill, a corncrake’s clapper, the scum on the eye of a senile ram, a dustman’s dumpling, a beetle’s faggot, the act of loading every rift with ore, a dumb man’s curse, a blasket, a ‘kur’, a fiddler’s occupational disease, a fairy godmother’s father, a hawk’s vertigo, the art of predicting past events, a wooden coat, a custard-mincer, a blue-bottles ‘farm’, a gravy flask, a timber-mine, a toy craw, a porridge mill, a fair-day donnybrook with nothing barred, a stoat’s stomach-pump, a broken—


  1. Curland is Lithuania. He forgot that one. Obviously an Irish-German combination, the way “Bantustan” is a Bantu-Turkish combination. Even though the respective places are nowhere near Ireland or Turkey.

  2. “My old man is a dustman, he wears a dustman’s hat.
    He wears gorblimey trousers and he lives in a council flat.”
    Old songs long forgotten. Your title reminded me of one. Sorry for the off-topic post.

  3. Flann O’Brian loved to write parodies of Dineen’s. And anyone who has not read THE THIRD POLICEMAN has missed a transcendental language experience.

  4. My friend Paul Dunne of the Shamrockshire Eagle wrote this about Flann O’Brien and his various virtual selves:

  5. Kathy: It is small that our concern about off-topicness is, here at the Language Hattery. I’m glad you remembered and shared the song.
    zizka: Great article, and that’s got to be the best newspaper motto in existence: “Beware, beware, ye statesmen, emperors, and thrones, for the Shamrockshire Eagle has its eye upon you!”

  6. LH: You missed a chance to coin* offtopicing, by way of crossthreading.
    * Google finds “about 16” matches for “offtopicing” and 2 for “offtopicking”, which I admit to having considered. The things that are new that are to be found undersunning are indeed few.

  7. I would like to be undersunning, but the sun is undersunning us today.

  8. Offtopicking, surely, though that might be misread as off-toe picking.

  9. O’Brien’s fiction can be exhausting in large – or even moderate – doses. But sentence by sentence he’s a great master. My favorite line from The Third Policemen concerns a derelict house with broken windows and the walls “marked with the bitter stain of inblown rain.”
    I remember some of his sendups of Dineen, but having not a word of Irish, a good bit of it went over my head.

  10. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    “My old man is a dustman, he wears a dustman’s hat.
    He wears gorblimey trousers and he lives in a council flat.”
    Old songs long forgotten. Your title reminded me of one. Sorry for the off-topic post.

    I don’t know if you’re still around, Kathy, but the caption reminded me exactly of that. Lonnie Donegan, I think — yes, Wikipedia agrees. Very popular when I were a lad.

  11. My Old Man’s a Dustman,” if you’re curious.

  12. The links have gone stale as [some colourful Irish simile].

    Meanwhile, I recently read The Poor Mouth again. I was wondering about all those names, O’Coonassa, O’Loonassa, O’Bannassa, and the rest. That led me to Patrick O’Neill’s article, Mylesean Onomastics: Games Names Play (Part I), in, believe it or not, The Parish Review: Journal of Flann O’Brien Studies.

  13. Thanks for the heads-up — I’ve provided archived links for the ones that had gone bad.

  14. jack morava says

    I’ve been rereading At Swim-Two-Birds, and had forgotten how much of it was a (quite moving) retelling of the tale of Sweeney mad among the trees. In retrospect it has a kind of personal impact I hadn’t felt the first time through.

  15. the best newspaper motto in existence

    every Irish schoolboy will recognise the allusion to the Skibbereen Eagle keeping its eye on the Tsar

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