Wednesday, November 27, 2013


An unnamed caller to Words to the Wise asked about the word smithereens, as in, “the children smashed the piñata into smithereens.” Invariably, it seems to go with verbs of violence, such as blow, punch, shatter, knock, split, and pound.

Smithereens is a variant of smithers, which was defined in Halliwell’s 1847 Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words as “fragments & atoms”. The –een suffix represents the Gaelic diminutive ín.

It shows up in other Irish words, such as colleen (young woman), kippeen (small stick), boreen (small lane), birdeen (young bird or girl), buckeen (a younger son of the poorer aristocracy), caubeen (small hat), and  spalpeen (young workman or scamp).

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

Nook edition

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