How words often get killed off - Reclaiming a ‘donnybrook’

IN Brian Friel’s visionary play, Translations, he interrogates the challenges of communication across generations and cultures and he laments the incremental decline, and loss, of original language and metaphor and subtlety of meaning.

The playwright quotes the pragmatic assertion of Daniel O’Connell, ‘the Liberator’, from Kerry, that “the old language is a barrier to modern progress.”

Ireland has been a rich contributor to the world’s lexicon and has exported, along with its sons and daughters, thousands of words and phrases which are used rarely, if ever, in the increasingly urban, if not urbane, society that we have become. Some of them have never gone away.

‘Banjaxed’ remains a popular descriptor capable of transcending international boundaries or even a hard border. ‘Ballyhooly’ is still widely understood. But another was resurrected this week, when the Martens trial, in North Carolina, heard that the argument which preceded the death of Jason Corbett (he was struck with a child-size aluminium baseball bat and a concrete paving brick) was a ‘donnybrook.’ Whether the jury understood the etymology does not seem to be at question.

The word is not so much a description of the well-known RTÉ headquarters in Dublin, as a reference to the fair which commenced in mediaeval times and which became a byword for riotous assembly, drunkenness, and violence.

For economy of meaning alone, it’s worth reclaiming.


Lifestyle

'When a role became available in The River Lee following the refurbishment, I jumped at the chance!'You've Been Served: Sinead McDonald of The River Lee on life as a Brand Manager

It’s the personal stories from Bruce Springsteen that turn his new ‘Western Stars’ documentary into something special, the director tells Esther McCarthy.Bruce Springsteen's Western Stars documentary more than just a music film

Apart from the several variations in its spelling in Irish and English, Inishtubbrid, Co Clare is also recognised by three other names: Wall’s Island; O’Grady’s Island and Inishtubber which surely puts it up there as the island with most names — not counting say Inisvickillane, Co Kerry which has about 33 variations to that spelling.The Islands of Ireland: In search of tranquility

More and more communities and volunteers are taking on environmental tasks around the country. In Clonmel, Co Tipperary, for example, people have united to get rid of Himalayan balsam, an invasive plant, from the banks of the River Suir.‘Bashing’ invasive plants

More From The Irish Examiner