Bertie, you big eejit

I regularly berate my dog for rank stupidity (losing his ball/taking fright at the shape of a chimney-pot/barking at high-vis road signs …) But what I call him is an “eejit”. At first glance, this might seem like just a phonetic Irish-accent version of “idiot”, but it’s completely different. It’s much softer, more like an affectionate poke than an attack. Affectionately insulting people (and dogs) plays quite a large part in Irish life.

Also sometimes a little bollix

What does this have to do with genealogy? Many (Gaelic) Irish surnames incorporate what appear to be tongue-in-cheek jibes. The Irish (Gaelic) for “bald” is maol, and this appears in many common surnames: Mullany, Mullally, Mulcahy, Muldoon, Mulgrew, Mullholland  …  I could go on. The standard explanation is that maol was a way of describing the distinctive horse-shoe tonsure of medieval Irish monks, so Mulcahy comes from Ó Maolchathaigh, “grandson of the [monk] devotee of St Cathach”. I’m sure that’s true, but referring to your local monastic devotee as “Baldie” seems a tad irreverent. And quite familiar (Cf. Father Ted).

Baldie writes a book

Other examples include suffixes that subtly alter the flavour of a name. Brosnan in the original is Ó Brosnacháin, meaning “grandson of the man from Brosna (in Kerry)”. But the Irish for “the man from Brosna” is Brosnach.  Adding that –áin (pronounced “awn”), changes it to “grandson of your man, the big fella from Brosna”. Other suffixes include –ón (-own), –ún (-oon) and the one still most widely used in general speech –ìn (-een), meaning small. So Dineen (Ó Duinnín), is literally “grandson of the little brown squirt”,  and Glasheen (Ó Glaisín), is “grandson of the little green squirt”.

The suffixes have come into Hiberno-English more generally as part of the glorious insults “Amadawn” (Super eejit), “Loothermawn” (Gangly eejit), “Bostoon” (Rude eejit). And the most cutting of them all: “Maneen”, as in “Sure, isn’t he a fine little maneen up there in the Dáil?”

Bertie is a very smart dog. But he’s a dog, so he’s still an eejit. And a dote.


21 thoughts on “Bertie, you big eejit”

  1. For many years I have been silently disconcerted that my surname (Ó Glaisín) means Little Green Man. I can’t make up my mind whether this implies Leprechaun or Martian.

    1. If you have pointy ears AND green blood (Based on blood chemistry replacing iron with copper, apparently.) then you’re a Vulcan.

      1. Love this! My culchie dad left us Anglos a legacy of insults and endearments which continue to confuse those not in-the-know!

    2. For years when we were very young my grandfather Keenan had us convinced that we just weren’t fast enough to see the “little green men” he could see. These of course were leprechauns!

    1. My great grandmother is listed in various places as Braclen, Breslin, and Braclin. Makes it interesting to trace.

  2. Great post. I didn’t realize that amadawn meant super-eejit! I can add this to my list of tongue-in-cheek insults that are regularly used in my household.

  3. Daniel O’Connell, renowned for his inventive insults (I wish I could remember some of them), was just following our great tradition.

    1. Thats very entertaining reading (with a few giggles) . I did wonder where my grand fathers name came from he lived in Kerry but born in kildare Fox was his surname ,he married my grandmother who was a Hogan now that is Kerry name i thought. what do they mean.

      maryjo Payne(fox)

  4. I have been tutored that Maol meant Servant. See below

    Maolíosa Name Meaning
    The meaning of Maolíosa is “Servant of Jesus”. Keep in mind that many names may have different meanings in other countries and languages, so be careful that the name that you choose doesn’t mean something bad or unpleasant. Search comprehensively and find the name meaning of Maolíosa and its name origin or of any other name in our database. Also note the spelling and the pronunciation of the name Maolíosa and check the initials of the name with your last name to discover how it looks and sounds. The history and meaning of the name Maolíosa is fascinating, learn more about it. (If you know more meanings of the name and you would like to contribute click here to submit another name meaning).

  5. My gt-gt-gt-grandfather was James Lally. Perhaps he was originally Mullally but didn’t want to be ‘the bald one’.

  6. “Amadawn” (Super eejit)”….

    My paternal grandfather used to use this term. He was a Canadian born and bred, and a third-generation Canadian at that (with 3 grandparents, and one great-grandparent, as Ireland-to-Canada emigrants).

    Bertie looks like a lovely, and very smart, dog.

  7. John, your explanation of O Brosnachain came as a bit of a surprise. I have been researching the name for many years, and everything I read always said that the Irish never took their names from places, although they sometimes lent their names to places (I cannot think of any other names that come from a place). Further, the signs entering Brosna, as well as the Ordinance Survey maps, show that english spelling as well as the Gaelic (?) spelling “Brosnach”
    Twenty five years ago one of my elderly cousins in Farranfore told me that his grandmother who spoke no english, used to send him out to collect brosnach to start the fire with, and so he always thought that the word meant “kindling” wood.
    Your thoughts?

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