Every March 17, a minority of people complain that the term "Paddy's Day" is offensive. We're here to clear up the matter ahead of St Patrick's Day 2019.
Outside of Ireland, it’s common enough to see St. Patrick’s Day erroneously shortened to “Patty’s Day,” a mistake that annoys some Irish people to no end. There is even a website, Paddy not Patty, dedicated to the issue.
“It's Paddy, not Patty. Ever,” the mission statement reads. “Saint Patrick's Day? Grand. Paddy's Day? Sure, dead-on. St. Pat's? Aye, if ye must. St. Patty? No, ye goat!
“Paddy is derived from the Irish, Pádraig, hence those mysterious, emerald double-Ds. Patty is the diminutive of Patricia, or a burger, and just not something you call a fella. There's not a sinner in Ireland that would call a Patrick, ‘Patty.' It's really as simple as that.”
So it’s been interesting in recent years to see people taking offense at the use of “Paddy’s Day,” one of the apparently acceptable abbreviations for the day celebrating Ireland’s patron saint.
and so begins my annual explanation that it's not 'Patty's Day' and 'Paddy's Day' is mildly offensive. Is it that hard to just say Patrick??— Lee Jones (@leeukmsp) March 12, 2014
IrishCentral has received many emails and comments from people protesting our use of “Paddy’s Day,” and there has even been Twitter campaigning to quash its use.
The headline on http://t.co/ZBgSIp7Cti is "St. Paddy's Day Parade" Isn't "Paddy" a racist term for Irish folk. Such as "Paddy Wagon"— Fame Up At Prospect (@magneticbonds) March 15, 2014
What’s going on here?
It seems that some people see the “Paddy” in “Paddy’s Day” as derogatory, connecting it with “Paddy Wagon,” or “Plastic Paddy.”
However, to those who say “Paddy’s Day” and see no problem with it whatsoever (myself included), “Paddy” in this case is simply the logical abbreviation for Pádraig.
According to a 1994 article from the Baltimore Sun, this debate is nothing new.
“Happy St. Paddy’s Day. No offense.” it begins. “Until recently ‘Paddy’ was always thought of as a term of endearment. I still think of it that way, as do my Irish friends and relatives. But, naturally, in this age of political correctness, ‘Paddy’ is officially no longer affectionate.”
It proceeds to delve into various dictionary definitions for “Paddy.” The first it references, Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (Tenth Edition, 1993) defines "Paddy" as "Irishman" and adds "often taken to be offensive."
A slew of others, the article notes – The Ninth Edition (1986), the unabridged Merriam-Webster's Third New International Dictionary (1961), the Oxford English Dictionary (1905), the Dictionary of American English (1936) and the Dictionary of American Slang (1967) – mention nothing about “Paddy” being offensive, with the OED tracing “Paddy” back to the year 1790 and defining it as "Nickname for an Irishman” and “pet-form of Padraic or Patrick."
The word “Paddy” started being defined in dictionaries as offensive in the 1980s and 90s, the author explains. As for Paddy Wagon, “a look into the Dictionary of American Slang confirmed that [his] earlier assumption was right: ‘A police wagon used for taking arrested persons to jail. . . . Prob. from the association of there being many Irish policemen.’”
So, is “Paddy’s Day” offensive?
Our verdict is no. It has been used for decades, most prominently in Ireland, with Paddy as a nickname for Pádraig. The only people who might have a case for being offended by this are the very devout, who could take issue with referring to St. Patrick in such a chummy way.
St. Patrick’s Day? Perfect. Paddy’s Day? Fine. St. Pat’s? OK.
Just as long as you don’t say Patty’s Day.
What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments section.