Category Archives: ireland

Eldritch

Hello,

In honour of the forthcoming feast of Halloween (or Samhain depending on your viewpoint) I’ve chose eldritch as the word this week.

Eldritch describes something as weird, sinister, or ghostly. The left-handed amongst you won’t be happy with sinister being in that grouping, but that’s another day’s exploration. Either way eldritch seems appropriate for the season when the darkness gathers earlier and earlier in the day, mists swirl through forests, and numerous smaller folk jump out demanding treats.

“Traditional Irish halloween Jack-o’-lantern” by Rannpháirtí anaithnid at en.wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Traditional_Irish_halloween_Jack-o%27-lantern.jpg#/media/File:Traditional_Irish_halloween_Jack-o%27-lantern.jpg

There is considerable confusion about the origin of the word eldritch, which is about 500 years old. Merriam Webster reckon it originally meant fairyland thanks to Middle English’s elfriche. The word riche or rice was an Old English word for realm or kingdom. YourDictionary points out that el means strange or other, so the reference is to something otherworldly. Others connect the el to elves. Either way we’re talking about the malicious, scary forms of fairies here, rather than the twinkly type who live in pretty garden flowers.

My favourite source with contentious word histories is Etymology Online and they lean towards el being else or otherwise and ritch relating to realm or kingdom making eldritch describe something which comes from the otherworld, a land which is not like ours. That would certainly describe some of the eldritch creatures who will arrive at my door after dark on Halloween looking for sweet bribes to leave me in peace. I think I’ll pay up!

Light a pumpkin to scare away the eldritch creatures!

If you’re interested in other spooky words – check out Macabre and Samhainophobia and Gaelic Halloween, previous Wordfoolery posts at this eldritch time of year when the veil between our world and the otherworld is weak and porous. Next week I’ll be exploring the word guy and its link to the 5th of November.

Until next time, boo!

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. Are any of you taking on the NaNoWriMo novel-writing challenge during November? It will be my 13th year so I’m busy sharpening pencils and crafting my outline this week. Later today I’ll be hosting the Kick Off event for my region –  Ireland North East.

Banjax

Hello,

This week’s word is banjax (pronunciation here). It’s an informal word which teeters on the edge of slang but does get a definition in several major dictionaries. Although it might not be acceptable in an English essay for an exam, it is a mainstream word, albeit one which is most widely used in Ireland (Hiberno English) than in other English-speaking countries.

So what does banjax mean? Well, it describes something, or someone, who is worn out, tired, broken beyond repair. If the mechanic has given up on your car then it would be banjaxed, or if you had worked nights for a month and could barely put one foot in front of another you would be banjaxed.

My Dad as a Schoolboy

The best description I ever heard of banjax came from my father. He told me when he was growing up in Killester (Dublin) there was still an undeveloped field opposite his house on the Howth Road. It was home to one sad, lonely donkey who had retired after a long life as a working animal. The way he described the creature it reminded me of Eeyore in the A.A.Milne stories. The local kids loved the donkey and would pull up juicy grass to feed it through the gate. They named it Banjax.

Sadly, like the end of the donkey’s story, banjax’s origins are lost to us. The word appeared in Ireland around the 1930s. The only guess I found was that it could be connected to the word banjo. You will sometimes hear a person say they are banjoed when they are tired, so there may be a connection, but it remains to be proven. If you’ve theories of you own, please let me know in the comments.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

This post is made in memory of my Dad who died last week. He filled his home with books, his time with crosswords, and his daughters with a love of words and history.

Wigs on the Green

Hello,

Today’s word is the phrase “there will be wigs on the green” with thanks to my friend Rita from Dublin who said it recently and reminded me of its existence. it’s such an evocative phrase for a verbal or physical argument that I had to investigate and was delighted when I discovered it is of Irish origin.

St Stephen’s Green in the past

As you might guess, the idea of wigs falling onto the green relates to powdered wigs being pulled off during a fight. Duels were a relatively common way to resolve disputes amongst the gentry in 1700s Dublin. Before the duel started the combatants would remove their wigs (and some clothes) and place them on the ground so they could fight unencumbered. Removal of wigs was only sensible as otherwise they might have “the wool pulled over their eyes” if their opponent pulled down their wig.

St. Stephen’s Green in more recent times

I had never realised, however, that the green in the phrase wasn’t just any piece of grass. The green in question was St. Stephen’s Green, a public park and popular city centre venue for such duels at that period. It’s still a busy park today and well worth a visit if you’re in Dublin. You won’t find any duels now but you might be able to spot bullet holes in the Fusilier’s Arch at the Grafton Street entrance to the park from the 1916 Easter Rising against British rule, although they filled in the trenches dug by the rebels since then.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Note – images in this post are with thanks to http://ststephensgreenpark.ie, run by the Office of Public Works who manage the park.

A Giant Look at Brobdingnagian

Hello,

This week’s word is brobdingnagian. A character is described in “Hall of Mirrors” by Christopher Fowler (witty detective fiction country house mystery) as being

“positively brobdingnagian when balanced upon a minuscule wire-framed chair”

and I had a feeling it was a reference to the classic satire Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift but I had to pull out the dictionary to be sure, as I thought the only adjective he’d spawned with his writing was lilliputian for people small in either stature or outlook.

Sure enough brobdingnagian (pronounciation here) describes anything of tremendous, or gigantic, size. Swift described Gulliver’s encounter with the land of Brobdingnag in his classic book. It’s inhabited by humans of massive size and is almost the opposite of Lilliput where the people are tiny relative to his brave shipwreck survivor, Gulliver.

The witch Cailleach Beara at Slieve Gullion Forest Park

What I hadn’t realised was that Swift gave English several other words thanks to his hugely popular book, many of which entered the language shortly after its publication in 1726. He wrote the book while working as dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.

You may not use big-endian and little-endian for controversies over nothing significant (or ways of organising digital data), or some of his other lesser known words, but I bet you’ve heard of a yahoo being an uncivilised person.

If you’d like to encounter the giant witch I’ve included above – check out the Giant’s Lair Trail at Slieve Gullion Forest Park. There are many legends about the witch attached to the landscape of the area and the trail is perfect for families, or you can tackle Slieve Gullion mountain if you prefer something more energetic.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

 

Pumpkin

Hello,

As I’ll be carving for Halloween later, I’ve decided to explore the origin of the word pumpkin today.

Our 2017 pumpkins

Pumpkin has its origins in Greece and Mexico, much to my surprise. The oldest botanical evidence for pumpkins were seeds found in Mexico and dating to about 6000 B.C. Their name, however, comes from Greece rather than Mexico.

The Greek word pepon (πέπων) means large melon and probably originates from peptein meaning to cook or ripen. This passed through Latin as peponem and thence to Middle French as pompon. From French the word entered English as pumpion in the 1540s. By the 1640s, with help from some American colonists, it had found its resting place as pumpkin. Less than a decade later there are references to pumpkin pie and its fate was sealed.

I’m just glad that these days we grow pumpkins in Ireland. Having exported the festival of Halloween to North America we’re very happy to import the idea of pumpkin lanterns as a thank you. Why? Because in living memory (i.e. about half my knitting & crochet group) it was turnips (or swedes) which were carved for Halloween lanterns and trust me, carving a tough turnip is a much more perilous pursuit than pumpkin-carving. The result is pretty gruesome though.

“Traditional Irish Halloween Jack-o’-Lantern” by Rannpháirtí Anaithnid. Licensed under Creative Commons

Until next time happy reading, writing, and pumpkin carving,

Grace

Looking for more Wordfoolery? Check out my new book “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” – an exploration of the varied life-stories of those who gave their names as eponyms to the English language. All the buy links are in the side bar on the right —->>

 

Lynch (extended edition)

Hello,

This week, after a wonderful weekend in Galway that included a little Lynch research on the side, it’s time to revisit the origin of the word lynch (explored in a 2014 post). This is an extract from my forthcoming non-fiction paperback and ebook “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” which rambles through the fascinating life stories of those who gave their names to the English language via eponyms.

(extract from “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” by Grace Tierney, c. 2018)

Lynch family crest, medieval stone carving, St. Nicolas’ church, Galway

The Irish origin of this word is somewhat questionable, but I suspect it has Irish roots somewhere, if only because Lynch is a common Irish surname.

Most of us know that to lynch someone is to punish them, typically by hanging, without the benefit of due legal process. The real mystery lies in working out who was the original Lynch.

The Irish claim to the word is based in Galway city. The story goes that in 1493 James Lynch Fitzstephen, the mayor of Galway, strung up his own son from the upstairs window of his house for murdering a young Spanish man over a romantic rivalry. There’s even a plaque at the window which you can see in Galway.

It’s a dramatic story and a great one for tourists but almost certainly false because the term didn’t gain usage for another 300 years. In fact the window with the plaque doesn’t even date from the correct period and is no longer in the original Lynch house.

Lynch Castle, Galway (now a bank)

 

A variation of the story is that the Lynch son embezzled money from his father’s merchant business overseas and covered it by throwing a Spaniard overboard on his return trip. A sailor denounced him on his death bed and his father, a local judge (and first mayor of Galway), condemned him to death. When the public gathered to prevent the hanging the father took matters into his own hands and hung his son from the house’s window.

The tomb of James Lynch, first mayor of Galway in St. Nicolas medieval church

It’s only fair to point out that second version does include a trial, although one wonders how fair it was.

The much more likely source for lynching (although nobody is 100% certain) is an American Quaker Charles Lynch (1736-1796), a planter in Virginia who held an irregular court to imprison loyalist supporters of Britain during the American War of Independence. Charles later got Lynch’s Law passed to excuse him from wrong-doing because it was war-time, a clever move.

The controversy around Lynch’s Law brought the word into common usage to indicate anything done without due legal process.

Although lynching later came to be associated with racial issues, Charles was known to be colour blind in his judgments.

Inhabitants of Lynchburg, Virginia will already know of their own connection to this tale, the town was founded by Charles’ older brother.

Added Bonus

When exploring the Lynch tombs in Galway I encountered a wordy stone-carved Latin tombstone, pictured here.

Tomb of Stephen Lynch, St. Nicolas’ church, Galway

The inscription translates as –

“Stephen Lynch of illustrious lineage, the darling of his soldiers and the terror of his enemies, in years still a young man, but old in valour, of whom the world was not worthy, was exalted to Heaven the 14th of March A.D. 1644”.

What a wonderful description, wish I could have one that good when I kick the bucket.

[Dec 2018 Update – the book is out now in Amazon paperback (USA and UK), and ebook for Kindle, iBooks, and on Kobo.]

Wordfoolery is running away to Paris next week, so I’ll be skipping one post but will be back fooling with words on Monday 13th. Until then happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

In Search of Janey Mac

Hello,

This week I’ve dug out my Sherlock hat and taken on a missing persons case. The person in question is Janey Mac and while rumours of her being a Dublin girl like myself persist, it now appears Janey Mac may have been a man.

Janey Mac is an expression of surprise, originating in Ireland and dating back at least 50 years, probably much longer. Some claim it for the west of the country, others for Dublin, but it’s definitely from Ireland and has spread into other countries along with Irish emigrants. Janey Mac hasn’t made it into the dictionary, yet, but is under consideration.

Charmingly, Janey Mac comes with a rhyme

Janey Mac me shirt is black,
What’ll I do for Sunday?
Go to bed and cover your head,
And don’t get up till Monday.

There are three possible origins for Janey.

The first is she was a Dublin girl, one of a pair of sisters. Given that mac is a common prefix to Irish surnames (MacCarthy, MacCabe, MacAuley etc) thanks to mac meaning “son of” in Irish, you would expect to find a Janey MacCarthy (or other Mac surname) at the bottom of this but I couldn’t find a real surname or time period for her anywhere and why would a girl be so surprising anyhow?

The second is the exclamation is an avoidance of taking God’s name in vain. Instead of yelling “Jesus Christ” when you drop a hammer on your toe, you’d call out Janey Mac instead. This is possible. Some alternatives include jeez and “cheese and rice” and many parents in Ireland would say sugar instead of sh**, but Janey Mac really doesn’t sound like Jesus Christ. I’m not convinced by this.

The third option is intriguing and may be complete hokum but it’s a good story. Every Irish schoolchild has heard tales of Fionn MacCumhaill, the ancient Irish warrior (probably mythological). He’s our version of Hercules – super strong, amazing warrior, constantly having adventures and nearly dying. You could see how his surname could be shortened to Mac, right?

His first name, Fionn, was actually a nickname. It means blonde in Irish. Fair hair in the Irish population (pre-viking times) was pretty rare so it makes sense he’d get that as a nickname, just as those with red hair are now rare and might be called Red.

Fionn’s real first name was Deimne which in certain dialects is pronounced Janey.

When Christianity came to the island the first battle was against the ancient myths and stories of demi-gods. Saint Brigid was created to cover for an Irish goddess, it’s not beyond the bounds of belief to see Fionn MacCumhaill being transformed into Janey Mac and it being used as an exclamation or oath, over time becoming confused with those swearing by Jesus Christ.

The true origins of Janey Mac are unknown but I enjoyed the search for her. I love that a mythical Dublin lass may actually have been a mythical demi-god warrior.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. Thanks to Paddy PJ Callahan who suggested this topic for the blog.