9 Great Words You Never Knew Were Gaelic
More than 1.3 million Irish citizens still speak Gaelic—and whether you know it or not, you do too! Here are 8 excellent words that are proud to be Irish.
This Gaelic term for a young troublemaker may be named for an actual group of ruffians. Some say the word derives from the surname O’Houlihan (or Ó hUallacháin in Gaelic), a particularly vulgar clan who drank their way into the dictionary. According to the OED, the O’Houlihans were not a real family, but the fictional subjects of rowdy dance hall jingles and cartoons. A modern comparison would be kind of like saying, “You’re being a real Bart Simpson right now” or “Quit being a Bieber!” (Here are 16 words you probably don’t know are trademarked.)
“Oorahhhh!” “Banzaiiiii!” “Like A Good Neighbor, State Farm Is Theeeeeere!” Believe it or not, these are all technically slogans—though the definition of the word has softened a bit in the last 300 years. Before it took on today’s more corporate association, “slogan” came from the Scottish Gaelic words sluagh-ghairm, literally meaning an “army shout” (aka a “battle cry.”) As for the most fun slogan to yell in a crowd? That would be…
You might well call a clash of be-kilted Highland clans a “chaotic din caused by a crowd of people,” but the original meaning of “hubbub” was even more warlike. Believed to originate from the Old Irish battle cry abu, coming from the word buide for victory, this Gaelic word is fun to scream no matter what you think it means. (Don’t think too hard—the most complicated word in English is only three letters long.)
The next time you gobble up a tasty stew, thank the Irish for giving us a gob to stuff in the first place. This wee Gaelic noun means “mouth,” but translates literally to “beak.” Now you know the secret meaning of “gob-stopper”; give one to a kid, and maybe he’ll finally stop talking. (Really want to stop their gobs? The longest word in English is 181,000 letters long.)
Any true slob worth his stains has heard the phrase, “your room looks like a pig sty!” Fittingly, the word slob comes from the 1700s Irish noun slaba, meaning mud, mire, or ooze. The meaning “untidy person” would not take hold until the 1880s via the expression “slob of a man”—or in other words, “that man stinks of mud.” (Many Gaelic words sound dirty, but this one literally is.)
No surprises here, but the first “leprechaun” showed up in a medieval folk tale called Echtra Fergus mac Léti (Adventure of Fergus son of Léti). Our hero Fergus falls asleep by the beach and awakens to find three prankish lúchorpáin (fromthe Gaelic words lu, meaning small, and corp, meaning body) carrying him toward the sea. Ferg captures the small-bodies, then releases them in exchange for three wishes. He blows it on a charm for breathing underwater; he should’ve asked them to bring back the McRib. (Can you guess the world’s most universal word?)
Would you believe that every time you order this beloved spirit you’re mispronouncing a Gaelic word coined by Irish monks who were translating the Latin slang for booze? (Take a few shots of Jameson and you’ll believe a lot quicker). The English “whiskey” is a simple muddling of the Gaelic words uisce beatha—a phrase invented by some fun medieval monks that means literally “water of life.”
Here’s a word that’s grown pompous with age. Today, galore means “in abundance.” In 1670s Ireland, it meant “enough.” From the Gaelic words go leòr, this phrase still keeps a modest context on the Emerald Isle today. Ask an Irish speaker how she is, and you may well hear “Ceart go leor“—that is, “good enough.”
Honorable Mention: Corgi
Welsh, a Celtic cousin of Gaelic, gave us the words for bard, crag, and flannel, among other hipster essentials. But most importantly, it reveals the true meaning of the Queen’s (and the Internet’s) favorite pooch: the word corgi comes from the Welsh Cor + ci, translating literally to dwarf dog. Further proof a corgi is worth its weight in gold.