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Interesting Etymologies 45 : Irish







"Hello again Word Lovers!"


In this instalment we are going west, to Ireland in fact. We are going to be looking at words that came into English from Irish.


We have already seen a few on our travels, we have seen "Tory" (See IE26 Reappropriation ) and "Boycott (see IE42 People )

for example, but to begin we can set the cat amongst the pigeons and look at two words popularly thought to be Scottish:


Whiskey: The Irish will tell you it was invented in Ireland and comes from Usice beatha - water of life in Irish. (Usige beatha in Scots)


Loch: From Lough in Irish, meaning Lake.


And to keep the surprises coming here are a couple of words that we would suspect to be 100% English but in fact come from across the Irish sea:


Clock: From Old Irish - clocc - meaning bell. This is believed to have gone into Old High German as glocka and into English via Flemish cloch. Believed to have been spread by Irish missionaries.


Cross: This is believed to have come from Latin : crux but this word has been on quite a journey. The Old Irish is cros but the Old French is crois and the Old Norse is kross. Let us say that this is a competing claim for etymological origins and is of unknown origin.


Shebeen (síbín) unlicensed house selling alcohol although it has also been used to refer to a lock in pub party.


Colleen (cailín) - young Irish woman


Poteen (póitín) - bootleg alcohol, normally made with potatoes.


Smithereens (smidrín) when something is broken into small pieces.


You may notice that these words all have een(s) endings. This is the Irish diminutive suffix.


Shillelagh (Sail éille) A large stick or club used as a weapon, or a club with a strap.


Hooligan - A word that is well understood across the world. It is from an anglicised version of an Irish family name Ó huallacháin became O'Houlihan. A notorious family, even if it is uncertain if they are a bit of relatively modern mythology or not.


Kybosh (chaip bháis) to curse somebody or something. It does sound like it is something that has come from Yiddish and while that is possible, however an Irish judge when passing sentence would wear a "cap of death.


"for the craic" - is a well known phrase meaning for the fun of it or to have a laugh or good time. Interestingly it is suggested that this actually comes from the English word "crack" and has been gaelicised via Ulster Scots.


Leprechaun - from the Old Irish Luchorpán (Lu - small + Corp - body).


Shamrock - (Seamróg) a clover. Sean-bhean bhocht is poor old woman in Old Irish and even a literary name for Ireland in times gone by.


Banshee : A wailing female ghost that often foreshadow death. (Bainsídhe/beansídhe) Woman of the fairies, combining bean for woman and sí for fairy mound. (More gruesome creatures of folklore are explored in IE37 MythicalBeasts)


Bog - marsh or peatland from Bogach the Irish word for the same.


Brogues - A sturdy shoe (Bróg - shoe)


-galore - used as a suffix to mean "a lot of" or in place of "aplenty" is from Old Irish Go Leor - until plenty.


Gob - to mean mouth, as it does in Irish, although colloquially, it means beak, so can even be used to describe a nose in Irish, although it is very much used for your "cake hole" in English!


Phoney - a fake : Probably from an English word - fawney which meant a gilt brass ring used by swindlers. This word is said to be derived from the Irish word fáinne for ring.


Slogan - A marketing catchphrase or "mission statement" from the Irish Slaugh-ghairm a battle cry used by Gaelic clans.


Discover more about Irish mythology and culture with our series Tales from the Other side)


Explore the full Interesting Etymologies series archive here










As well as being the host of our Interesting Etymologies series, Charly Taylor is a stand up comedian and author. His latest offering is available now:


SkipDeLirio's Worst Ever Gig : A novel by Charly Taylor


Caesar’s army has returned from the long campaign in Gaul and the enemy has been all but defeated. Some of Pompey’s army, however, remains in Africa. Together with straggling Roman rebels and the local king Juba, they are gathering forces to prepare one last attack on what is now Caesar’s Rome. But there is one problem – a descendant of Scipio Africanus is fighting on the side of the Africans. And without a Scipio of their own, the superstitious Romans refuse to go to Africa to fight.


So Caesar sends out soldiers to find himself a Scipio. Luckily, there is a man of such name right there in Rome – a local drunkard and tavern entertainer distantly descended from the legendary warrior. Kidnapped solely on account of his ‘heritage’, the lowly clown is forced to lead out the troops in the battle of Thapsus. There, ‘history’ tells us, Scipio ‘disappears from the historical record’.


Until now.


This is the story of how ‘Nobody’ Skip DeLirio, with the cards finally all dealt in his favour, still managed to fuck it up. History will only take you so far. The rest is make-believe.


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