Tha Ulstèr-Scotch Leid Societie, mintit at giein a heft tae tha Ulstèr-Scotch leid, oor ain hamelt tongue

Ulster-Scots Words with a Story

A Talk for Ormeau Gallery, by Anne Smyth (concluded)

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tory - noun. 1 historical an Irish outlaw of the seventeenth century. 2 a villain, a rogue. 3 of a child a rascal. WriterHow did the meaning change from a name for an Irish outlaw to a name for a member of one of Britain's political parties? The language from which the word came was Irish, but no one is very sure about how the word came to be adopted in English.

From its original 17th century meaning, an Irish outlaw, it was later often applied to any Irish Roman Catholic or Royalist in arms. The term was extended to robbers or bandits of other races, such as Border moss-troopers and Scottish highlanders, and, strangely enough, to members of a particular Hindu caste in India, renowned for their warlike qualities. For the next stage in the process, we have to look at a bit of English history. In 1679, in the reign of Charles II, a bill was brought before the parliament in London to have James, Duke of York, the king's brother, removed from the line of succession to the throne because he was a Roman Catholic. This was called the Exclusion Bill, and those who supported it were called "Exclusioners". These "Exclusioners" gave the nickname "tory" to people who were against this attempt to keep James from the throne. As you can see, there is a connection here between this and the first extension of meaning noted at the beginning of the paragraph, because these "tories" would have been Royalists too. Therefore, from 1689, the word was used for one of the two great parliamentary and political parties in England, and (at length) in Great Britain. None of the other modern parties existed then, so what was the name of the other party? (Whigs).

Because there is a lot of interest in dialect in Northern Ireland, people develop their own theories about where words came from. Many of these are not correct. Let's look at a few examples:

barnbrack: Lots of people will tell you that it should be pronounced barmbrack, and that barm is another word for "yeast". This is not correct. The word comes from Irish, and literally means 'little speckled loaf'.

Why did people make the mistake of thinking the word barmbrack had barm, for "yeast", as part of it? Obviously barnbrack does contain yeast. Another way of saying the word is barmbrack. Probably that version was due to the tendency we all have to simplify the way we speak, and it seemed easier to say the word with an "m" instead of an "n" before the letter "b", because the lips are closed when saying both these letters. It is likely that the false idea of the word's origins came from an attempt to rationalise (or explain away) something that was just due to lazy speech in the first place.

If barm means "yeast", why do we call someone "barmy"? What does yeast do when added to liquid? (Froths up, ferments). How does that relate to calling someone "barmy"? [They are "full of ferment, flighty, empty-headed" (A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English).]

sheugh: No one is very sure about where this word came from originally. Although many people believe that sheugh is a Gaelic word, it is certain that it appeared in Scots before it came to Ulster and before it was "borrowed" into Gaelic. The dictionary tells you that it is of early Germanic origin.

black-mouth: This is an interesting one. What does the word mean? The dictionary gives no information on the word's origin, because it is a sub-entry, and the dictionary just supplies a bit about the main entries. However, if you listen to people who know some dialect talking about this word, they will usually say that it was used to describe the Scottish Covenanters who had to hide from the English soldiers out on the moors and ate blaeberries to stay alive.

Rev. W. F. Marshall, who made a study of dialect, insisted that this explanation was wrong. He pointed out that the word had never been known with this meaning in Scotland, so how could it possibly have arrived here? Certainly, neither the Scottish National Dictionary, the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue, nor the English Dialect Dictionary, contains it. W. F. Marshall says that it was used in England with a totally different meaning, still in use in Lincolnshire at the time of his research - a railer, a slanderer, a foul mouthed or malicious person. Marshall believed that it was this sense that arrived in Ulster at the time of the Plantation, and that it expanded over the years to take on the meaning it has at present.

He could not pinpoint when the word was first applied to Irish Presbyterians, but his own dialect work indicated that it was round about the end of the 18th century. At that time, the word black-neb was in use in Lowland Scots meaning someone who was "agin the government" or supported the revolutionary movement in France. Marshall thought that the word black-mouth had taken on exactly the same meaning in Ulster, and at the same time. Since so many Presbyterians, particularly in Antrim and Down, then had Republican sympathies, a term of abuse originally applied to rebels or potential rebels against the state was, according to Marshall, transferred to Presbyterians as a whole. In this Marshall saw the hand of the established church, the Church of Ireland, whose interests were closely linked to those of the state.

crack: This is a real bone of contention. We all know what a bit of crack is. But if you actually get time to watch much television, you'll have seen an advertisement for the Royal Irish Regiment that uses this word with the spelling craic. This is Irish. So is it an Irish word?

The word has a venerable history. Old Scots has crak(e), crack a talk or gossip, from 1570, as you will see from the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue. The Scottish National Dictionary shows that its use in this sense is very widespread throughout Scotland and Ulster, and gives literary citations for Shetland, Aberdeen, Stirling, Edinburgh and Ayr - this last one being from the pen of Robert Burns.

Undoubtedly, the Irish spelling reflects a what we call a 'borrowing' from Scots into Irish. The exponents of Irish get very hot under the collar about such things, but 'borrowings' take place in all living languages. Just look at all the borrowings into English, from hugely different sources. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a prestigious historical dictionary of Irish - that's a dictionary that gives citations from the literature to show when a word was first used in print, and how its sense has developed. I believe work has now been begun on just such a dictionary, but at the moment we can't point to an Irish dictionary and say, 'Here is the first use of the word craic in Irish literature, and this does or does not predate the first use of crack in Scots literature'. However, we can be pretty sure it wasn't before 1570.

budget - noun a bag, usually leather; specifically (a) a bag in which a tinker keeps the tools of his trade; (b) a tramp's bag; (c) a workman's bag. So how did the meaning of the word get transferred from a leather bag to a scheme for the obtaining and spending of national, and now also personal, money? It was all because of a political jibe. A pamphlet called The Budget Opened was published in which the man who was at the time Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Robert Walpole, was compared to a seller of quack medicines opening his bag of supplies and conjuring tricks. You might have seen a similar kind of travelling salesman in films about the Wild West. From that time, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was said to open the budget. Over the years, the word budget came to be understood as his scheme for dealing with the country's finances, and the older, dialect meaning only survived among dialect speakers.


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