bairdeán, barjaun

Tá se ina fhear dhrochbhéasach. Níl ann ach bairdeán.

That means “He’s a rude man. He’s just a barjaun.” (Or, more literally, “He’s in his rude man. Nothing’s in him but a barjaun.” Irish uses prepositions a lot more than English does.)

You don’t know what a barjaun is? You may be one! Most Canadians and Americans probably strike the average Irish person as a barjaun. In my experience, Irish drivers are far more polite on average than North American ones, and Irish people on sidewalks are also more considerate in general. This may be because the width of the roads and sidewalks forces it, but I’ll tell you this: When I was driving there, when someone had an opportunity to jam in ahead of me or cut me off, they rarely took it. Compare that to around here, where you just expect it. Most people around here drive like barjauns. (And don’t say “Well, that’s Toronto.” I’ve driven all over Canada and the US. And I’ve walked on sidewalks all over Canada and the US too. On average people are barjauns almost everywhere in these two countries.)

So, yeah, that’s what a barjaun is: someone who is disposed to, well, barge on. Or barge in. Grab a spot. Cut in ahead of you. Cut you off. Show no consideration for another person in the traffic flow. It’s so common in much of North America that you’re surprised when someone doesn’t do it. But it’s not usual in Ireland. Not from what I’ve seen, anyway. So we don’t find ourselves using a word for the kind of person who does it because they’re the default. But the Irish can use a word for it.

Barjaun is of course just an English respelling of bairdeán, which is pronounced the same way. That –án ending is a diminutive substantive suffix that is sometimes negatively toned. You’ll recognize it in leprechaun (Irish leipreachán). Another word that has made it into English is omadhaun, from Irish amadán; it means ‘fool’. (If you’re thinking, “Hey, Mike Oldfield made an album called Ommadawn, is there any relation?” the answer is yes! Oldfield asked the singer Clodagh Simonds to give him some nonsense syllables, and Clodagh gave him what is actually Irish. In the vocal section, you can hear something like “Taw may on ommadawn eg kyol,” which is really the sentence Tá me an amadán ag ceol, which means “I’m the fool making music.”)

Some –án words have transparent morphology – for example, beagán ‘little bit’ is just beag ‘small’ plus –án. Others trace farther back through time. Leipreachán has another form luprachán that is thought (though not by everyone) to come from Old Irish lú ‘small’ plus corp from Latin corpus plus –án to make lúchorpán, which swapped some sounds around over time. Amadán comes from an Old Irish word for ‘fool’ or ‘simpleton’ plus that suffix just to drive the point home.

And bairdeán? It might be related to bairdéar, ‘prison guard’ – a direct borrowing from English warder (in some contexts the becomes bh and is pronounced /w/ so bhairdéar sounds more like it). There’s no trail of evidence for that, though. Frankly, it could equally be back-formed from English barge on.

Frankly, it is. I just made it up. All the other information about Irish, including the other etymologies, is entirely true. But this word doesn’t exist outside of this little article… yet. It’s a new old word. And I think we could use it. A lot.

One response to “bairdeán, barjaun

  1. Pingback: barge | Sesquiotica

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