Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Wearin' o' the Green!

It's that time of year again. Yes. It's time for St. Patrick's Day parading, drinking, story-telling and general merriment that is the cornerstone of the Irish way of life. Now, I have Irish on both sides of my family lines but I have yet to have savored corned beef and cabbage with a stout- I'd rather just have the Guinness, please, and leave me alone. It's only in recent years I've tried more traditional Irish fare- such as colcannon- and actually enjoyed it. There's enough Irish in me to get a rise out of me if you're mean enough and I certainly used to drink but don't as a rule, now.
I'm more Irish in the way that I speak. The funny thing is that I don't have a corner on that, being essentially American. Irish words have infiltrated the American language much more than people realize and you don't have to have even a smidgen of Irish blood in your veins to use these words almost inadvertently.
There's one right there ! Smidgen is from the Irish gaelic smidin or smitch. If you go to Ireland, however, you may find yourself in a bit of a dilemma every now and then when you engage them in conversation. You may think you know the word they're using when as a matter of fact you may have some words fly right over your American head while they have a silent laugh up their sleeve!
For instance, if they tell you that they knew you were Americans by your brogues you may think it's only innocent banter in the difference of the way we speak English. Most likely it's meant that they can tell you were Americans by your shoes! Yes, our shoes are different and brogues in Ireland are a specific shoe which are heavy and rather clunky-looking. Our shoes advertise themselves more often than not since we tend to wear sporty walking shoes when we go overseas.
If you think being Irish is keen and you say so you may get a look or two for a minute because we changed the true meaning of the word on our shores. To us being keen can mean being smart or being keen on someone can mean you really like or love them. That word as an adjective for them is from the gaelic caoine which means crying, wailing or that something is acute or piercing. Keening bagpipes are one thing- but a keening widow is often comforted at a very long wake. Personally, I think a few other European immigrants got ken mixed up with keen which is a strange but perhaps understandable misuse. They do sound very close don't they?
The words glom and glean rather sound alike don't they? When we "glom onto" someone we're being rather needy and if we glean something we're doing a type of picky choosing which irritate certain people. They use these words in a similar fashion but glom came from the Irish glam which actually means snatching, grabbing or even stealing someone or something. "Glean" came from the old Irish gaelic do-glenn (he gathers) which most likely was used originally in the most obvious sense of reaping a harvest and throwing out the bad stuff.
S l a' inte is ta'inte !
The Castle Lady

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