The Words We Use


In north Mayo many years ago, Cait Chlinse, who now lives in Eadestown, Naas, Co Kildare, often heard the word hugathepook. She explains it thus: "North Mayo is a place where the fairies are highly respected, so when one was throwing out dirty water at night, it was the custom to warn the fairies - `chugaibh, chugaibh an t-uisce salach!' meaning, to you, to you, the dirty water! But on Hallowe'en only the puca was a phuca! To you, puca!'."

Cait tells me people used the Englished version of this last phrase like this: "He never said hugathepook but turned on his heel and walked off". In my world, "Chugat an puca!" (the pooka is coming for you) was said to unruly children.

An interesting creature this puca or pooka or phooka; a cousin of Shakespeare's Puck.

If you want to know more about his history and the great body of folklore surrounding him, get hold of Deasun Breatnach's great book, called, would you believe, Chugat an Puca. He should translate it for a wider audience.

Judge Sean Delap tells me that he recently heard a Donegal man say that he got a good load of moor on the shore to put on his potato field. This is Irish, mur, a red seaweed found in profusion after a high tide, as Judge Delap knows, being a Gweedore man. What intrigues us both is the word's origin. I wonder could it have come from Norn, the Norse dialect spoken in parts of northern Scotland, Shetland and Orkney until about 1750.

Moor/mur, a dense cover of seaweed, and murach, slab-mud, seaweed, a word from Peadar O Conaill's unpublshed late 18thcentury dictionary, may be related to another moor/mur still used in the north and elsewhere: a bank of cloud, a dense shower. Compare the Shetland and Orkney moorakavie, a thick fall of drifting snow, where moor is related to Icelandic mor, fine dust, and the kavie element, representing Norwegian dialect kave, a heavy snowfall.

Shetland English is a delight. Here's a riddle-rhyme for children, filched from The New Shetlander, either written or collected by somebody called Vagaland in 1956:

Da Witch o da Nort, shoo pluckit her geese, An coost the fedders aa awa? - Da witch o da Nort is da caald, caald wind, An da fedders, day're da flukkra snaa.

Flukkra means snow in broad flakes.