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Irish words in the English Language

david crystal's book the english language - a guided tour of the languageSo I’m reading this most excellent book lent to me by a co-worker who shares my fascination with language. It’s called The English Language: A guided tour of the language by David Crystal.

Every page is awesome. This is not your literary theory textbook, but a fascinating, humourous and informed romp through the mad scaffolding of modern English. I was particularly caught by a page where Crystal gives a list of languages and few samples of the words English has stolen from them. Did you know, for example, that “egg” is Norse, “ketchup” is from Chinese, “robot” is Czech and “yoghurt” is Turkish? Who knew?

Obviously, I eagerly scanned the list of words for those stolen from the Irish language.

There are a few, of course, but I was surprised at Crystal’s selections. While “egg,” “ketchup,” “robot” and “yoghurt” are surprising requisitions that fail, at least for me, to remind one of their origins, his selection of Irish words have that “duh” factor. In other words, I found them to be completely ethnocentric: “brogue, leprechaun, banshee” and “galore” are his selections. How could you use any of these (well, aside from “galore,” it must be admitted) and not think of mists, potatoes and tiny men in top hats with gold buckles?

Far be it from me to question this erudite and venerable author, but hang on, isn’t “banshee” used in Scottish as well? Scottish, actually, was not in the list. Welsh was (crag, coracle, corgi). Let me cool my jets – it’s a short list and was not meant to be exhaustive. I know this. But to me this seems all the more reason to surprise your English-speaking reader with the most commonly used examples from your language families.

There are a load of great, commonly used Irish words in English. What about “potion?” “Brat?” “Cross” (as in ‘angry’)? I think if I had to pick four words I would pick “galore” because it’s a great word and commonly used without a thought about its origin. But instead of “leprechaun” or “brogue,” both self-referentially Irish words (i’m surprised “hooligan” wasn’t in there), I’d pick more enterprising examples like whiskey (hey, the chinese got “ketchup!”), gab (“talk”) and probably “brat.”

Just my completely unqualified two cents, now. It must be said that David Crystal’s book is still entirely awesome – hey, a single page got me all riled up. Why wasn’t this book part of my educational curriculum?

Speaking of English and other languages – when was the last time you checked out the TEFL logue? Hunh? Hunh? HUNH?!