Read Me, I’m Irish!

March 14, 2018

Forget about leprechauns and lucky clovers, there are bits of Irish culture that have actually managed to spread so far and wide that they’ve become functionally invisible! Here are just a smattering of words that started out on the Emerald Isle, but made their way throughout the world!


Usually a fairly mild reprimand for being rowdy and disruptive, a hooligan can also describe a rioting sports fan these days. Travel back to the 19th century, however, and you were likely referring to someone named Hooligan. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, there was a particularly rowdy Irish family in a music hall song named Hooligan, and their antics have left a lasting impression on the English language!


Unusually for the progression of language, the usage of the word “boycott” can be precisely traced back to the year 1880 in Ireland’s County Mayo. Captain Charles Boycott was incredibly unpopular after attempting to evict tenants, who responded by refusing to work his fields, do business with him, or even deliver his mail. It cost Boycott over 6000 pounds, and he fled to England soon after. The situation was reported in newspapers from London to New York, and less than a year later the term “boycott” had become a normal verb!


Derived from Irish Gaelic, specifically sluagh-gairm, it originally conveyed the vast chanting of a battle cry by an army. It merged together into the anglicised term “slogorn,” before becoming recognizable as the current word in 1704. This does give an interesting undertone to modern commercials and their slogans, though!


An integral part of quantum mechanics, quarks are elementary particles first proposed by physicists in 1964. They were named by the American Murray Gell-Man, who happened to be reading through James Joyce’s book Finnegan’s Wake where he saw the line “Three quarks for Muster Mark.” The number three is an essential part of the quark’s nature, so it was simply meant to be!


Irish playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan created the character Mrs. Malaprop in his 1775 play The Rivals, to both great acclaim and great comedy. Her humorous misuse of similar sounding words that mean the opposite of her intention was indelibly intertwined with her character, and Lord Byron himself was using the word “malaprop” by 1814!


Jonathan Swift’s novel Gulliver’s Travels became popular as soon as it was published, and the term “lilliputian” entered many languages meaning “small and delicate.” There are model houses called Lilliput’s Lane, tiny fittings called the Lilliput Edison screws, and a short Dutchman is called a lilliputter. It is certainly a huge impact from such tiny characters!

by Kimberly Guerin


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