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Tracing American slang to Ireland


Nov 8 2007, 11:49pm

Post #1 of 8 (489 views)
Tracing American slang to Ireland Can't Post

Pretty interesting article in today's NYT about the Irish-Gaelic basis for many American slang words. Read the rest of the article here. (You may have to register first).

November 8, 2007

Humdinger of a Project: Tracing Slang to Ireland


Growing up Irish in Queens and on Long Island, Daniel Cassidy was nicknamed Glom.

“I used to ask my mother, ‘Why Glom?’ and she’d say, ‘Because you’re always grabbing, always taking things,’” he said, imitating his mother’s accent and limited patience, shaped by a lifetime in Irish neighborhoods in New York City.

It was not exactly an etymological explanation, and Mr. Cassidy’s curiosity about the working-class Irish vernacular he grew up with kept growing. Some years back, leafing through a pocket Gaelic dictionary, he began looking for phonetic equivalents of the terms, which English dictionaries described as having “unknown origin.”

“Glom” seemed to come from the Irish word “glam,” meaning to grab or to snatch. He found the word “balbhán,” meaning a silent person, and he surmised that it was why his quiet grandfather was called the similarly pronounced Boliver.

He began finding one word after another that seemed to derive from the strain of Gaelic spoken in Ireland, known as Irish. The word “gimmick” seemed to come from “camag,” meaning trick or deceit, or a hook or crooked stick.

Could “scam” have derived from the expression “’S cam é,” meaning a trick or a deception? Similarly, “slum” seemed similar to an expression meaning “It is poverty.” “Dork” resembled “dorc,” which Mr. Cassidy’s dictionary called “a small lumpish person.” As for “twerp,” the Irish word for dwarf is “duirb.”

Mr. Cassidy, 63, began compiling a lexicon of hundreds of Irish-inspired slang words and recently published them in a book called “How the Irish Invented Slang,” which last month won the 2007 American Book Award for nonfiction, and which he is in New York this week promoting.

“The whole project started with a hunch — hunch, from the Irish word ‘aithint,’ meaning recognition or perception,” the verbose Mr. Cassidy said in an interview on Monday at O’Lunney’s, a bar and restaurant on West 45th Street. He has worked as a merchant seaman, a labor organizer and a screenwriter, and he lives in San Francisco, where he teaches Irish studies at the New College of California.

He pulled out his pocket Irish dictionary and began pointing out words that he said had been Americanized by the millions of Irish immigrants who turned New York into an extension of the Ghaeltacht, or Irish-speaking regions of Ireland.

"an seileachan"

Forgiveness means giving up all hope of a better past.
~~~Landrum Bolling


Nov 8 2007, 11:52pm

Post #2 of 8 (337 views)
Cool. [In reply to] Can't Post

SmileThanks for sharing it a.s..

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shdows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

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Nov 9 2007, 12:15am

Post #3 of 8 (353 views)
Tolkien on "twerp" [In reply to] Can't Post

I remembered that there's a reference to this in "Letters", and here it is:

"He [Roy Campbell] lived in O[xford] at the time when we lived in Pusey Street (rooming with Walton, the composer, and going about with T. W. Earp, the original twerp)"

Roy Campbell himself is quoted in the OED:

"T. W. Earp (who gave the English language the word twirp, really twearp, because of the Goering-like wrath he kindled in the hearts of the rugger-playing stalwarts at Oxford, when he was president of the Union, by being the last, most charming, and wittiest of the ‘decadents’)."

Which doesn't actually fit Daniel Cassidy's link with duirb. Sorry :-)

This is interesting, and it seems perfectly feasible that some slang terms come from words in the languages brought to the US by immigrants. It can be a seductive business finding such links, though; sometimes one might be tempted to go a bit further than the evidence justifies. IMHO.

The OED, by the way, connects "glom" with Scots Gaelic "glaum"/"glam".

This topic reminds me of the work done by an English cousin of mine, giving some supposedly Anglo-Saxon place names in England a possible Celtic etymology. But that's a subject for another day. :-)

Promises to Keep: a novel set in 19th Century New Zealand.

The Passing of Mistress Rose

Do we find happiness so often that we should turn it off the box when it happens to sit there?

- A Room With a View


Nov 9 2007, 12:56am

Post #4 of 8 (348 views)
brings a sack or two of salt [In reply to] Can't Post

I think the notion of a simple etymology of various Englishes from around the world is very attractive. Fashions change, though, over time. Sometimes people like to trace Australian slang back to cockney English, Irish, Scottish, Chinese, Indigenous Australian languages and so on. None of these theories are all correct, but none of them are all wrong either.

But I think it's pretty obvious that many of the settler cultures have such vivid languages because they've merrily nicked bits and pieces from all over the world.

I quite like cheese, you know.


Nov 9 2007, 2:30am

Post #5 of 8 (327 views)
Very interesting. Thanks for link. /NT [In reply to] Can't Post



Nov 9 2007, 7:18am

Post #6 of 8 (334 views)
Amazing [In reply to] Can't Post

Off the top of my head, some English terms adopted from other languages.

Yiddish: Schmuck
French--(there ought to be a whole subcategory for this)


I could go on and on.

I can see how Tolkien was seduced by language and words, how he became a philologist. One of my favorite parts of TTT was the thrill of Merry's discovering the possible link between "hobbit" and "holbytla."


Nov 12 2007, 6:02pm

Post #7 of 8 (319 views)
English slang to Ireland, too. [In reply to] Can't Post

As a lot of people in the 1800's went over to Ireland to work I'm sure they took over some of their distinct language, too.

Language is a fascinating subject, isn't it?


Nov 12 2007, 6:33pm

Post #8 of 8 (368 views)
Translations [In reply to] Can't Post

Distinct language did then enter the country, In the 1800s following the Act of Union, the Irish Hedge schools were forcibly abolished,closed down and in fact Irish was legally replaced as a language with English used in the new national schools and commerce, even maps were rewritten with the original names anglicised, the planters then entered a country with English designated as the new root language, luckily the Irish language survived in pockets and is experiencing a revival today.

(This post was edited by Ciars on Nov 12 2007, 6:35pm)


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