Daily Archives: March 19, 2010


Ah, ’twas a fine evening in the gallery with a gal or two… and a gallon or two! Sure, we had Guinness galore going down our gullets. Or, as we’d say in Gaelic, Do raibh Guinness go leor againn…

Ah, ’tis a good word, galore, for gulping and for glorious gluts. It moves a bit like a swallowing motion of the tongue, and leaves the mouth in that rounded position that is often seen in reaction to superabundance. And it even has a nice hint of the Irish in that sustained retroflex /r/ at the end – not that many languages have that sound: most kinds of English, most kinds of Irish, some kinds of Dutch, Mandarin Chinese… there are not sources galore for it!

Galore is indeed a Gaelic word, barely converted at all, at all. The original in Irish is go leor, literally “to sufficient” (in Scots Gaelic, it’s gu leòr). The pronunciation in the original is nearly identical to how we say it, even though the sense has magnified some. And, of course, since it’s a prepositional phrase, it goes where prepositional phrases go: just as in abundance goes after fish in we had fish in abundance, and out the wazoo goes after chips in and we had chips out the wazoo, so galore will follow the noun phrase it modifies, as in and of course we had Guinness galore… and as in the name of the novel and movie Whisky Galore, and as in its most common collocation in modern English, the name of one of the most famous Bond girls, Pussy Galore, played by Honor Blackman in Goldfinger.

Irish makes use of prepositional phrases even more than English does. You don’t say “I own it”; you say “it is with me,” tá sé liom (“is it with-me,” said like “ta shay lum”). You don’t say “we had Guinness,” you say “Guinness was at us,” do raibh Guinness againn (“[past] was Guinness at-us,” said like “doe rev Guinness uggíng”). And if someone did something to your detriment, he or she did it “on” you – do bhris sí an cathaoir orm, “she broke the chair on me” (“[past] broke she the chair on-me,” said like “doe vrish she an ca-heer orum”) just means she broke your chair, darn it, not that she broke it over your head. This usage is colloquial in English but standard in Irish.

This prepositional tendency gives us some Irish-English phrases like I’m after talking with him, meaning “I just talked to him,” and it also shows up in the well-known Éireann go bragh (often seen as Erin go bragh), “Ireland forever” – and in galore, in use in English since the 17th century.

Ironically, galore may first have been borrowed over from Scots Gaelic… but, of course, as everyone but the Scots knows, Scots Gaelic was originally a dialect of Irish Gaelic, so of course it comes back to Ireland, sure and it does.

Thanks to David Moody for suggesting galore. ‘Tis true, I’ve done it before, so now we have galore galore!


Does this word seem pugnacious? Well, if your prognosis for pugnacity involves lots of jutting jaws, you just might have it. But you gneed gnot gnash your teeth… prognathous really describes a kind of facial physiognomy. And, yes, the g is pronounced as written, which means your tongue does a one-two back-front touch that might make you think of a stuffed-up nose but won’t necessarily make you jut your jaw much.

And it’s the jutting jaw that is the essence here: Greek pro “forward” and gnathos “jaw”. This word always makes me think of Philip IV of Spain – take a little time to look at any of the several portraits of him at various ages all made by Diego Velázquez. But others might sooner think of, say, Jay Leno. For the clinical sense, however, the jaw need not be as long as all that; it just needs to jut at a sharper-than-average angle.

There is something about this word that feels right to me for a big jaw. The gn seems to have the right feel, but it’s not just that. While magnum may seem jaw-y, cognition doesn’t really. The visual effect, even when the g is not said, may be a bit of a cue, but while gnash has a similar mandibularity, gnat has not. So it’s hard to separate out true phonaesthetic effect from simple awareness of the sense filtering through.

Still and all, tell me how, for instance, the name Gnaeus Naevius strikes you. Does it seem rather growly and toothy or otherwise pugnacious, perhaps like Gnasher, the nasty dog of that nasty British boy Dennis the Menace (no, not the American one drawn by Hank Ketcham; this one, started on the other side of the pond and appearing first a mere three days after the American one hit the presses in 1951, is unrelated). Gnasher has been know to chuckle gneh-heh, so why might he not, when gnawing on a bone, growl Gnaeus Naevius? Well, in fact, Gnaeus Naevius was a Roman satirical playwright, known for making the patricians gnash their teeth. There is no evidence that he was prognathous. But doesn’t his name have that feel?

On the other hand, there is also no evidence that he was opisthognathous. There is nothing at all to tell us about his gnathic index, in fact.

OK, what and what? Gnathic index: an indicator of how relatively far forward the jaw does or doesn’t jut. Opisthognathous: why, the opposite of prognathous, of course, and a word just made for lisping weak-jawed sorts to say.