Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Begorrah

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 17, 2015

Begorra is sometimes used on its own, sometimes used with the word faith as in faith and begorrah or with the word sure as in sure and begorrah.  The word is a way of saying by God without taking the Lord’s name in vain, which, of course, is one of the Ten Commandments.  

Believe it or not, the 42.ie is a sports news source published by The Journal in Dublin, Ireland, and while the 42.ie publishes news about rugby, football, and more, it also found time this year on March 14 to share the latest on “Irish Goodby” shorts being sold in America.  The announcement began with this paragraph:

TODAY’S BAD NEWS in begob-and-begorrah merchandise: these ‘Irish Goodbye’ shorts for American bros who want to celebrate St Patrick’s Day.

It also included this delightful photograph from the Chubbies website.

IMAGE 1
Now it was in the Irish Times newspaper of March 4, 2010 that movie critic Donald Clarke took on a movie starring English actor, Matthew Goode, in his column “Whingeing About Cinema And Real Life Since 2009.”  The reviewer had set his sights on the movie, “Leap Year” which, according to him, propagated the typical “sort of sentimental twinkly version of Ireland” that American films tend to churn out.  The actor, however, didn’t take badly to any criticisms of the movie, and actually had a few concerns of his own regarding the movie.  The article was titled,Matthew Goode Kicks The Begorrah Out Of His Own Film!

The Spokane Daily Chronicle made a big deal out of what happened on St. Patrick’s Day a year earlier by publishing am abbreviated follow-up article on March 17, 1950.  It pointed out that the previous year, Spokane’s Irish American mayor, Arthur Meehan, had showed up at his office wearing a red tie.  The following year, it was reported that he showed up with what was described as a “shimmering green tie beyond description.”  The announcement published on page 5 was titled,Mayor Learned Lesson, Begorrah.”

Somewhere along the line, some people began to deny that the word had any affiliation with the people of Ireland.  In fact, it was in “The Trend: A Bulletin of Current History and Letters” Volume I edited by George Earle Raiguel that someone took exception to the claim that begorrah was Irish in any way.  An article entitled, “Lingual Growing Pains” written by Benjamin Musser was included in the edition published on September 7, 1922.  The article read in part:

Mr. Mencken should know that the profane begob and begorrah are unknown to Irish people:  they are words employed only by jokesmiths in cheap burlesque and pink papers.  It is rather in habits of pronunciation, of syntax, and even of grammar, Mr. Mencken continues, that we have been influenced by the Irish.

Unfortunately, Benjamin Musser was mistaken on this point as begorrah was mentioned in the “Dublin Quarterly Journal of Medical Science” in Volume 44 published on August 1, 1867  — referenced by a medical professional no less!  The first part of the journal was dedicated to “Original Communications” with the first article dealing with aphasia, written by Dr. John Popham, physician to the Cork North Infirmary.  In his article, he wrote about a specific patient who used the word begorrah.

The use of oaths in aphasia has been often noticed.  I have now a patient in the infirmary whose answer to every question begins with, “Oh! Begorrah!”  After ejaculating this oath with great confidence in his powers of speech, the poor man comes to a full stop, ponders for the next word, and failing to find it, ends by making a frantic tug at his hair.  Dr. Falret thinks that swearing occurs chiefly in emotional states.  This is, I believe, often the case, but it also depends on the use of oaths as by-words from early habit.

English novelist Anthony Trollope (24 April 1815 – 6 December 1882) used it in his book, “The Kellys and the O’Kellys:  Landlords and Tenants” published in 1848. It is said that Anthony Trollope’s works provided a steady, consistent vision of the social structures of Victorian England, and since the word begorra is used in his novel in 1848, the word begorra was indeed used in Ireland and England at the time.

“Well—I’m shot av’ I know the laist in the world what all this is about!” said Martin, as he stood in the street, reading over the legally-worded letter—”‘conspiracy!’—well that’ll do, Mr Daly; go on—’enticing away from her home!’—that’s good, when the blackguard nearly knocked the life out of her, and mother brought her down here, from downright charity, and to prevent murdher—’wake intellects!’—well, Mr Daly, I didn’t expect this kind of thing from you: begorra, I thought you were above this!—wake intellects! faith, they’re a dale too sthrong, and too good—and too wide awake too, for Barry to get the betther of her that way. Not that I’m in the laist in life surprised at anything he’d do; but I thought that you, Mr Daly, wouldn’t put your hands to such work as that.”

The interjection appears in “Fardorougha, The Miser” by Irish writer and novelist William Carleton (20 February 1794 – 30 January 1869) and published in 1839.  The author was best known for his accurate sketches of stereotypical Irishmen, and as such, because begorra shows up in his writings, it’s to be believe that the word was, indeed, used in Ireland in the 1830s.  The word appears three times in this novel, with this being one of those three times.

“If it’s only the Bodagh got it,” replied his comrade, who was no other than Micky Malvathra, “blaizes to the hair I care. When my brother Barney, that suffered for Caam Beal (crooked mouth) Grime’s business, was before his thrial, hell resave the taisther the same Bodagh would give to defind him.”

“Damn it,” rejoined the other, “but to murdher a man in his bed! Why, now, if it was only comin’ home from a fair or market, but at midnight, an’ in his bed, begorra it is not the thing, Mickey.”

At this point, Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of begorrah than the one in 1839 despite the Merriam-Webster Dictionary claim it was first used in 1715 without quote the source material where it can be found.

That is was used so easily in William Carleton’s writing and because he is well-known for his accurate depiction of Irish life, use of the word begorrah is one that would have been entrenched in society at least in 1839.  Idiomation therefore pegs begorrah to at least 1800.

Should any readers, visitors, or followers know of an earlier published version of begorrah, please feel free to include it in the Comments Section below.

And as we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day at Idiomation, we’ll close off this entry with this Irish blessing:  May the roof above us never fall in, and may we friends beneath it never fall out.

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One Response to “Begorrah”

  1. […] « Begorrah […]

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