Three more interesting words

Ireland has many world-renowned poets and authors because, I believe, we use English in creative and unusual ways. Here are three interesting words and phrases that come from Ireland but are spoken by English speakers all around the world:

1. Boycott

A family being evicted from their home by a landlord, in the 1880s West of Ireland.

When you 'boycott' something, you refuse to cooperate with something. It's a very common English word that came from Captain Charles Boycott, a greedy landlord's agent in a small village in Ireland in the 1880s. The landlord refused to lower rents on his suffering tenants so the villagers decided to ignore him and his agent completely. They refused to sell them food and or deal with them on any matter until the landlord and agent found living in the village impossible. The name “Boycott” then became synonymous with using this tactic against cruel landlords in Ireland. The word was even adopted into Japanese (and later Korean: 보이콧) a few years later!

2. Quiz

A man drinking with his friends in a Dublin pub made a bet that he could introduce a new word into the English language within 48 hours! Over the next 48 hours he graffiti'd every Dublin building with the sentence, “what is QUIZ?”. His plan worked and Dubliners started wondering who was doing this and what this strange word was; it became a humourous and popular conversational topic. Eventually Dubliners slowly realised they were hoaxed, there was no meaning but they began to use 'quiz' to mean 'strange', and changed slowly into what it means today, 'a test of knowledge'. He won the bet!

(Okay, the story is not true but everyone in Ireland believes this myth and it's one of my favourite stories too!)

3. To chance your arm

Door of Reconciliation in St. Patrick's Cathedral

This means to take a risk. In 1492 two Irish families were fighting each other in Dublin. One of the leaders ran away and took refuge in a locked room in St. Patrick's Cathedral. The other head of the family decided to make a truce and that to prove he was genuine, he cut a hole in the locked door and put his arm inside. He could have had his arm cut off but this gesture proved he really wanted peace. So he 'chanced his arm'. You can still see the same door with the hole in it in the Cathedral today!


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