Celebrate St. Patrick's Day With 15 English Words Derived From Irish Gaelic

With St Patrick's Day upon us today, March 17, here are 15 words the English language owes to Gaelige, better known to English speakers as Irish Gaelic -- and as this list shows, Irish has given us a lot more than just leprechauns and shamrocks.
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With St Patrick's Day upon us today, March 17, here are 15 words the English language owes to Gaelige, better known to English speakers as Irish Gaelic -- and as this list shows, Irish has given us a lot more than just leprechauns and shamrocks.

If you've seen Million Dollar Baby, then you'll probably remember that acushla or macushla is an old Irish term of endearment roughly equivalent to the English sweetheart or darling. In the film, boxing trainer (and WB Yeats enthusiast) Frankie Dunn, played by Clint Eastwood, gives the nickname Mo Chuisle to Maggie Fitzgerald, the indomitable female boxer played by Hilary Swank. Acushla and all of its variations derive from the Irish a chuisle mo chroí, literally meaning 'the pulse of my heart.'

For such a familiar word it might come as a surprise to find that no one is entirely sure where bother comes from. The most likely idea is that it was originally pother, a word used in both Scots and Irish English to mean 'to cause a commotion,' or 'to bustle about busily,' which is in turn probably related to the Irish for noise, bodhraim, or deafen, bodhraim.

Back in the Middle Ages, the word crack was used in northern British English to mean 'conversation' or 'bragging, noisy chatter.' This English expression was then borrowed into Irish Gaelic and became craic, before being borrowed back into British English as recently as the 1970s to mean 'fun' or 'enjoyment,' particularly with friends or on a social occasion.

Meaning 'plentiful' or 'in abundance', galore dates back as far as the 1620s. It is derived from the Irish phrase go leór, which, contrary to its English use, doesn't mean 'abundantly' but rather 'sufficiently' or 'just enough.'

The word hooligan dates from the 1890s in English, and is almost certainly derived from the Irish surname Houlihan, or hUallacháin [sic.]. Its use as another name for a criminal or hoodlum is thought to come from a notorious Irish troublemaker called Patrick Hoolihan and his disorderly family who lived in London at the turn of the 19th-20th century.

Kibosh or kybosh has been used generally in English to describe something that stops or restrains something else since the early 1800s, but nowadays it is seldom found outside of the phrase to put the kibosh on, meaning 'to curb' or 'bring to an end.' Its origin is disputed, with various rival theories claiming it derives from anywhere from Turkish to Hebrew, but perhaps the most likely explanation is that it comes form the Irish chaip bháis, or 'cap of death' -- namely the black cap traditionally worn by an executioner or a judge delivering the death penalty. Its earliest use in English, incidentally, is found in Charles Dickens's Sketches By Boz (1836).

Phony first appeared in English in the late 19th century as an adjective meaning 'counterfeit' or 'insincere'; its earliest use as a noun, meaning 'an imposter' or 'a charlatan,' dates from 1902. Its etymology is debatable, but the most likely theory is that it is an alteration of the Irish word for a ring, fáinne, and was borrowed into English via an old fraudster's trick called the 'fawney rig.' According to an 1811 Dictionary of The Vulgar Tongue, the fawney rig involved 'a fellow' who drops 'a brass ring, double gilt, which he picks up before the party meant to be cheated, and to whom he disposes of it for less than its supposed -- and ten times more than its real -- value.'

Alright, so Reaganomics isn't an Irish word, but it's fair to say it wouldn't have existed without Reagan. The surname of the 40th president is a derivative of the Irish word riagan, meaning 'little king.' Another president with an Irish name was Kennedy -- although regrettably his name comes from the Irish epithet ceannéidigh, meaning 'ugly-head.'

Properly speaking, a shebeen is a speakeasy or a similarly unlicensed or underground drinking establishment, but the word can also be used like moonshine and hooch as just another name for illegal or poor quality liquor (and in particular whisky). It dates back to the late 1700s, and is thought to be a derivative of an Irish word for a cup or mug, síbín.

Besides being a variation of slough, the past tense of slay, and an old verb meaning 'to skid' or 'to pivot', the word slew can also mean 'a large number' or 'an abundance of'. In this case, it comes from the Irish word for a crowd or army, slua.

Calling a slovenly person a slob dates back to the mid 19th century in English. Before then it meant 'mud,' or 'marshy, boggy land,' and is descended from the Irish word slaba, meaning 'ooze' or 'slime.'

Smithereens has been used to mean 'small pieces' in English since the early 1800s. It derives from its Irish equivalent smidirín, which in turn is a diminutive of the Irish word for a fragment of shard of something larger, smiodar.

Members of the British Conservative Party -- including current Prime Minister David Cameron -- have been nicknamed Tories since the early 1800s. There is absolutely nothing satirical whatsoever to be said about the fact that it ultimately derives from tóraidhe, an old Irish word for an outlaw or a plunderer of stolen cash.

Trousers were originally called trowse or trouse in English before an extra final -s was added to it in the Middle Ages, as it was to all kinds of other things that come in pairs, like scissors, pants and spectacles. It ultimately derives from an even earlier Irish word, triubhas, for breeches or loose-fitting shorts.

It's impossible to say whether whisky was originally an Irish Gaelic or Scots Galiec word, but either way it derives from uisce beatha, a Gaelic phrase literally meaning 'water of life.'

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