The miniature represents Richard of Wallingford, Abbot of St Albans. He is pointing to a clock, referring to his gift to the abbey.Leinad-Z / Flickr

Think you can't speak Irish! Guess what? You do! These English words have Irish roots, not surprising considering the size of the Irish diaspora!

The English and the Irish have much that set them apart but much more that bring them together, not the least of which is language, and, while we acknowledge the influence that Shakespeare’s tongue has had on Ireland (Yeats, Joyce, Heaney, et al.), we are largely unaware of the everyday English words we use that have Irish roots and for which the English are indebted.

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Here are just a few:

Clock: From the old Irish clocc meaning “bell”.  It is likely that the word migrated to the continent with early Irish missionaries, travelling to Germany and the Netherlands as glocka, klockabefore returning to Britain via Belgium as the English word “clock”.  There is historical evidence that the Irish of the early middle ages were experts in the field of “technical chronology”, the science of computing periods of time.

Galore:  From the Irish go leor meaning “sufficient” or “enough”. The common Irish phrase “ceart go leor” (lit. right enough) is used to mean “alright” or “okay”.  Not willing to settle for less, the English word “galore” gradually took on an exaggerated persona to mean “more than enough” or “plenty”. 

Hubbub:  Meaning “commotion” or “uproar”   From the Irish war cry or cheer of victory abú. You can still hear this rallying cry on the football or hurling pitch, when fans cheer their team on, as in “Dún na nGall abú!” or “Up, Donegal!”

Smithereens: from the Irish smidrínor smídriní a diminutive of smiodar, “broken piece” or “fragment”.  A quote from controversial Fox News commentator, Sean Hannity, situates the word clearly in the present moment: “Here you are, you're a liberal, probably define peace as the absence of conflict. I define peace as the ability to defend yourself and blow your enemies into smithereens.”

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Trousers:  from the Irish words triubhasor triús, seldom used in Irish today where,as amateur linguist, Adriana Moura points out, “Ironically, it was substituted by the word bríste,borrowed from the English “breeches”, that, guess what? now is seldom used in English.” Quid pro quo.

Slob: from the Irish slaba,meaning “mud”, “ooze” or “slime”. Enough said!

Brogue: as in “shoe”, from the Irish brógis pretty straight forward, after the style of perforated leather shoe  the Irish would wear that would let rainwater out, but how did it come to be related to “accent” as in an Irish or Scottish brogue? One theory puts it simply as the language of the people who wore that style of shoe and became generalized from there.  Another suggests it may come from the old Irish word barrog,meaning “to hold”, as in “hold your tongue”.

Whiskey: Finally, leaving the best to last, “whiskey” or “whisky” from the Irish for “water”, uisce,more specifically, uisce beatha, “water of life”, for which the Irish are rightly renowned and that features famously in the song and story of “Finnegan’s Wake”, where our protagonist (the unfortunate bricklayer, Tim Finnegan, poor slob, who, after imbibing some quantity of said spirit, falls from his ladder and dies) and central figure of his own funeral party, stood up in finest linen shirt, trousers and best brogues, late o’clock, food, drink and tobacco galore, a hubbub breaks out, liquor bottles are smashed to smithereens and Tim, showered in whiskey is waked from the dead. Some craic!

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