Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Irish Loanwords: Part 1

In past posts, we've looked at loanwords into the English language that have come from languages such as Yiddish to Chinese. Over the next couple of days, we're going to look at some of our favorite words that have entered the English lexicon from Irish, also known as Irish Gaelic. Some words may have come from the closely related Scottish Gaelic language as well, since it is often quite difficult to perfectly pinpoint the history of loanwords.

It should come as no surprise that Irish has influenced the English language given the proximity between the islands of Ireland and Great Britain.

An artist's depiction of a banshee from 1897.
Banshee - If you've heard this term before, it was probably in the phrase "screaming like a banshee". A banshee is actually a female spirit or fairy. In Irish mythology, they were considered to be an omen of death, and were said to wail and scream when someone was about to die, hence the popular phrase. The word comes from a phonetic spelling of the Irish bean sídhe.

Hooligan - You may know of them as people who violently disrupt British football matches, but their name likely came from the Irish surname Houlihan sometime in the 1890s. There are several theories as to whether the name was used in reference to a real person or a fictional family instead.

Leprechaun - The origins of this word should come as no shock to you. It originated as the Irish word leipreachán, and first appeared in the English language spelled lubrican.

Shamrock - One of the symbols of Ireland, shamrock is simply another word for "clover". It comes from the Irish word seamrog.

Slew - We're not talking about the past tense of "slay", as in "slaying dragons" here. The word slew meaning "a large amount" of something comes from the Irish word sluagh

Smithereens - Such a great word for little pieces of things! It's thought to come from the diminutive Irish term smidirin, meaning "fragments".

We'll have even more great Irish words for you in Part 2 tomorrow.