Latchiko.

I’d never heard of the Irish insult “latchiko,” and I am glad to do so via Frank McNally’s Irish Times column:

There don’t seem to be quite as many latchikos in Irish life as there used to be, or at least not around where I live. Having flourished briefly in the second half of the last century, the word may be in danger of dying out again. And the odd thing is that many of us are still unsure what it meant, exactly, or where it came from.

It was never a compliment to be called a latchiko, that much is clear. But in Terry Dolan’s Dictionary of Hiberno-English, for example, it’s defined as “an unpleasant, disagreeable person (origin obscure)”. Whereas in most quoted instances I can find, the quality implied was more like uselessness, sometimes to be pitied rather than disliked.

A writer who used the expression more than most, John B Keane, sounded sympathetic when describing “some poor latchiko who wasn’t long out of the bogs”. Elsewhere, in broadly similar vein (albeit in a bovine context), he also offered a definition, via an agricultural inspector discussing the pedigree of a bull at Abbeyfeale Cattle Fair: “‘His grandfather was a latchiko,’ the inspector recalled, meaning that the parent in question was sometimes remiss in his obligations towards consenting heifers and often turned his back on what more industrious bulls might regard as golden opportunities.” […]

But in some of its earliest print appearances, and more in keeping with its likely origins in Irish, the word was spelt latchico. Even in that form, it seems never to have featured in the vocabulary of this newspaper’s great connoisseur of Irish and Hiberno-English insults, Myles na gCopaleen.

Instead, latchico’s debut on these pages came via a greyhound of the name, which made several (suitably mediocre) appearances at Shelbourne Park and Harold’s Cross circa 1959/60. A decade later, the term turned up in an Irish language column, via the expression “Bac liomsa anois, a latchicoe…” (“Listen to me, Latchiko…”), in the context of someone advising a young man to get his hair cut.

It was only in the mid-1970s that it entered Irish political debate, where it flourished for a period. Tellingly, the first citation was from a speech in Mayo during the 1973 general election campaign, wherein a local Fianna Fáiler satirised the coalition agreement between the two main opposition parties in ribald terms: “They would not have had that shotgun wedding only for the Fine Gael bride was in trouble. She wouldn’t touch the Labour latchiko with a 40-foot pole if she had a chance of getting to the altar any other way.” […]

When Diarmaid Ó Muirithe featured it a couple of times in his The Words We Use column in the 1990s, he was informed by many readers that the English version had first surfaced “on the building sites of England”, used by labourers from the west of Ireland. But one Dublin 4 correspondent – “a man from Ailesbury Road”, offered an etymology, via “leath” (meaning “half”) and “tiachóg” (the diminutive of a term meaning “bag, satchel, pouch”). This brings us delicately into the area of male genitalia, suggesting that John B Keane’s example of the Abbeyfeale bull may have been more apt than he realised. In any case, the theory is also mentioned – less delicately – in Dolan’s dictionary, which quotes Ó Muirithe writing in Britain’s The Oldie magazine in 2000, and explaining the term as follows: “[W]hen the Mayo labourers, who were only one generation removed from being native speakers of Irish, called somebody a latchico, what they had in mind was a half-bollocks”.

An mysterious Irish insult with a possibly indelicate etymology — what’s not to like? Thanks, Breffni!

Comments

  1. Yeah, I definitely heard this one growing up in Galway (west of Ireland) in the 1980’s. It was often shortened to “laatchey” (don’t know how to spell it, but first syllable is both long and stressed), which I believe was even more common in Limerick (40 miles south). Never knew it had an Irish etymology though.

  2. Thanks for the confirmation!

  3. A letter writer to the Irish Times today drew attention to this Country ‘n’ Irish number called The Latchyco, in which the latchyco turns out (spoiler alert) to be “a better man than me”.

    I must have overlapped with you in 80s Galway, Crunchy, but I don’t remember the word. Was it an older person’s thing?

    I have my doubts about the Irish etymology, unless there’s evidence of “leath tiachóg” our there.

  4. Don’t recall hearing it in Cork or elsewhere.

    https://www.lexico.com/definition/latchico gives etymology “1940s probably from Scottish latch ‘laziness, a lazy person’, from Old French laschier ‘to relax’.”

    If it’s from Scotland I would expect it to be in Donegal more than Mayo

  5. I love this post and thread! I hope more readers from Ireland will weigh in on usage.

  6. Some sites support my hunch that it’s of Romany origin.

  7. It certainly sounds like it might be of Romany origin, but in my dictionaries the closest thing I can find is ladžáv ‘be ashamed; be shy’ (in ladžás ‘aren’t you ashamed?’), which isn’t quite close enough for comfort either phonetically or semantically.

  8. I’m sad this post isn’t getting the love it deserves. I was hoping more readers from Ireland would put in their two cents. Maybe this thread can be reactivated.

    It certainly sounds like it might be of Romany origin

    Although I don’t wish to advocate for an etymology taking Hiberno-English latchiko from Romani lačho “good”, I just thought that I would note in this regard that in Lubunca (Turkish LGBT slang), there is a word laço that can mean broadly “good-looking, masculine man” (older than a twink), but most often “masculine-presenting man who is always the penetrative partner when having sex with other men”… As the indispensable online Ekşi Sözlük (Turkey’s Urban Dictionary) puts it, the guy who stereotypically says, Aktifim gay değilim “I’m the active one. I’m not gay”. Sort of the opposite of latchiko if the original meaning of this is “useless fellow, limp dick”, as might be indicated by the anecdote about the bull in the Irish Times article (“‘His grandfather was a latchiko,’ the inspector recalled, meaning that the parent in question was sometimes remiss in his obligations towards consenting heifers and often turned his back on what more industrious bulls might regard as golden opportunities”).

    Nick Nicholas does not record a meaning quite like that of laço for Kaliarda latsós “beautiful, good” (< Romani lačho) in his treatment of the Kaliarda word at his blog. He has some discussion of the Lubunca term here, and also here in his note treating page 138 of Raffaela Biondo’s thesis on Lubunca.

  9. Yes, I also hoped the post would get more love. Thanks for looking that stuff up!

  10. PlasticPaddy says

    @hat
    It is difficult for me to say anything more. The word appears to have been created or adopted in the 40’s, perhaps by Irish labourers in Britain. Whoever chose the spelling with k did not perceive it as an Irish or Latinate word. How about deformation of Rom. lastiko? Some Irish would say this as laisticó, so LASH-chi–ko. The sh-ch would be dissimulated (back) to st, if a t is heard or to ch (giving lachiko).

  11. per incuriam says

    I’m sad this post isn’t getting the love it deserves

    There is a little bit more love in this thread.

    “latchiko” was in common parlance in Cork city when I lived there. Often shortened to “latch” (or perhaps “latch” lengthened to “latchiko”?).

    I share Breffni’s scepticism as to the Irish derivation, as indeed does Diarmaid Ó Muirithe, who is gently dismissive of the etymology proposed by the “man from Ailesbury Road”. This appears to have been purely speculative:

    “But I think we should find somebody who has heard the compound leath-tiachóg in use before sending Mr O’Lideadh the laurel wreath”.

  12. There is a little bit more love in this thread.

    Thanks, that’s a good find.

  13. Breffni, I wouldn’t say it was *widely* used in 1980’s Galway, just something I heard every now and then. I think I heard it first from my dad, though it wasn’t a word he used either, just something he reported one night at dinner, as an interesting find. (He ran a branch of a retail bank, so lots of customer contact every day across a wide spectrum.) So, it’s possible that it was even then pretty much in minority use, perhaps among an older population. My friends didn’t really use it…. but in college I did have a friend who grew up in (the city of) Limerick who referred to “the Limerick Laatcheys”, which I understood as his way of expressing a fondness for what he saw as a particular type of out-of-control youth from that city (he may have been one in high school).

  14. Jimmy McAleavey says

    My wife, from Belfast, regularly calls me a ‘latchico’ or ‘latchiko’ when I am improperly dressed. Use of the term in the north-east of the island might suggest a Scots origin.

    While I’m at it, my Belfast mother used to use the word phonetically spelt ‘Too-le-par’ to describe an uncouth fellow or latchico. I think she got it from her Belfast grandmother. Anyone else familiar with it? Sometimes I suspect a French origin, via either Scots or returning soldiers returning from WW1 (like the ubiquitous Belfast ‘dishabells’ or ‘dezabells’ to indicate a state of undress – from the French deshabille, I suppose).

  15. Interesting; I’ve tried various spellings and come up empty. I hope somebody else can help!

  16. Slanguage, Bernard Share’s dictionary of Irish slang and vernacular, defines latchico as a ‘halfwit’ and points (with a ‘cf.’) to Scottish latch ‘indolent, idle person’, possibly from Old French laschier ‘relax’. Whether this inspired the Lexico entry that mollymooly links to, or whether they have a common source, I don’t know. Share quotes Vincent Caprani’s Rowdy Rhymes & Rec-im-itations (1982): ‘Dockland slang for a waster or a rogue’, notes there are ‘many other etymologies suggested’, and says it was used on British building sites by West of Ireland workers and is possibly from unidentified Irish (citing Diarmaid Ó Muirithe).

    As for Jimmy’s too-le-par, the only thing I can think of is toolbar with an eggcornish (but very Irish) epenthesis. Toolbar is used as an insult in Ireland, though far less commonly (in my experience) than tool. Bernard Share, again, has a fun note on it, this one from John MacKenna’s Things You Should Know: ‘A fuckin’ eegit is not a sack. A sack is almost the lowest of the low, just above a toolbar.’ But I may be way off with this idea.

  17. Jimmy McAleavey says

    Thanks Stan. Your ‘toolbar’ is very persuasive and a likely candidate for epenthesis. In my ignorance, I don’t know what ‘eggcornish’ is and Google is not helping me.

    Sorry to get us off the subject of ‘latchico’. I am enjoying speculating on its Irish language origins but I’ll hold off until I’ve come up with something convincing (I am an amateur).

  18. In linguistics, an eggcorn is an alteration of a phrase through the mishearing or reinterpretation of one or more of its elements, creating a new phrase having a different meaning from the original but which still makes sense and is plausible when used in the same context. Eggcorns often arise as people attempt to make sense of a stock phrase that uses a term unfamiliar to them, as for example replacing “Alzheimer’s disease” with “old-timers’ disease”, or Shakespeare’s “to the manner born” with “to the manor born”.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eggcorn

  19. Sorry to get us off the subject of ‘latchico’.

    Don’t be silly — you kept the thread alive, and there’s no expectation of “sticking to the point” here at LH!

  20. PlasticPaddy says

    From British Newspaper Archive:
    —–
    l … called him Mr Lachiko (laughter), a name I always know him by for years
    Sligo Champion 1877

    In reply to Mr. Sidley she said she beard [heard] the ward [word] Latchiko and workhouse’ shouted by the ho [? ellipsis/fragment = men/crowd/mob?] gathered round.
    Sligo Independent 1868

    Mn [Mr] Russell came out and rolled otter [roared after] him Latchico, the cripple (laughter).
    Sligo Independent 1897
    —–
    Re tool while looking for an Irish source I came across diúlach = bloke (lit. “sucker” but not especially pejorative).

  21. Wow, that’s some nice antedating!

  22. David Marjanović says

    …specifically, eggcorn is an eggcorn of acorn. The Wikipedia article explains that a bit later.

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