Saturday, August 08, 2009

My Wild Irish Brogue

Someone recently asked me about the term Irish brogue. I’m not sure when brogue became the exclusive hallmark of the Irish, leaving out other inhabitants of the Isles, but it refers to a distinctive accent or pronunciation, a generally lilting sound with soft rises and falls in inflection.

As so often happens (to the consternation of those seeking certitude and absolute truth), the origin is lost, leaving speculation only. An earlier meaning of brogue was a type of rudely constructed shoe, often made of untanned leather. In time, it became sturdy yet stylish footwear designed for rugged performance -- hiking and brisk walking, for instance. In appearance, bands of decorative perforations came to be a feature of this shoe. A formal version suitable for royal receptions appears in the picture.

Accordingly, the Oxford English Dictionary points toward this as a possible origin: “the speech of those who wear brogues.” Merriam-Webster opts for an Irish word, barróg, which meant an accent or a speech impediment.

An obsolete version of brogue meaning a cheat, fraud, or trick seems to be a modified form of broker, in the sense of a corrupt jobber (middleman) of offices.

SIDEBAR: How to speak with an Irish accent

Now available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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