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An Irish Literary Dictionary and Glossary Colin Smythe, 2001, $55.00

WE ALL KNOW WHAT, IN THE parlance of post-famine Ireland, was meant and implied by the term "sources." In a similar vein of Catholic resentment, a Protestant orphanage was known as a "bird's nest," and its managers "child-cadgers." Some lesser-known synonyms for those who were rumored to have converted to Protestantism were "boiled Protestants," "jumpers," and "perverts." For his discernment and collection of these related terms and so many others from the historical lexicon of Irish-English, we must be grateful to Richard Wall.

A nice case is the word "pervert." His fine dictionary allows us to take the temperature of this flushed noun at the end of the nineteenth century. The vehemence of the noun illuminates the anxieties surrounding the well-being of Catholic children whom is was feared might become the objects of proselytizing during the Dublin lockout of 1913. Awareness of this usage also helps us with a nuance in a Joycean passage. A few pages before the end of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, we follow the harrowing dialog between Stephen Dedalus and his friend Cranly on the subject of religious faith, and the divinity (even the integrity), of the founder of Christianity. In the course of that discussion, Stephen defends himself against the charge that in possibly surrendering the high ground on these questions, he might intend to become a protestant. "I said that I had lost the faith, Stephen answered, but not that I had lost selfrespect" (243-44). Stephen's remark, of course, has as much to do with his sense of ethn ic loyalty as it has with an alternative Christology. Cranly's charge has stung him into the acid aphorism familiar to all readers.

Less familiar is the fact that just one page before, Stephen had provoked Cranly with a similar charge: "I am curious to know are you trying to make a convert of me or a pervert of yourself." In this usage--unobserved in any of the annotated editions of A Portrait--we have the precise force that Joyce gives the term: descending orders of ethnic, religious, and sexual deviance that Stephen abjures.

Wall's dictionary is the latest arrival into what is becoming a crowded field. In a survey of a number of several dictionaries of the English language in Ireland (ILS, Spring 2000), I concluded that much work needed to be done before a comprehensive reference work similar to those for readers of Canadian or Australian English is available. We have C. I. Macafee's concise Ulster Dictionary (1996), Diarmaid O Muirithe's A Dictionary of Anglo-Irish: Words and Phrases from Gaelic in the English of Ireland (1996), Bernard Share's Slanguage: A Dictionary of Irish Slang (1997), and Terence Patrick Dolan's Dictionary of Hiberno-English (1999). Each of these compilations attempts to cover a discrete aspect of a complex linguistic terrain. A complete dictionary would require a county-by-county survey of language usage and a comprehensive reading of English-language writing in Ireland. Without collaborative effort, neither of these aspects of the task is possible.

Richard Wall's work is yet another solo effort to meet one aspect of the subject: a lexicon of a written. Irish-English. As he describes it in his Introduction, the purpose of this work is primarily to provide for the general reader as well as the specialist, a convenient and comprehensive guide to the vocabulary of Irish literature in English over the past 400 years. To this end, he has devoted much effort: his list of authors and works cited runs to 500 titles, from Edmund Spenser's A View of the Present State of Ireland (ca. 1596) to Roddy Doyle's A Star Called Henry (1999). The result of his singular labor is a dictionary of about 2300 entries, each documented by one or more source citations. Thus it begins with the vocative particle "a" (as in a chara or a lanna), and concludes with "yowe" (Ulster form of "ewe;" pron. "yo"), providing in these instances supporting citations from Ulysses, Thomas Murphy, Seumas MacManus, and John Hewitt.

Wall is certainly correct in his Introduction that editors, annotators, and critics constantly underestimate the extent and implications of the differences between Irish-English and British Standard English, and, in so doing, misunderstand and misrepresent texts. The reasons for this absence are, he contends, socio-political: under British rule, the language and administration of Ireland was British Standard-English. Thus the two principal forms of English in Ireland, Hiberno-English in the South and Ulster-English in the North, were ignored, while the use of Irish (Gaelic) was actively discouraged, especially in the so-called National School System, established in 1831.

With the passing of the Government of Ireland Act in December 1920, British Standard-English remained the official language of the Northern Irish State, and the de facto official language of the Irish Free State, notwithstanding the designation of Irish as the first official language of the Constitutions adopted in 1922 and 1937. As Wall points out, article 8:2 of the 1937 Constitution contains a mistranslation: whereas the official Irish text reads "Glactar leis an Sacs-Bhearla mar theanga oifiguil eile," the English version reads "The English language is recognized as a second official language" when it should read "as another official language." Contrary to the popular myth, it grants official parity, not precedence, to the Irish language.

Providing a satisfactory comprehensive dictionary of Irish-English is beset by some historical difficulties. From the late middle ages there have been two coexistent linguistic cultures in Ireland, joined in the early seventeenth century by a third, following the Plantation of Ulster. The term "Anglo-Irish" enters the language in the late eighteenth century to describe the English settlers and their descendants, and, in time, became the term of art for their language and the literature they produced. The term thus has historical, political, social, and religious connotations. Nevertheless, until relatively recently, it was the most widely used term for literature written in English by Irish writers, and for the varieties of English used in Ireland. In this work, Wall follows the more recent usage in having the term "Irish literature" denote, without discrimination, the literature produced in Ireland (even that written in Gaelic), and Irish-English for the language.

Irish-English consists of two major forms: Hiberno-English in the south and Ulster-English in the nine counties of the northern province. The late survival of the Irish language in common use heavily influences current Hiberno-English vocabulary, pronunciation, and syntax. Hiberno-English also retains many rare or obsolete standard and dialect English words and phrases, along with rare or obsolete meanings of words that remain current in English, thereby providing many interesting illustrating the principle of the Conservancy of the Fringes. Independent of these two major sources, and like other varieties of English, Hiberno-English has evolved a vocabulary of its own that reflects every aspect of life in Ireland. Ulster-English is less heavily influenced by Irish than Hiberno-English, but is principally influenced by the Scots of Lowland Scotland. As Macafee's thorough dictionary documents in considerable detail, within the "narrow ground" of Ulster-English there are three principal dialect areas: Core, Mid Ulster and South Ulster-English.

As Wall sees it, there has been an historic tendency among Irish writers to use Irish English for its exotic effects: Gerald Griffin; Dion Boucicault, Lady Gregory, John M Synge, George Fitzmaurice and Sean O'Casey all engaged in the form of exhibitionism that earned the derisory epithets, "Kiltartanese," "Synge-song," "the mist that does be on the bog," etc. Observing that Joyce's Chamber Music has no instances of Hiberno-English, and that Finnegans Wake is "arguably the single most important repository of the vernacular in literature" (14), Wall observes that Joyce was a late convert to this fashion. His Introduction concludes with the arguable contention that modern and contemporary Irish writers such as Heaney are more circumspect and self-conscious in their use of the vernacular than their predecessors, many of them satirizing their predecessors' cultural cringe or exhibitionism.

From his reading of some 230 authors, Wall produces approximately 2300 entries. His work compares with Dolan's 3000, mainly from oral sources, O Muirithe's 2600 of loan-words from the Irish Gaelic usage, Share's 5000 slang usages, principally contemporary and urban, drawn from oral and written sources, and Macafee's 14,000 usages particular to Northern Ireland. Since Wall confines himself to printed materials, then, his work complements his recent predecessors.

There are many ways to compare Wall's work with these others. One is to examine a sample, such as what they find in a random, limited range. Under the letter "I," for example, Dolan has 22 entries. Wall has 29, with a further 29 cross-references to entries elsewhere in the dictionary. Over and above Dolan's, we find entries on "I Bhreasail" and "Island (Land) of Saints and Scholars (Sages), "Inisfail," "IDA," "IRA," "IRB," "Invincibles," "Irish mile," and "iron fool." He gives us "ikey" (clever, citing Ulysses), but not "ikey meh." This appears in Da: a derogatory slang expression used in apparent ignorance (confirmed in a correspondence with Hugh Leonard) of its anti-Semitic origins as "Isaac Moses." I am puzzled by some of Wall's eclecticism with regard to Irish acronyms. For "ICA" he gives the historical Irish Citizens' Army but not the current Irish Countrywomen's Association. He passes over the "ISPCA" (Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, formerly the RSPCA), the "ITGWU" (Irish Transp ort and General Workers Union), "INTO" (Irish National Teachers' Organisation), and many other familiar acronyms. Further, if "Irish mile" merits inclusion, why not the more common usage in the rural Ireland of yesteryear, an "Irish acre"? They both derive from the "Irish perch," which at seven yards, contrasts with the five-and-a-half-yard counterpart m statute measure. On the other hand, Wall does turn up the odd gem, as with the term "iron fool": pointing to the pun in Patrick Kavanagh's autobiographical work, The Green Fool (1938), but overlooking, however, its appearance in Tarry Flynn

Another way to measure the usefulness, completeness, and accuracy of this dictionary is to take a few sample literary works that, in the absence of an annotated edition, require glosses for the general reader. Since I had, myself, gone to the trouble of annotating a few Irish dramatic works (Irish Drama 1900-1980) some years ago (1990), I made some comparisons with those appearing in Wall's "Works Cited." Preparing Synge's The Playboy of the Western World for the average college student, for instance, I thought it necessary to supply a total of 364 annotations. Many of these would not necessarily appear in a work like Wall's. An instance is the title, which alone required two. But since each is a singular poeticism partially derived from Irish-English or Irish ("playboy": poet, actor, athlete, lover; "Western World": Connacht, the USA, the World), it requires annotation in an edition of that play. But since neither has entered the language in other contexts, neither belongs in a dictionary of this sort. To co mpile these annotations, I had to consult a dozen sources: the OED, O'Donaill's Focloir Gaeilge-Bearla, Partridge's Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, PW Joyce's English as We Speak it in Ireland, Irish gazetteers, etc. Many of the annotations--such as place names--one would not expect to find in a dictionary anyway. Reservations such as these reduce the number of purely language annotations to around 250. A sequential check of my annotations against Wall's turns up the following fifteen that, in my view, should appear but do not: "settle" (long wooden bench with a high back and cupboard beneath), "stop" (stay), "abroad" (out of doors), "west room" (an honorific reservation), "perch," "liefer" (prefer to) "skelp" (thrash), "brain-pan" (skull), "jackstraw" (worthless straw) "renege" (break a promise), "drift" (herd), "quench" (kill), "quit off" (leave), "cholera morbus" (infectious cholera), and "raise the topknot" (cause hair to rise). With these exceptions, then, a small percentage, Wall's dicti onary is reliable and useful with respect to this major text, and by analogy with other literary productions from the period.

An example from this list illustrates the semantic judgment that is called for in compiling a dictionary like this. The Irish-English use of "abroad" shares the broad range of meanings with Standard-English and American usage: 1. overseas, 2. away from home, or 3. out of doors. These meanings cover a range of distances from one's domicile. We have examples from Irish literature in Joyce's Dubliners: "But real adventures, I reflected, do not happen to people who remain at home: they must be sought abroad" (the usage embraces meanings 1 and 2). In Beckett's All That Fall, Mrs. Rooney's usage engages meanings 2 and 3: "It is suicide to be abroad. But what is it to be home, Mr. Tyler, what is it to be at home?" In these respects, the word does not require listing in a dictionary of Irish-English, since they are represented' in the OED and the American Heritage Dictionary. There is an Irish-English usage, however, that is not accounted for in these instances, as in the example, "He's abroad in the garden." This is distinct from the others Standard-English and American usages by the simultaneous identification and proximity of the location to domicile. Dolan gives an instance from the oral record. Wall does not record any, whatever his reason.

Turning to O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock, I thought it necessary to provide 209 annotations. By this standard, Wall's dictionary lacks the following 14 entries: "on tick" (credit), "navvy" (spade or shovel), "braces" (suspenders), "moke" (donkey), "heart of the rowl" (center of wad of chewing tobacco), "puff" (lifetime), "shut-eyed" (sentimental), "mad after" (infatuated), "lifted" (stolen), "consumption" (tuberculosis), "wash-out" (failure), "banjax" (botch), "whinging" (sniveling), and "put the wind up" (frighten).

Again, of the 66 annotations that George Fitzmaurice's one-act play, The Magic Glasses, requires, these 11 are not to be found in Wall, even though this play is on his list of works cited: "top loft" (partial attic), "breast bone down" (a folk affliction), "dull of" (ignorant of), "blink" (to trick, whereas Wall defines it as "to exercise an evil influence on"), "coagle" (coax), "skyon" (sign of terror), "skelping" (hurrying), "chambering" (staying indoors), "grigging" (tantalizing or annoying, as Dolan shows; whereas Wall restricts it to tantalizing), "flag" (flagstone), and "hob" (ledge beside or behind a fireplace). A similar survey of Brendan Behan's The Quare Fellow (which is also on his list of works cited) discovers these omissions from the argot of Mountjoy Prison: "chucked" (hanged), "birdlime" (jail sentence), "topped" (hanged), "dobying" (washing), "lobbywatching" (staking out), "nick" and "lift"(for which Wall gives "arrest," whereas they also mean "steal"), "ferocious begging" (robbing), and "gra sshopper" (informer).

Wall's reading, for all its breadth, is noticeably spotty in some areas. Trawling for a lexicon of the Northern Troubles (which has an entry), his mesh is not sufficiently fine. He gives us notes on "DORA," "the wee six," "squaddy," "Provo," "RA," and "Shinner"; but not on "Armalite," "broo," "Diplock Court," "H-Block," or "Maze," "Occupied Ireland," "ODC," "Peace Wall," "pig," "Saracen," "Sash," "SLR," "Soldier's Song," "sticky," "supergrass," or "Widgery." In other spheres, such as the considerable literature of folklore and anthropology, his reading is haphazard: he has not consulted the small encyclopedia of terms for the material culture of rural life assembleable from the work by E. Estyn Evans. Among the many studies of the Lough Erne area, for instance, he cites only Henry Glassie's Irish Folk Tales (1985), which has no glossary, while he ignores Glassie's more useful All Silver and No Brass, which does (1975: 153-61), and his indispensable Passing the Time in Ballymenone (1982), which, unfortunately, does not. Other works with glossaries of Fermanagh usages can be found in several books, including Robin Morton's for Come Day, Go Day, God Send Sunday (1973: 179-84), and Paddy Tunney's The Stone Fiddle (1979: 173-76).

Nevertheless, a work of this scope has its curiosities, surprises, and delights. We all know what a "hedge school" is, but not a "hedge priest" (a pre-Maynooth term for an undereducated priest). It has "gobdaw" (fool), "gobshite" (fool or nonsense) and "gobsmacked" (astonished), but not "gobstopper" (a large candy). It is nice to know that "the real Ally Daly" (the best quality) derives from Alice Daly's butter--one of the few surviving pre-famine brand-names--but I am doubtful that "the heart of the rowl" (the best) derives from Irish Roll, a brand of tobacco, rather than the compressed remainder of a well-chewed wad of plug tobacco. We knock against some surprising fossils, such as the "holy ground" (a pub that did not serve women), and "Glimmerman" (nothing antisemitic, but a gas inspector during World War II). Some annoyances: hurling is entered under "hurley," the Legion of Mary is inaccurately defined as a "charitable organization," and in glossing "mausey/mawsy" (clumsy: from the Irish masai, 'big-butt ocked'), Muriel Maassy in Finnegans Wake is misidentified as "one of Anna Livia's daughters." Under "country matters," it is odd to encounter J.B. Keane's neologism "chastitute," and not find "ride" as a verb (the Washington Metro's "Kiss and Ride" lane must strike Irish visitors as a trifle outre), the noun "prick" (despite the presence of Beckett's More Pricks Than Kicks in the "Works Cited"), or the "vessel" (chamber-pot). There are many omissions of fairly common Irish-English usages: "delph" (crockery or false teeth), "stirabout" (porridge), "form" (a two-shilling piece), "slavey" (servant) and "dinge" (dent).

This volume was, nevertheless, a major effort for one lexicographer, and is a big step towards realizing an ideal reference work on Irish-English. Without the cooperation of many speakers, field workers, readers and editors, every single-editor dictionary like this will appear to be a failure. The concurrent recent growth of Irish studies and Irish economic fortunes, and the flexibility of new technologies that accommodate the protean creature of a living language should encourage such a project. In the meantime, lone rangers on this terrain cannot expect to do better than, in Beckett's famous phrase, "fail better."

--George Mason University
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Author:Owens, Coilin
Publication:Irish Literary Supplement
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 2002
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