What better way to mark St Patrick's Day on March 17 than by celebrating one of Ireland's greatest writers. James Joyce was born in Rathgar, on the outskirts of Dublin, in 1882. Although he spent much of his life living and working on the continent -- he died in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1941 -- Joyce maintained close ties with Ireland, and used it as the setting for all of his major literary works, including A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), Ulysses (1922) and Finnegan's Wake (1939).
Known for his playful and endlessly creative use of words, Joyce invented a whole host of often fairly outlandish words and phrases in his writing, a handful of which have made their way into the more obscure corners of the dictionary. The stories behind seventeen of his most brilliant and most bizarre inventions -- beginning with perhaps most bizarre of all -- are explored here.
This 100-letter monster appears on the first page of Finnegan's Wake to represent the sound of the thunderclap that accompanied the fall of Adam and Eve. It's at least partly comprised of different words for thunder in several world languages, including French (tonnerre), Italian (tuono), Ancient Greek (bronte) and Japanese (kaminari). It's easily the most famous of the ten equally enormous words Joyce conjured up for the sudden, deafening sounds in Finnegan's Wake -- he used lukkedoerendunandurraskewdylooshoofermoyportertooryzooysphalnabortansport-haokansakroidverjkapakkapuk to represent the sound of door being slammed shut.
Botch has been variously used in English since the 16th century to mean "to cobble together," "to repair hastily," or "to make a mess of something," but Joyce reworked it into a noun, botch-up, in Ulysses to refer to "botch-up of a concert" -- namely, a total mess.
Joyce used chiseller as a nickname for a young child in Ulysses, although it's possible the word was already been in use in Irish slang before he before he put it down in print in 1922. Either way, it likely comes from the colloquial use of chisel to mean "to fleece money from someone."
As a psychological term, monoideism -- referring to a single mental fixation -- was first introduced in the mid 1800s. It was probably the inspiration for Joyce's coinage monoideal, explained by the OED as describing something "expressing or conveying only one idea."
Another of Joyce's fantastic onomatopoeias, mrkgnao is his version of "meow," used several times (and with several different spellings) in Ulysses: "Mrkgnao! the cat said loudly. She blinked up out of her avid shameclosing eyes, mewing plaintively and long, showing him her milkwhite teeth."
Based on obstropolous, an old dialect variation of obstreperous meaning "disorderly" or "quarrelsome," obstropolos is Joyce's word for an irritable person's downturned mouth.
If you're peloothered then you're very, very drunk. Joyce used this in Dubliners, his acclaimed collection of short stories, and was probably inspired by its early nineteenth century equivalent blootered.
The adjective poppysmic describes the smacking sound of a person's lips. Joyce coined it in Ulysses, in perhaps one of his most characteristic sentences: "Florry whispers to her. Whispering lovewords murmur liplapping loudly, poppysmic plopslop."
Quarks are subatomic particles considered one of the building blocks of all matter. They were discovered in the 1960s by the US physicist Murray Gell-Mann, who originally called them quorks until he came across a bizarre line in Joyce' Finnegan's Wake: "Three quarks for Muster Mark!" Noting that quarks can cluster together in threes to form other subatomic particles called baryons, Gell-Mann changed the name from quork to quark and credited Joyce with the name.
Used in Ulysses to mean "to completely surround something".
Joyce didn't coin the word sausage of course, but he did transform it into a verb, meaning, in the words of the OED, "to subject a person or thing to treatment reminiscent of the manufacture or shape of a sausage."
Scribbledehobble was the name Joyce gave to one of his notebooks in which he jotted down names, words, ideas, turns of phrase and anecdotes. The word has made its way into a handful of English dictionaries, likewise as the name of a rough workbook or jotter, or as a nickname for hurried, scribbled handwriting.
A cross between a genuine smile and a disdainful smirk? That's a smilesmirk.
Joyce's version of rat-a-tat, the sound of someone knocking on the door, often makes its way onto lists of palindromes -- and is usually claimed to be the longest single-word palindrome ever used in English literature.
Joyce's version of bumbershoot -- an old name for an umbrella.
Someone or something's whenceness is its birthplace or source point, the place from which it arises and develops.
Joyce coined yogibogeybox in Ulysses to describe all of the equipment and paraphernalia that a spiritualist carries around with them.