Words we use: Trevally


Trevally is a good word, also found in the forms trevallie and treevolie in Scotland, thravally in Ireland, and travellye i n Orkney. It was once popular in Scotland, Cumberland and my own Co Wexford; and I was disappointed to read lately that it has become obsolete everwhere.

It means, “A disturbance, ‘to-do’, anything unusual or startling; a catastrophy; a fall, accompanied with great force and noise,' according to the English Dialect Dictionary . In Ayrshire and in Cumberland the word also came to mean a scolding, a quarrelling.

The Scots lexicographer Jamieson, whose dictionary of Scots published in 1808 has become a classic, gave us this: “Gin ye could airt me tae ane o’ them we wad let you see a fine trevallie.”

Patrick Kennedy, the19th-century Co Wexford folklorist, in his Irish Celts , published in 1866, has: “There was such a thravally ruz about it . . .”

The word was recorded in Orkney by Ellis in his influential Pronunciation published in 1889, and by Francisque-Michel in Language , published in 1882. Nobody knows how or why it came to be discarded.

As a variant of reveille the word appears in English in the 17th century as trevall, travalley , possibly due to some popular association with French travaillez , imperative, work, as a call to labour.

Down in the Anglo-Norman Barony of Forth in Co Wexford one could until recently see trendles in their kitchens and sculleries. I heard the word from my friend Leo Carty, now gone from us; it was a shallow, oval or circular wooden tub, used for a variety of purposes in Forth, and across the Irish Sea in Gloucestershire, where it was recorded by the EDD , and defined as “a shallow wooden tub for butter, milk or whey”.

In England’s West Country it was defined as a brewer’s cooler; in Wiltshire it was a circular trough or tray in which bakers mixed their dough. In Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, written in Dorset and published in 1874, we find “I walked in and seed a clock with a face as big as a baking-teendle.” In Somerset it was defined as “a circular tub used for scalding pigs”. In Devon trendles were used chiefly for curing bacon.

Trendle has another meaning: a circular earthwork. This trendle is related etymologically to the Wexford kitchen trendle, both being circular in shape. The word is from Old English trendel , a ring, a circle.


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