Gaelic backstory of Cameron’s Tories

David Cameron might just be getting to know his Irish counterparts but the British prime minister may be interested to learn that the word “Tory” actually derives from Irish.

The Oxford English Dictionary has been researching the origins of common words that owe their origins to Gaelic.

Lexicographer Susie Dent recently devoted her origins of words section of the popular Channel 4 programme Countdown to the research.

She told presenter Nick Hewer, whose mother hailed from the North, that “puck” in ice hockey owes its origins to “poc” meaning a stroke or shot at the ball in hurling.

“Puck”, as used in ice hockey, first appeared in a Boston newspaper in 1886, the research found.

According to OED lexicographer Katherine Connor Martin, the oldest borrowing from Irish into English is “mind”. This is from the Irish “mionn”, “an obsolete term for a type of ornament attested in Old English”.

The most recent imports from Irish to English are “craic”, “punt” and “fleadh”.

“There was a steady trickle of Irish loanwords into English from the 15th through 18th centuries, but this increased to a flood during the 1800s,” said Ms Connor Martin.

“Oddly enough, this apex of Irish imports in English coincided with a period of steep and decisive decline for the Irish language itself.

“The 19th century was also a period of mass emigration, during which Irish immigrants streamed to the rest of the UK and to North America, taking their distinctive vocabularies with them.”

“Trousers” — or English ‘trowse’ — has its origins in the Irish and Scots Gaelic word “triubhas”.

Other words derived from Irish include “slob” from “slab” as well as “galore” which comes from “go leor”, and means “to sufficiency, enough”.

Mr Cameron and his Conservative party might be surprised to learn that their Tory nickname derives from a band of outlaws or “tóraidhe” from the 17th century.

Ms Connor Martin noted: “Soon the word was being used of outlaws as far afield as Scotland and even India.

“Then, during the exclusion crisis of 1679-1681, those who wished to disinherit the Catholic heir presumptive to the British throne [known as Exclusionists or Whigs] used Tory as a disparaging nickname for their opponents.

“When that faction eventually coalesced into a political party, it kept the Tory name. The present day Conservative Party in the UK is a descendant of that original party, though it no longer whole-heartedly embraces the Tory nickname.”


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