Monday 1 August 2011

30 - 'Ach, I never twigged on, like'

Struell Wells, near Downpatrick, Co. Down
February 21, 2011

Last time we had a sort of combined geography and history lesson about Ulster, so a think we'll lighten up a wee bit, this week.  Many of you have said that you love learnin' more about the language - now, would that be the Irish language, the English language, Ulster-Scots dialect, or what?  Ye see, ye get a mixture of all three when ye listen to this show - because of the various influences on the way we talk.

And we, in turn, have often influenced the way other people talk.  For instance, ye have a major city in Maryland, US, called Baltimore - which is Irish Gaelic for 'the place of the big house' - baille tigh mor!  When ye want to know if someone understands Irish, ye ask, 'An dtuigeann to Gaelige?' - unless yer Scots, when ye'd say, 'Gallig!'  If you speak it fairly well, ye'd reply, 'Tuigim', 'I understand'.  And if, like me, ye don't speak it very well, ye'd answer, 'Ni thuigim, ta me foghlaim' -  'I don't understand, but I'm learnin'.  Now that word, 'Thuigim' has become two similar English words, 'twig' - because the Gaelic word has a 'u' in it, and 'dig'.  

In Ireland we might say, 'Ach, I never twigged on, like, that he was her bror'r', or 'I never twigged till afterwards' - meaning I didn't understand at the time.  The hippie phrase, 'Do ye dig it, man', comes straight from the Irish 'to understand' - in this case meaning to like something.  'I really dig John Lennon', for instance.  So maybe some of you have never twigged on that when ye 'dig' somethin', ye're actually using the Irish language, eh?

Now, there are plenty of other words that have found their way into English from the Irish language.  There are some really obvious ones like colleen - a girl; clabber, meaning sticky wet clay, or mud, or even curdled milk; hooligan, meaning rowdy - from the surname, O'Houlihan; and galore, from the Irish, 'go leor' - literally 'til plenty' - meaning a lot.  The word brogue - referring to a broad Irish, or Scots, accent - actually comes from the Irish word for a shoe.  A less obvious one would be the derogatory phrase, 'a slapper', from the Irish 'slapach', meaning 'dirty', which is often used now to refer to a prostitute.  A slob, likewise, comes from the Irish, 'slab', meaning 'mud'.

Lots of names for geographical features come from Ireland - like bog, glen, lough, drumlin ..  The word 'craic', meanin' 'a bit a' fun', started life as the English word crack, became common in the Ulster-Scots dialect, then in Irish and back into English usage, spelt with an 'aic'!   And, of course, we have 'poitin' and the word 'whiskey' itself, which comes form 'uisce beatha', meaning the 'water of life!'
Some English words originate from Scots, Scots Gaelic - or Gallig - and Ulster Scots.  Scots are usually regarded as bein' pretty 'canny', in other words, knowing - from the word 'ken', to know.  They also generally have a bit of common 'gumption', too!  The type of cap, known as a Glengarry, was named after its inventor, the Scots chieftan of Glengarry.  The Scots have given us clans, laddies and lassies, tweed and plaid cloth, pancakes and scones, the word 'wee' - and some of them can be awful 'pernickety', as well!  Most of these Scots words are in common use here in Ulster, too.

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