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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.

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)

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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.

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Hello and Happy May Day,

I’ve an extra fondness for May as it’s my birthday month and I wish this first of May had less rain hereabouts, but I’ve enjoyed learning about Irish May Day traditions this morning on twitter. Apparently the day is celebrated with bonfires. I don’t fancy my chances of lighting the fire pit in today’s driving rain. Maidens would go out and wash their faces in stream junctions to avoid sun-burn. I’d try, but sun-burn isn’t looking too scary right now. Finally, wildflowers were gathered and placed on doorsteps to avert evil spirits. Now that I can do.

Rainbow wildflowers on a doorstep

This week’s word is bumptious. I came across it in an interview with the author Deborah Moggach who used it to mean being intolerant in relationships. I hadn’t met it before and scurried to my dictionary. It told me that a bumptious person is unpleasantly confident, arrogant, and conceited. The example given was of a bumptious young man but I’m sure this can apply to all genders and ages.

Bumptious doesn’t have ancient roots. It first appeared in English around 1800 and is believed to be a wordplay on the words bump and fractious (quarrelsome). Bump is older though, possibly from Scandinavian origins. It joined English in the late 1500s with the meaning of a blow, or the sound of a blow. One variation was bumpsy which was slang for drunk and certainly provides an image of a bumptious drunk staggering around, bumping into things.

Until next time enjoy the May Day traditions and avoid being a bumptious bumpsy,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. I won my April CampNaNoWriMo challenge with 50 hours of editing.

 

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