English as we speak it in Ireland/IV
IDIOMS DERIVED FROM THE IRISH LANGUAGE.
In this chapter I am obliged to quote the original Irish passages a good deal as a guarantee of authenticity for the satisfaction of Irish scholars: but for those who have no Irish the translations will answer equally well. Besides the examples I have brought together here, many others will be found all through the book. I have already remarked that the great majority of our idiomatic Hibernian-English sayings are derived from the Irish language.
When existence or modes of existence are predicated in Irish by the verb tá or atá (English is), the Irish preposition in (English in) in some of its forms is always used, often with a possessive pronoun, which gives rise to a very curious idiom. Thus, 'he is a mason' is in Irish tá sé 'n a shaor, which is literally he is in his mason: 'I am standing' is tá mé a m' sheasamh, lit. I am in my standing. This explains the common Anglo-Irish form of expression:—'He fell on the road out of his standing': for as he is 'in his standing' (according to the Irish) when he is standing up, he is 'out of his standing' when he falls. This idiom with in is constantly translated literally into English by the Irish people. Thus, instead of saying, 'I sent the wheat thrashed into corn to the mill, and it came home as flour,' they will rather say, 'I sent the wheat in corn to the mill, and it came home in flour.' Here the in denotes identity: 'Your hair is in a wisp'; i.e. it is a wisp: 'My eye is in whey in my head,' i.e. it is whey. (John Keegan in Ir. Pen. Journ.)
But an idiom closely resembling this, and in some respects identical with it, exists in English (though it has not been hitherto noticed—so far as I am aware)—as may be seen from the following examples:—'The Shannon ... rushed through Athlone in a deep and rapid stream (Macaulay), i.e. it was a deep and rapid stream (like our expression 'Your handkerchief is in ribbons').
- 'Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap.'
- (Gray's 'Elegy.')
- 'Hence bards, like Proteus, long in vain tied down,
- Escape in monsters and amaze the town.'
- (Pope: 'Dunciad.')
'The bars forming the front and rear edges of each plane [of the flying-machine] are always in one piece' (Daily Mail). Shelley's 'Cloud' says, 'I laugh in thunder' (meaning I laugh, and my laugh is thunder.) 'The greensand and chalk were continued across the weald in a great dome.' (Lord Avebury.)
'Just to the right of him were the white-robed bishops in a group.' (Daily Mail.) 'And men in nations' (Byron in 'The Isles of Greece'): 'The people came in tens and twenties': 'the rain came down in torrents': 'I'll take £10 in gold and the rest in silver': 'the snow gathered in a heap.' 'The money came [home] sometimes in specie and sometimes in goods' (Lord Rothschild, speech in House of Lords, 29th November, 1909), exactly like 'the corn came home in flour,' quoted above. The preceding examples do not quite fully represent the Irish idiom in its entirety, inasmuch as the possessive pronouns are absent. But even these are sometimes found, as in the familiar phrases, 'the people came in their hundreds.' 'You are in your thousands' [here at the meeting], which is an exact reproduction of the Gaelic phrase in the Irish classical story:—Atá sibh in bhur n-ealaibh, 'Ye are swans' (lit. 'Ye are in your swans').
When mere existence is predicated, the Gaelic ann (in it, i.e. 'in existence') is used, as atá sneachta ann, 'there is snow'; lit. 'there is snow there,' or 'there is snow in it,' i.e. in existence. The ann should be left blank in English translation, i.e. having no proper representative. But our people will not let it go waste; they bring it into their English in the form of either in it or there, both of which in this construction carry the meaning of in existence. Mrs. Donovan says to Bessy Morris:—'Is it yourself that's in it?' ('Knocknagow'), which would stand in correct Irish An tusa atá ann? On a Sunday one man insults and laughs at another, who says, 'Only for the day that's in it I'd make you laugh at the wrong side of your mouth': 'the weather that's in it is very hot.' 'There's nothing at all there (in existence) as it used to be' (Gerald Griffin: 'Collegians'): 'this day is bad for growth, there's a sharp east wind there.'
I do not find this use of the English preposition in—namely, to denote identity—referred to in English dictionaries, though it ought to be.
The same mode of expressing existence by an or in is found in the Ulster and Scotch phrase for to be alone, which is as follows, always bringing in the personal pronoun:—'I am in my lone,' 'he is in his lone,' 'they are in their lone'; or more commonly omitting the preposition (though it is always understood): 'She is living her lone.' All these expressions are merely translations from Gaelic, in which they are constantly used; 'I am in my lone' being from Tá me am' aonar, where am' is 'in my' and aonar, 'lone.' Am' aonar seal do bhiossa, 'Once as I was alone.' (Old Irish Song.) In north-west Ulster they sometimes use the preposition by:—'To come home by his lone' (Seumas Mac Manus). Observe the word lone is always made lane in Scotland, and generally in Ulster; and these expressions or their like will be found everywhere in Burns or in any other Scotch (or Ulster) dialect writer.
Prepositions are used in Irish where it might be wrong to use them in corresponding constructions in English. Yet the Irish phrases are continually translated literally, which gives rise to many incorrect dialect expressions. Of this many examples will be found in what follows.
'He put lies on me'; a form of expression often heard. This might have one or the other of two meanings, viz. either 'he accused me of telling lies,' or 'he told lies about me.'
'The tinker took fourpence out of that kettle,' i.e. he earned 4d. by mending it. St. Patrick left his name on the townland of Kilpatrick: that nickname remained on Dan Ryan ever since.
'He was vexed to me' (i.e. with me): 'I was at him for half a year' (with him); 'You could find no fault to it' (with it). All these are in use.
'I took the medicine according to the doctor's order, but I found myself nothing the better of it.' 'You have a good time of it.' I find in Dickens however (in his own words) that the wind 'was obviously determined to make a night of it.' (See p. 10 for a peculiarly Irish use of of it.)
In the Irish poem Bean na d-Tri m-Bo, 'The Woman of Three Cows,' occurs the expression, As do bhólacht ná bí teann, 'Do not be haughty out of your cattle.' This is a form of expression constantly heard in English:—'he is as proud as a peacock out of his rich relations.' So also, 'She has great thought out of him,' i.e. She has a very good opinion of him. (Queen's Co.)
'I am without a penny,' i.e. I haven't a penny: very common: a translation from the equally common Irish expression, tá me gan pinghín.
In an Irish love song the young man tells us that he had been vainly trying to win over the colleen le bliadhain agus le lá, which Petrie correctly (but not literally) translates 'for a year and for a day.' As the Irish preposition le signifies with, the literal translation would be 'with a year and with a day,' which would be incorrect English. Yet the uneducated people of the South and West often adopt this translation; so that you will hear such expressions as 'I lived in Cork with three years.'
There is an idiomatic use of the Irish preposition air, 'on,' before a personal pronoun or before a personal name and after an active verb, to intimate injury or disadvantage of some kind, a violation of right or claim. Thus, Do bhuail Seumas mo ghadhar orm [where orm is air me], 'James struck my dog on me,' where on me means to my detriment, in violation of my right, &c. Chaill sé mo sgian orm; 'he lost my knife on me.'
This mode of expression exists in the oldest Irish as well as in the colloquial languages—both Irish and English—of the present day. When St. Patrick was spending the Lent on Croagh Patrick the demons came to torment him in the shape of great black hateful-looking birds: and the Tripartite Life, composed (in the Irish language) in the tenth century, says, 'The mountain was filled with great sooty-black birds on him' (to his torment or detriment). In 'The Battle of Rossnaree,' Carbery, directing his men how to act against Conor, his enemy, tells them to send some of their heroes re tuargain a sgéithe ar Conchobar, 'to smite Conor's shield on him.' The King of Ulster is in a certain hostel, and when his enemies hear of it, they say:—'We are pleased at that for we shall [attack and] take the hostel on him to-night.' (Congal Claringneach.) It occurs also in the Amra of Columkille—the oldest of all—though I cannot lay my hand on the passage.
This is one of the commonest of our Anglo-Irish idioms, so that a few examples will be sufficient.
- 'I saw thee ... thrice on Tara's champions win the goal.'
- (Ferguson: 'Lays of the Western Gael.')
I once heard a grandmother—an educated Dublin lady—say, in a charmingly petting way, to her little grandchild who came up crying:—'What did they do to you on me—did they beat you on me?'
The Irish preposition ag—commonly translated 'for' in this connexion—is used in a sense much like air, viz. to carry an idea of some sort of injury to the person represented by the noun or pronoun. Typical examples are: one fellow threatening another says, 'I'll break your head for you: or 'I'll soon settle his hash for him.' This of course also comes from Irish; Gur scoilt an plaosg aige, 'so that he broke his skull for him (Battle of Gavra); Do ghearr a reim aige beo, 'he shortened his career for him.' ('The Amadán Mór.') See 'On' in Vocabulary.
There is still another peculiar usage of the English preposition for, which is imitated or translated from the Irish, the corresponding Irish preposition here being mar. In this case the prepositional phrase is added on, not to denote injury, but to express some sort of mild depreciation:—'Well, how is your new horse getting on?' 'Ah, I'm tired of him for a horse: he is little good.' A dog keeps up a continuous barking, and a person says impatiently, 'Ah, choke you for a dog' (may you be choked). Lowry Looby, who has been appointed to a place and is asked how he is going on with it, replies, 'To lose it I did for a place.' ('Collegians.') In the Irish story of Bodach an Chota Lachtna ('The Clown with the Grey Coat'), the Bodach offers Ironbones some bones to pick, on which Ironbones flies into a passion; and Mangan, the translator, happily puts into the mouth of the Bodach:—'Oh, very well, then we will not have any more words about them, for bones.' Osheen, talking in a querulous mood about all his companions—the Fena—having left him, says, [were I in my former condition] Ni ghoirfinn go bráth orruibh, mar Fheinn, 'I would never call on you, for Fena.' This last and its like are the models on which the Anglo-Irish phrases are formed.
'Of you' (where of is not intended for off) is very frequently used in the sense of from you: 'I'll take the stick of you whether you like it or not.' 'Of you' is here simply a translation of the Irish díot, which is always used in this connexion in Irish: bainfead díot é, 'I will take it of you.' In Irish phrases like this the Irish uait ('from you') is not used; if it were the people would say 'I'll take it from you,' not of you. (Russell.)
'Oh that news was on the paper yesterday.' 'I went on the train to Kingstown.' Both these are often heard in Dublin and elsewhere. Correct speakers generally use in in such cases. (Father Higgins and Kinahan.)
In some parts of Ulster they use the preposition on after to be married:—'After Peggy M‘Cue had been married on Long Micky Diver' (Sheumas MacManus).
'To make a speech takes a good deal out of me,' i.e. tires me, exhausts me, an expression heard very often among all classes. The phrase in italics is merely the translation of a very common Irish expression, baineann sé rud éigin asam, it takes something out of me.
'I am afraid of her,' 'I am frightened at her,' are both correct English, meaning 'she has frightened me': and both are expressed in Donegal by 'I am afeard for her,' 'I am frightened for her,' where in both cases for is used in the sense of 'on account of.'
In Irish any sickness, such as fever, is said to be on a person, and this idiom is imported into English. If a person wishes to ask 'What ails you?' he often gives it the form of 'What is on you?' (Ulster), which is exactly the English of Cad é sin ort?
A visitor stands up to go. 'What hurry is on you?' A mild invitation to stay on (Armagh). In the South, 'What hurry are you in?'
She had a nose on her, i.e. looked sour, out of humour ('Knocknagow'). Much used in the South. 'They never asked me had I a mouth on me': universally understood and often used in Ireland, and meaning 'they never offered me anything to eat or drink.'
I find Mark Twain using the same idiom:—[an old horse] 'had a neck on him like a bowsprit' ('Innocents Abroad'); but here I think Mark shows a touch of the Gaelic brush, wherever he got it.
'I tried to knock another shilling out of him, but all in vain': i.e. I tried to persuade him to give me another shilling. This is very common with Irish-English speakers, and is a word for word translation of the equally common Irish phrase bain sgilling eile as. (Russell.)
'I came against you' (more usually agin you) means 'I opposed you and defeated your schemes.' This is merely a translation of an Irish phrase, in which the preposition le or re is used in the sense of against or in opposition to: do tháinic me leat annsin. (S. H. O'Grady.) 'His sore knee came against him during the walk.'
Against is used by us in another sense—that of meeting: 'he went against his father,' i.e. he went to meet his father [who was coming home from town]. This, which is quite common, is, I think, pure Anglo-Irish. But 'he laid up a supply of turf against the winter' is correct English as well as Anglo-Irish.
- 'And the cravat of hemp was surely spun
- Against the day when their race was run.'
- ('Touchstone' in 'Daily Mail.')
A very common inquiry when you meet a friend is:—'How are all your care?' Meaning chiefly your family, those persons that are under your care. This is merely a translation of the common Irish inquiry, Cionnos tá do chúram go léir?
A number of idiomatic expressions cluster round the word head, all of which are transplanted from Irish in the use of the Irish word ceann [cann] 'head'. Head is used to denote the cause, occasion, or motive of anything. 'Did he really walk that distance in a day?' Reply in Irish, Ní'l contabhairt air bith ann a cheann: 'there is no doubt at all on the head of it,' i.e. about it, in regard to it. 'He is a bad head to me,' i.e. he treats me badly. Merely the Irish is olc an ceann dom é. Bhi fearg air da chionn, he was vexed on the head of it.
A dismissed clerk says:—'I made a mistake in one of the books, and I was sent away on the head of that mistake.'
A very common phrase among us is, 'More's the pity':—'More's the pity that our friend William should be so afflicted.'
- 'More's the pity one so pretty
- As I should live alone.'
- (Anglo-Irish Folk-Song.)
This is a translation of a very common Irish expression as seen in:—Budh mhó an sgéile Diarmaid do bheith marbh: 'More's the pity Dermot to be dead.' (Story of 'Dermot and Grania.')
'Who should come up to me in the fair but John.' Intended not for a question but for an assertion—an assertion of something which was hardly expected. This mode of expression, which is very common, is a Gaelic construction. Thus in the song Fáinne geal an lae:—Cia gheabhainn le m'ais acht cúilfhionn deas: 'Whom should I find near by me but the pretty fair haired girl.' 'Who should walk in only his dead wife.' (Gerald Griffin: 'Collegians.') 'As we were walking along what should happen but John to stumble and fall on the road.'
The pronouns myself, himself, &c., are very often used in Ireland in a peculiar way, which will be understood from the following examples:—'The birds were singing for themselves.' 'I was looking about the fair for myself (Gerald Griffin: 'Collegians'): 'he is pleasant in himself (ibid.): 'I felt dead [dull] in myself (ibid.). 'Just at that moment I happened to be walking by myself' (i.e. alone: Irish, liom féin). Expressions of this kind are all borrowed direct from Irish.
We have in our Irish-English a curious use of the personal pronouns which will be understood from the following examples:—'He interrupted me and I writing my letters' (as I was writing). 'I found Phil there too and he playing his fiddle for the company.' This, although very incorrect English, is a classic idiom in Irish, from which it has been imported as it stands into our English. Thus:—Do chonnairc me Tomás agus é n'a shuidhe cois na teine: 'I saw Thomas and he sitting beside the fire.' 'How could you see me there and I to be in bed at the time?' This latter part is merely a translation from the correct Irish:—agus meise do bheith mo luidhe ag an am sin (Irish Tale). Any number of examples of this usage might be culled from both English and Irish writings. Even so classical a writer as Wolfe follows this usage in 'The Burial of Sir John Moore':—
- 'We thought ...
- That the foe and the stranger would tread o'er his head,
- And we far away on the billow.'
(I am reminded of this by Miss Hayden and Prof. Hartog.)
But there is a variety in our English use of the pronouns here, namely, that we often use the objective (or accusative) case instead of the nominative. 'How could you expect Davy to do the work and him so very sick?' 'My poor man fell into the fire a Sunday night and him hearty' (hearty, half drunk: Maxwell, 'Wild Sports of the West'). 'Is that what you lay out for me, mother, and me after turning the Voster (i.e. after working through the whole of Voster's Arithmetic: Carleton). 'John and Bill were both reading and them eating their dinner (while they were eating their dinner). This is also from the Irish language. We will first take the third person plural pronoun. The pronoun 'they' is in Irish siad: and the accusative 'them' is the Irish iad. But in some Irish constructions this iad is (correctly) used as a nominative; and in imitation of this our people often use 'them' as a nominative:—Them are just the gloves I want.' Them are the boys' is exactly translated from the correct Irish is iad sin na buachaillidhe. 'Oh she melted the hearts of the swains in them parts.' ('The Widow Malone,' by Lever.)
In like manner with the pronouns sé, sí (he, she), of which the accusatives é and í are in certain Irish constructions (correctly) used for the nominative forms, which accusative forms are (incorrectly) imported into English. Do chonnairc mé Seadhán agus é n'a shuidhe, 'I saw Shaun and him sitting down,' i.e. 'as he was sitting down.' So also 'don't ask me to go and me having a sore foot.' 'There's the hen and her as fat as butter,' i.e. 'she (the hen) being as fat as butter.'
The little phrase 'the way' is used among us in several senses, all peculiar, and all derived from Irish. Sometimes it is a direct translation from amhlaidh ('thus,' 'so,' 'how,' 'in a manner'). An old example of this use of amhlaidh in Irish is the following passage from the Boroma (Silva Gadelica):—Is amlaid at chonnaic [Concobar] Laigin ocus Ulaid mán dabaig ocá hól: 'It is how (or 'the way') [Concobar] saw the Lagenians and the Ulstermen [viz. they were] round the vat drinking from it.' Is amhlaidh do bhi Fergus: 'It is thus (or the way) Fergus was [conditioned; that his shout was heard over three cantreds].'
This same sense is also seen in the expression, 'this is the way I made my money,' i.e. 'this is how I made it.'
When this expression, 'the way,' or 'how,' introduces a statement it means tis how it happened.' 'What do you want, James?' Tis the way ma'am, my mother sent me for the loan of the shovel.' This idiom is very common in Limerick, and is used indeed all through Ireland.
Very often 'the way' is used in the sense of 'in order that':—'Smoking carriages are lined with American cloth the way they wouldn't keep the smell'; 'I brought an umbrella the way I wouldn't get wet'; 'you want not to let the poor boy do for himself [by marrying] the way that you yourself should have all.' (Ir. Pen. Mag.) You constantly hear this in Dublin, even among educated people.
Sometimes the word way is a direct translation from the Irish caoi, 'a way,' 'a road'; so that the common Irish salutation, Cad chaoi bh-fuil tu? is translated with perfect correctness into the equally common Irish-English salute, 'What way are you?' meaning 'How are you?'
'This way' is often used by the people in the sense of 'by this time':—'The horse is ready this way,' i.e. 'ready by this time.' (Gerald Griffin, 'Collegians.')
The word itself is used in a curious way in Ireland, which has been something of a puzzle to outsiders. As so used it has no gender, number, or case; it is not in fact a pronoun at all, but a substitute for the word even. This has arisen from the fact that in the common colloquial Irish language the usual word to express both even and itself, is féin; and in translating a sentence containing this word féin, the people rather avoided even, a word not very familiar to them in this sense, and substituted the better known itself, in cases where even would be the correct word, and itself would be incorrect. Thus da mbeith an meud sin féin agum is correctly rendered 'if I had even that much': but the people don't like even, and don't well understand it (as applied here), so they make it 'If I had that much itself.' This explains all such Anglo-Irish sayings as 'if I got it itself it would be of no use to me,' i.e. 'even if I got it': 'If she were there itself I wouldn't know her'; 'She wouldn't go to bed till you'd come home, and if she did itself she couldn't sleep.' (Knocknagow.) A woman is finding some fault with the arrangements for a race, and Lowry Looby (Collegians) puts in 'so itself what hurt' i.e. 'even so what harm.' (Russell and myself.)
The English when is expressed by the Irish an uair, which is literally 'the hour' or 'the time.' This is often transplanted into English; as when a person says 'the time you arrived I was away in town.'
When you give anything to a poor person the recipient commonly utters the wish 'God increase you!' (meaning your substance): which is an exact translation of the equally common Irish wish Go meádaighe Dia dhuit. Sometimes the prayer is 'God increase your store,' which expresses exactly what is meant in the Irish wish.
The very common aspiration 'God help us' [you, me, them, &c.] is a translation of the equally common Go bh-fóireadh Dia orruinn [ort, &c.].
In the north-west instead of 'your father,' 'your sister,' &c., they often say 'the father of you,' 'the sister of you,' &c.; and correspondingly as to things:—'I took the hand of her' (i.e. her hand) (Seumas Mac Manus).
All through Ireland you will hear show used instead of give or hand (verb), in such phrases as 'Show me that knife,' i.e. hand it to me. 'Show me the cream, please,' says an Irish gentleman at a London restaurant; and he could not see why his English friends were laughing.
'He passed me in the street by the way he didn't know me'; 'he refused to give a contribution by the way he was so poor.' In both, by the way means 'pretending.'
'My own own people' means my immediate relations. This is a translation of mo mhuinterse féin. In Irish the repetition of the emphatic pronominal particles is very common, and is imported into English; represented here by 'own own.'
A prayer or a wish in Irish often begins with the particle go, meaning 'that' (as a conjunction): Go raibh maith agut, 'that it may be well with you,' i.e. 'May it be well with you.' In imitation or translation of this the corresponding expression in English is often opened by this word that: 'that you may soon get well,' i.e., 'may you soon get well.' Instead of 'may I be there to see' (John Gilpin) our people would say 'that I may be there to see.' A person utters some evil wish such as 'may bad luck attend you,' and is answered 'that the prayer may happen the preacher.' A usual ending of a story told orally, when the hero and heroine have been comfortably disposed of is 'And if they don't live happy that we may.'
When a person sees anything unusual or unexpected, he says to his companion, 'Oh do you mind that!'
'You want me to give you £10 for that cow: well, I'm not so soft all out.' 'He's not so bad as that all out.'
A common expression is 'I was talking to him to-day, and I drew down about the money,' i.e. I brought on or introduced the subject. This is a translation of the Irish form do tharraing me anuas 'I drew down.'
Quite a common form of expression is 'I had like to be killed,' i.e., I was near being killed: I had a narrow escape of being killed: I escaped being killed by the black of my nail.
Where the English say it rains, we say 'it is raining': which is merely a translation of the Irish way of saying it:—ta se ag fearthainn.
The usual Gaelic equivalent of 'he gave a roar' is do léig sé géim as (met everywhere in Irish texts), 'he let a roar out of him'; which is an expression you will often hear among people who have not well mastered English—who in fact often speak the Irish language with English words.
'I put it before me to do it,' meaning I was resolved to do it, is the literal translation of chuireas rómhaim é to dheunamh. Both Irish and Anglo-Irish are very common in the respective languages.
When a narrator has come to the end of some minor episode in his narrative, he often resumes with the opening 'That was well and good': which is merely a translation of the Gaelic bhí sin go maith.
Lowry Looby having related how the mother and daughter raised a terrible pillilu, i.e., 'roaring and bawling,' says after a short pause 'that was well and good,' and proceeds with his story. (Gerald Griffin: 'Collegians.')
A common Irish expression interjected into a narrative or discourse, as a sort of stepping stone between what is ended and what is coming is Ní'l tracht air, 'there is no talking about it,' corresponding to the English 'in short,' or 'to make a long story short.' These Irish expressions are imported into our English, in which popular phrases like the following are very often heard:—'I went to the fair, and there's no use in talking, I found the prices real bad.'
- 'Wisha my bones are exhausted, and there's no use in talking,
- My heart is scalded, a wirrasthru.'
- (Old Song.)
'Where is my use in staying here, so there's no use in talking, go I will.' ('Knocknagow.') Often the expression takes this form:—'Ah 'tis a folly to talk, he'll never get that money.'
Sometimes the original Irish is in question form. Cid tracht ('what talking?' i.e. 'what need of talking?') which is Englished as follows:—'Ah what's the use of talking, your father will never consent.' These expressions are used in conversational Irish-English, not for the purpose of continuing a narrative as in the original Irish, but—as appears from the above examples—merely to add emphasis to an assertion.
'It's a fine day that.' This expression, which is common enough among us, is merely a translation from the common Irish phrase is breagh an lá é sin, where the demonstrative sin (that) comes last in the proper Irish construction: but when imitated in English it looks queer to an English listener or reader.
'There is no doubt that is a splendid animal.' This expression is a direct translation from the Irish Ní'l contabhairt ann, and is equivalent to the English 'doubtless.' It occurs often in the Scottish dialect also:—'Ye need na doubt I held my whisht' (Burns).
You are about to drink from a cup. 'How much shall I put into this cup for you?' 'Oh you may give me the full of it.' This is Irish-English: in England they would say—'Give it to me full.' Our expression is a translation from the Irish language. For example, speaking of a drinking-horn, an old writer says, a lán do'n lionn, literally, 'the full of it of ale.' In Silva Gadelica we find lán a ghlaice deise do losaibh, which an Irishman translating literally would render 'the full of his right hand of herbs,' while an Englishman would express the same idea in this way—'his right hand full of herbs.'
Our Irish-English expression 'to come round a person' means to induce or circumvent him by coaxing cuteness and wheedling: 'He came round me by his sleudering to lend him half a crown, fool that I was': 'My grandchildren came round me to give them money for sweets.' This expression is borrowed from Irish:—'When the Milesians reached Erin tanic a ngáes timchioll Tuathi De Danand, 'their cuteness circumvented (lit. 'came round') the Dedannans.' (Opening sentence in Mesca Ulad in Book of Leinster: Hennessy.)
'Shall I do so and so?' 'What would prevent you?' A very usual Hibernian-English reply, meaning 'you may do it of course; there is nothing to prevent you.' This is borrowed or translated from an Irish phrase. In the very old tale The Voyage of Maildune, Maildune's people ask, 'Shall we speak to her [the lady]?' and he replies Cid gatas uait ce atberaid fria. 'What [is it] that takes [anything] from you though ye speak to her,' as much as to say, 'what harm will it do you if you speak to her?' equivalent to 'of course you may, there's nothing to prevent you.'
That old horse is lame of one leg, one of our very usual forms of expression, which is merely a translation from bacach ar aonchois. (MacCurtin.) 'I'll seem to be lame, quite useless of one of my hands.' (Old Song.)
Such constructions as amadán fir 'a fool of a man' are very common in Irish, with the second noun in the genitive (fear 'a man,' gen. fir) meaning 'a man who is a fool.' Is and is ail ollamhan, 'it is then he is a rock of an ollamh (doctor), i.e. a doctor who is a rock [of learning]. (Book of Rights.) So also 'a thief of a fellow,' 'a steeple of a man,' i.e. a man who is a steeple—so tall. This form of expression is however common in England both among writers and speakers. It is noticed here because it is far more general among us, for the obvious reason that it has come to us from two sources (instead of one)—Irish and English.
'I removed to Dublin this day twelve months, and this day two years I will go back again to Tralee.' 'I bought that horse last May was a twelvemonth, and he will be three years old come Thursday next.' 'I'll not sell my pigs till coming on summer': a translation of air theacht an t-samhraidh. Such Anglo-Irish expressions are very general, and are all from the Irish language, of which many examples might be given, but this one from 'The Courtship of Emer,' twelve or thirteen centuries old, will be enough. [It was prophesied] that the boy would come to Erin that day seven years—dia secht m-bliadan. (Kuno Meyer.)
In our Anglo-Irish dialect the expression at all is often duplicated for emphasis: 'I'll grow no corn this year at all at all': 'I have no money at all at all.' So prevalent is this among us that in a very good English grammar recently published (written by an Irishman) speakers and writers are warned against it. This is an importation from Irish. One of the Irish words for 'at all' is idir (always used after a negative), old forms itir and etir:—nir bo tol do Dubthach recc na cumaile etir, 'Dubthach did not wish to sell the bondmaid at all.' In the following old passage, and others like it, it is duplicated for emphasis Cid beac, itir itir, ges do obar: 'however little it is forbidden to work, at all at all.' ('Prohibitions of beard,' O'Looney.)
When it is a matter of indifference which of two things to choose, we usually say 'It is equal to me' (or 'all one to me'), which is just a translation of is cuma liom (best rendered by 'I don't care'). Both Irish and English expressions are very common in the respective languages. Lowry Looby says:—'It is equal to me whether I walk ten or twenty miles.' (Gerald Griffin.)
- 'I am a bold bachelor, airy and free,
- Both cities and counties are equal to me.'
- (Old Song.)
'Do that out of the face,' i.e. begin at the beginning and finish it out and out: a translation of deun sin as eudan.
'The day is rising' means the day is clearing up,—the rain, or snow, or wind is ceasing—the weather is becoming fine: a common saying in Ireland: a translation of the usual Irish expression tá an lá ag éirghidh. During the height of the great wind storm of 1842 a poor shooler or 'travelling man' from Galway, who knew little English, took refuge in a house in Westmeath, where the people were praying in terror that the storm might go down. He joined in, and unconsciously translating from his native Irish, he kept repeating 'Musha, that the Lord may rise it, that the Lord may rise it.' At which the others were at first indignant, thinking he was asking God to raise the wind higher still. (Russell.)
Sometimes two prepositions are used where one would do:—'The dog got in under the bed:' 'Where is James? He's in in the room—or inside in the room.'
- 'Old woman, old woman, old woman,' says I,
- 'Where are you going up so high?'
- 'To sweep the cobwebs off o' the sky.'
Whether this duplication off of is native Irish or old English it is not easy to say: but I find this expression in 'Robinson Crusoe':—'For the first time since the storm off of Hull.'
Eva, the witch, says to the children of Lir, when she had turned them into swans:—Amach daoibh a chlann an righ: 'Out with you [on the water] ye children of the king.' This idiom which is quite common in Irish, is constantly heard among English speakers:—'Away with you now'—'Be off with yourself.'
'Are you going away now?' One of the Irish forms of answering this is Ní fós, which in Kerry the people translate 'no yet,' considering this nearer to the original than the usual English 'not yet.'
The usual way in Irish of saying he died is fuair sé bás, i.e. 'he found (or got) death,' and this is sometimes imitated in Anglo-Irish:—'He was near getting his death from that wetting'; 'come out of that draught or you'll get your death.'
The following curious form of expression is very often heard:—'Remember you have gloves to buy for me in town'; instead of 'you have to buy me gloves.' 'What else have you to do to-day?' 'I have a top to bring to Johnny, and when I come home I have the cows to put in the stable'—instead of 'I have to bring a top'—'I have to put the cows.' This is an imitation of Irish, though not, I think, a direct translation.
What may be called the Narrative Infinitive is a very usual construction in Irish. An Irish writer, relating a past event (and using the Irish language) instead of beginning his narrative in this way, 'Donall O'Brien went on an expedition against the English of Athlone,' will begin 'Donall O'Brien to go on an expedition,' &c. No Irish examples of this need be given here, as they will be found in every page of the Irish Annals, as well as in other Irish writings. Nothing like this exists in English, but the people constantly imitate it in the Anglo-Irish speech. 'How did you come by all that money?' Reply:—'To get into the heart of the fair' (meaning 'I got into the heart of the fair'), and to cry old china, &c. (Gerald Griffin.) 'How was that, Lowry?' asks Mr. Daly: and Lowry answers:—'Some of them Garryowen boys sir to get about Danny Mann.' (Gerald Griffin: 'Collegians.') 'How did the mare get that hurt?' 'Oh Tom Cody to leap her over the garden wall yesterday, and she to fall on her knees on the stones.'
The Irish language has the word annso for here, but it has no corresponding word derived from annso, to signify hither, though there are words for this too, but not from annso. A similar observation applies to the Irish for the words there and thither, and for where and whither. As a consequence of this our people do not use hither, thither, and whither at all. They make here, there, and where do duty for them. Indeed much the same usage exists in the Irish language too: Is ann tigdaois eunlaith (Keating): 'It is here the birds used to come,' instead of hither. In consequence of all this you will hear everywhere in Anglo-Irish speech:—'John came here yesterday': 'come here Patsy': 'your brother is in Cork and you ought to go there to see him': 'where did you go yesterday after you parted from me?'
'Well Jack how are you these times?' 'Oh, indeed Tom I'm purty well thank you—all that's left of me': a mock way of speaking, as if the hard usage of the world had worn him to a thread. 'Is Frank Magaveen there?' asks the blind fiddler. 'All that's left of me is here,' answers Frank. (Carleton.) These expressions, which are very usual, and many others of the kind, are borrowed from the Irish. In the Irish tale, 'The Battle of Gavra,' poor old Osheen, the sole survivor of the Fena, says:—'I know not where to follow them [his lost friends]; and this makes the little remnant that is left of me wretched. (D'fúig sin m'iarsma).
Ned Brophy, introducing his wife to Mr. Lloyd, says, 'this is herself sir.' This is an extremely common form of phrase. 'Is herself [i.e. the mistress] at home Jenny?' 'I'm afraid himself [the master of the house] will be very angry when he hears about the accident to the mare.' This is an Irish idiom. The Irish chiefs, when signing their names to any document, always wrote the name in this form, Misi O'Neill, i.e. 'Myself O'Neill.'
A usual expression is 'I have no Irish,' i.e. I do not know or speak Irish. This is exactly the way of saying it in Irish, of which the above is a translation:—Ní'l Gaodhlainn agum.
To let on is to pretend, and in this sense is used everywhere in Ireland. 'Oh your father is very angry': 'Not at all, he's only letting on.' 'If you meet James don't let on you saw me,' is really a positive, not a negative request: equivalent to—'If you meet James, let on (pretend) that you didn't see me.' A Dublin working-man recently writing in a newspaper says, 'they passed me on the bridge (Cork), and never let on to see me' (i.e. 'they let on not to see me').
'He is all as one as recovered now'; he is nearly the same as recovered.
At the proper season you will often see auctioneers' posters:—'To be sold by auction 20 acres of splendid meadow on foot,' &c. This term on foot, which is applied in Ireland to growing crops of all kinds—corn, flax, meadow, &c.—is derived from the Irish language, in which it is used in the oldest documents as well as in the everyday spoken modern Irish; the usual word cos for 'foot' being used. Thus in the Brehon Laws we are told that a wife's share of the flax is one-ninth if it be on foot (for a cois, 'on its foot,' modern form air a chois) one-sixth after being dried, &c. In one place a fine is mentioned for appropriating or cutting furze if it be 'on foot.' (Br. Laws.)
This mode of speaking is applied in old documents to animals also. Thus in one of the old Tales is mentioned a present of a swine and an ox on foot (for a coiss, 'on their foot') to be given to Mac Con and his people, i.e. to be sent to them alive—not slaughtered. (Silva Gadelica.) But I have not come across this application in our modern Irish-English.
To give a thing 'for God's sake,' i.e. to give it in charity or for mere kindness, is an expression very common at the present day all over Ireland. 'Did you sell your turf-rick to Bill Fennessy?' Oh no, I gave it to him for God's sake: he's very badly off now poor fellow, and I'll never miss it.' Our office attendant Charlie went to the clerk, who was chary of the pens, and got a supply with some difficulty. He came back grumbling:—'A person would think I was asking them for God's sake' (a thoroughly Hibernian sentence). This expression is common also in Irish, both ancient and modern, from which the English is merely a translation. Thus in the Brehon Laws we find mention of certain young persons being taught a trade 'for God's sake' (ar Dia), i.e. without fee: and in another place a man is spoken of as giving a poor person something 'for God's sake.'
The word nough, shortened from enough, is always used in English with the possessive pronouns, in accordance with the Gaelic construction in such phrases as gur itheadar a n-doithin díobh, 'So that they ate their enough of them' ('Diarmaid and Grainne'): d'ith mo shaith 'I ate my enough.' Accordingly uneducated people use the word nough in this manner, exactly as fill is correctly used in 'he ate his fill.' Lowry Looby wouldn't like to be 'a born gentleman' for many reasons—among others that you're expected 'not to ate half your 'nough at dinner.' (Gerald Griffin: 'Collegians.')
The words world and earth often come into our Anglo-Irish speech in a way that will be understood and recognised from the following examples:—'Where in the world are you going so early?' 'What in the world kept you out so long?' 'What on earth is wrong with you?' 'That cloud looks for all the world like a man.' 'Oh you young thief of the world, why did you do that?' (to a child). These expressions are all thrown in for emphasis, and they are mainly or altogether imported from the Irish. They are besides of long standing. In the 'Colloquy'—a very old Irish piece—the king of Leinster says to St. Patrick:—'I do not know in the world how it fares [with my son].' So also in a still older story, 'The Voyage of Maildune':—'And they [Maildune and his people] knew not whither in the world (isan bith) they were going. In modern Irish, Ní chuirionn sé tábhacht a n-éinidh san domhuin: 'he minds nothing in the world.' (Mac Curtin.)
But I think some of the above expressions are found in good English too, both old and new. For example in a letter to Queen Elizabeth the Earl of Ormond (an Irishman—one of the Butlers) designates a certain Irish chief 'that most arrogant, vile, traitor of the world Owney M‘Rorye' [O'Moore]. But perhaps he wrote this with an Irish pen.
A person does something to displease me—insults me, breaks down my hedge—and I say 'I will not let that go with him': meaning I will bring him to account for it, I will take satisfaction, I will punish him. This, which is very usual, is an Irish idiom. In the story of The Little Brawl of Allen, Goll boasts of having slain Finn's father; and Finn answers bud maith m'acfainnse ar gan sin do léicen let, 'I am quite powerful enough not to let that go with you.' ('Silva Gadelica.') Sometimes this Anglo-Irish phrase means to vie with, to rival. 'There's no doubt that old Tom Long is very rich': 'Yes indeed, but I think Jack Finnerty wouldn't let it go with him.' Lory Hanly at the dance, seeing his three companions sighing and obviously in love with three of the ladies, feels himself just as bad for a fourth, and sighing, says to himself that he 'wouldn't let it go with any of them.' ('Knocknagow.')
'I give in to you' means 'I yield to you,' 'I assent to (or believe) what you say,' 'I acknowledge you are right': 'He doesn't give in that there are ghosts at all.' This is an Irish idiom, as will be seen in the following:—[A lion and three dogs are struggling for the mastery and] adnaigit [an triur eile] do [an leomain] 'And the three others gave in to the [lion].'
This mode of expression is however found in English also:—[Beelzebub] 'proposes a third undertaking which the whole assembly gives in to.' (Addison in 'Spectator.')
For is constantly used before the infinitive: 'he bought cloth for to make a coat.'
- 'And "Oh sailor dear," said she,
- "How came you here by me?"
- And then she began for to cry.'
- (Old Irish Folk Song.)
- 'King James he pitched his tents between
- His lines for to retire.'
- (Old Irish Folk Song: 'The Boyne Water.')
This idiom is in Irish also: Deunaidh duthracht le leas bhur n-anma a dheunadh: 'make an effort for to accomplish the amendment of your souls.' ('Dunlevy.') Two Irish prepositions are used in this sense of for: le (as above) and chum. But this use of for is also very general in English peasant language, as may be seen everywhere in Dickens.
Is ceangailte do bhidhinn, literally 'It is bound I should be,' i.e. in English 'I should be bound.' This construction (from 'Diarmaid and Grainne'), in which the position of the predicate as it would stand according to the English order is thrown back, is general in the Irish language, and quite as general in our Anglo-Irish, in imitation or translation. I once heard a man say in Irish is e do chailleamhuin do rinn me: 'It is to lose it I did' (I lost it). The following are everyday examples from our dialect of English: Tis to rob me you want': 'Is it at the young woman's house the wedding is to be?' ('Knocknagow'): 'Is it reading you are?' Twas to dhrame it I did sir' ('Knocknagow'): 'Maybe 'tis turned out I'd be' ('Knocknagow'): 'To lose it I did' (Gerald Griffin: 'Collegians'): 'Well John I am glad to see you, and it's right well you look': [Billy thinks the fairy is mocking him, and says:—] 'Is it after making a fool of me you'd be?' (Crofton Croker): 'To make for Rosapenna (Donegal) we did:' i.e., 'We made for Rosapenna': 'I'll tell my father about your good fortune, and 'tis he that will be delighted.'
In the fine old Irish story the 'Pursuit of Dermot and Grania,' Grania says to her husband Dermot:—[Invite guests to a feast to our daughter's house] agus ní feas nach ann do gheubhaidh fear chéile; 'and there is no knowing but that there she may get a husband.' This is almost identical with what Nelly Donovan says in our own day—in half joke—when she is going to Ned Brophy's wedding:—'There'll be some likely lads there to-night, and who knows what luck I might have.' ('Knocknagow.') This expression 'there is no knowing but' or 'who knows but,' borrowed as we see from Gaelic, is very common in our Anglo-Irish dialect. 'I want the loan of £20 badly to help to stock my farm, but how am I to get it?' His friend answers:—'Just come to the bank, and who knows but that they will advance it to you on my security:' meaning 'it is not unlikely—I think it rather probable—that they will advance it'
'He looks like a man that there would be no money in his pocket': 'there's a man that his wife leaves him whenever she pleases.' These phrases and the like are heard all through the middle of Ireland, and indeed outside the middle: they are translations from Irish. Thus the italics of the second phrase would be in Irish fear dá d-tréigeann a bhean é (or a thréigeas a bhean é). 'Poor brave honest Mat Donovan that everyone is proud of him and fond of him' ('Knocknagow'): 'He was a descendant of Sir Thomas More that Henry VIII. cut his head off' (whose head Henry VIII. cut off). The phrases above are incorrect English, as there is redundancy; but they, and others like them, could generally be made correct by the use of whose or of whom:—'He looks like a man in whose pocket,' &c.—'A man whose wife leaves him.' But the people in general do not make use of whose—in fact they do not know how to use it, except at the beginning of a question:—'Whose knife is this?' (Russell.) This is an excellent example of how a phrase may be good Irish but bad English.
A man possesses some prominent quality, such as generosity, for which his father was also distinguished, and we say 'kind father for him,' i.e. 'He is of the same kind as his father—he took it from his father.' So also Tis kind for the cat to drink milk'—'cat after kind'—Tis kind for John to be good and honourable' [for his father or his people were so before him]. All this is from Irish, in which various words are used to express the idea of kind in this sense:—bu cheneulta do—bu dhual do—bu dhuthcha do.
Very anxious to do a thing: Twas all his trouble to do so and so' ('Collegians'): corresponding to the Irish:—Is é mo chúram uile,' 'He (or it) is all my care.' (MacCurtin.)
Instead of 'The box will hold all the parcels' or 'All the parcels will fit into the box,' we in Ireland commonly say 'All the parcels will go into the box.' This is from a very old Gaelic usage, as may be seen from this quotation from the 'Boroma':—Coire mór uma í teigtís dá muic déc: 'A large bronze caldron into which would go (téigtís) twelve [jointed] pigs.' ('Silva Gadelica.')
Chevilles. What is called in French a cheville—I do not know any Irish or English name for it—is a phrase interjected into a line of poetry merely to complete either the measure or the rhyme, with little or no use besides. The practice of using chevilles was very common in old Irish poetry, and a bad practice it was; for many a good poem is quite spoiled by the constant and wearisome recurrence of these chevilles. For instance here is a translation of a couple of verses from 'The Voyage of Maildune' with their chevilles:—
- 'They met with an island after sailing—
- wonderful the guidance.
- 'The third day after, on the end of the rod—
- deed of power—
- The chieftain found—it was a very great joy—
- a cluster of apples.'
In modern Irish popular poetry we have chevilles also; of which I think the commonest is the little phrase gan go, 'without a lie'; and this is often reflected in our Anglo-Irish songs. In 'Handsome Sally,' published in my 'Old Irish Music and Songs,' these lines occur:—
- 'Young men and maidens I pray draw near—
- The truth to you I will now declare—
- How a fair young lady's heart was won
- All by the loving of a farmer's son.'
And in another of our songs:—
- 'Good people all I pray draw near—
- No lie I'll tell to ye—
- About a lovely fair maid,
- And her name is Polly Lee.'
This practice is met with also in English poetry, both classical and popular; but of course this is quite independent of the Irish custom.
Assonance. In the modern Irish language the verse rhymes are assonantal. Assonance is the correspondence of the vowels: the consonants count for nothing. Thus fair, may, saint, blaze, there, all rhyme assonantally. As it is easy to find words that rhyme in this manner, the rhymes generally occur much oftener in Anglo-Irish verse than in pure English, in which the rhymes are what English grammarians call perfect.
Our rustic poets rhyme their English (or Irish-English) verse assonantally in imitation of their native language. For a very good example of this, see the song of Castlehyde in my 'Old Irish Music and Songs'; and it may be seen in very large numbers of our Anglo-Irish Folk-songs. I will give just one example here, a free translation of an elegy, rhyming like its original. To the ear of a person accustomed to assonance—as for instance to mine—the rhymes here are as satisfying as if they were perfect English rhymes.
- You remember our neighbour MacBrady we buried last YEAR;
- His death it amazed me and dazed me with sorrow and GRIEF;
- From cradle to grave his name was held in ESTEEM;
- For at fairs and at wakes there was no one like him for a SPREE;
- And 'tis he knew the way how to make a good cag of potTHEEN.
- He'd make verses in Gaelic quite aisy most plazing to READ;
- And he knew how to plaze the fair maids with his soothering SPEECH.
- He could clear out a fair at his aise with his ash clehalPEEN;
- But ochone he's now laid in his grave in the churchyard of Keel.