Lauren Sperber

some words from the Irish

james joyce

In honor of Bloomsday (which is today, if you haven’t been at an all-day reading of Ulysses like some people), one of the two daily definition/etymology e-newsletters I subscribe to,‘s A.Word.A.Day, sent out five words from the Irish last week. They were:

shebeen (shuh-BEEN): An unlicensed drinking establishment.

A.Word.A.Day’s brief etymology: From Irish sibin, diminutive of seibe (mug/mugful). The word

is popular in the south of Africa and in Scotland and Ireland.

The Compact Oxford English Dictionary respectfully disagrees:

Origin Anglo-Irish; of obscure origin. The ending is Irish -in as in caubeen, colleen, etc.; an improbably conjecture is that the word is founded on Irish seapa, adaption of English shop.

dornick (DOR-nik): 1) A piece of rock small enough to throw. 2) Stout linen.

A.Word.A.Day’s brief etymologies: 1) From Irish dornog (small stone, literally fistful). 2) After Doornik, the name of a Flemish town where the cloth was first manufactured.

The OED notes the name of the Flemish town for the second definition (which is the first definition in its own listing) and provides no etymology for the first definition (its second).

hubbub (HUB-ub): Excited fuss or tumult of a crowd.

A.Word.A.Day’s brief etymology: Perhaps from Irish ubub (an interjection of contempt).

The OED‘s definition is more certain:

In the 16th century hooboube, -boobe, often referred to as an Irish outcry, and probably representing some Irish expression. Cf. Gaelic ub! ub! ubub! an interjection of aversion or contempt; abu! the war-cry of the ancient Irish.

cosher (KOSH-uhr): To pamper.

A.Word.A.Day’s brief etymology: From Irish cosair (feast).

OED etymology: Phonetic representation of Irish coisir feast, feasting, entertainment. Also notable is The OED‘s different definition of cosher:

1) To feast, to live at free quarters upon dependants or kinsmen. 2) To treat with indulgent fondness, pamper; to cocker or coddle.

smithereens (smith-uh-REENZ): Tiny fragments.

A.Word.A.Day’s brief etymology: Probably from Irish smidirin, diminutive of smiodar (fragment).

OED sez:

Variation of smithers [which it lists as “of obscure origin”], with Irish diminutive ending, and either adopted from, or the source of modified Irish smidirín.

The disagreement between Wordsmith and The OED on a few of these reminded me of the controversy over Daniel Cassidy’s How the Irish Invented Slang: The Secret Language of the Crossroads. I heard Cassidy present the book at the Irish Arts Center (the actual website for which seems to be down) and will begrudgingly admit to being pretty impressed (hey, I don’t know Gaelic for shit!) until Grant Barrett’s excellent blog post schooled me on the matter.

Anyway, happy Bloomsday everyone. Time to read a chapter of Ulysses—I dare you!