Break out your "Kiss me, I’m Irish" shirt, lads and lassies; St. Patrick’s Day is comin’ a’callin. While you’re nursing a green beer at your favorite pub,
look like a nerd dazzle your friends with your knowledge of the Irish origins of some common English words such as these. (If they say, "Hey, that word’s etymology is Scottish Gaelic," tell them Scottish Gaelic grew out of Middle Irish, and then punch them in the gob.)
- Whiskey: It may be a cheap shot, but we’ve got to start with one that’s alcohol-related. Yes, it was the Irish who brought us whiskey, or uisge beatha, "the water of life." We do not recommend it as a healthy substitute for water.
- Boycott: There’s no word evolution involved with this one. Some folks in County Mayo, Ireland decided to fight back against a stubborn land agent for an English landlord who wouldn’t lower their rent. So they refused to have any dealings with one Capt. Charles Cunningham Boycott.
- Slob: It would actually be an understatement to call someone who regularly wears clothes covered with mud a "slob." Yet the word derives from the Irish word slab, meaning mud.
- Hooligan: Without this word we’d just have to call soccer fans "criminals." No one argues it’s Irish in origin, but exactly what it sprang from is murky. Perhaps a gang leader and cop-killer of the same name gave rise to the term, or the family name of a rowdy Irish clan. We’d believe either.
- Gob: Do people ever tell you to shut your gob? Based on the context, you probably deduced they meant shut your talk-hole. It’s slang, which means there’s speculation involved, but this word most likely comes from the Irish for "beak" or "mouth."
- Gibberish: The Irish had to come up with a word to explain talking while drunk. "Gibberish" could be from the Celtic gibber, or the Gaelic gabairechd, meaning unintelligible talk. It could even be a play on "gob" or "gab."
- Leprechaun: Here’s one you should be able to call to mind even after a few pints. Many believe the word comes from the Irish leipreachán, meaning "pygmy." We prefer the theory that it refers to their penchant for shoe-making: leath bhrógan roughly translates into "one-shoe-maker." After all, no one’s ever caught a leprechaun making two shoes at once…
- Brogue: The sartorially savvy will recognize this term for leather shoes with elaborate stitching on the top and sides. We got the name from the bróg, a stout, rough shoe worn by Irish highlanders. The term became intertwined with heavy Irish accents because people with them typically wore the shoes, too.
- Slogan: Weird to think the term for a war cry has now come to describe what a chorus line sings about paper towels. The Gaelic sluaghghairm breaks down into "army" (sluagh) and "shout" (ghairm). Soldiers would scream their "slogan" at the top of their lungs before rushing into battle.
- Clan: If you’re a Smith, Murphy, Kelly, or Shea, you likely belong to a longstanding Irish clan. The word comes from the Gaelic clann and the Old Irish cland signifying "family" or "offspring."
- Galore: Galore means an abundance; a plethora, if you will. And we all know what that is. "Galore" comes from the Irish gu leor, meaning "enough."
- Shamrock: You’ll see plenty of these on St. Patty’s Day. The reason is St. Patrick used the seamróg, or "little clover," to demonstrate the three aspects of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Shamrocks came to be considered holy plants because of the association.
- Phony: This is another slang term, which makes tracking its etymology difficult. However, it is believed to derive from fáinne, the Irish word for "ring." Sailors and swindlers would often try to pass off brass rings as gold ones, thus the connotation of something that is not what it appears to be.
- Loch: OK, the Loch Ness Monster might not be something that comes up in conversation every single day, but as far as urban legends go it’s a household name. The "loch" is Irish for "body of water," vis-à-vis a lake.
- Smithereens: Let’s just say first, "smithereens" is a fantastic word. What was it blown to? Smithereens! It spawned from the Irish word smidirin, meaning "fragments," as the diminutive version of smiodar, "fragment."
- Banshee: You may have heard this word from an elder at some point when you were running around the house screaming as a child. Turns out it is kind of insulting to apply it to a guy. It comes from the Irish bean sidhe, the "female of the elves" who called to the spirits of the dead. So, it basically means "fairy queen," and them’s fighting words.
- Bard: English majors love to refer to Shakespeare as "the Bard." Before, you could one-up them by rubbing the fact that you have a job in their face. Now you know the etymology: from the Celtic bardos, a singer or poet.
- Slew: Remember sluaghghairm? Sluagh is also the place we get our word meaning "a large number or quantity." As in, you now possess a slew of information about English words with Irish origins. Tá fáilte romhat. (You’re welcome.)