The Words We Use

Droll, adjective, amusing, eccentric, comical, is well known

Droll, adjective, amusing, eccentric, comical, is well known. There is another related droll, a noun, found in Ulster and in Carlow, and if it exists in the speech of the people in other places, I'd like to know about it.

This droll means a story. An old man once tried to get me to perform in a west Donegal hostelry - Paddy Gallagher's in Meenbanad outside Dungloe, if you must know - by coaxing me with "Give us an aul' droll if you won't sing us a song". A man in St Mullins, Co Carlow, recently asked me if I had e're a droll for him. W.H. Patterson has the word in his 1880 glossary of Antrim and Down words. The word is the same as that used of a comical or farcical composition, an enacted piece of buffoonery, a puppet show, in use from the mid-17th century but now obsolete.

As far as I know, droll, a story, is known across the water only in Cornwall, which, given its popularity in Ulster, is surprising. All drolls are adaptations of the French noun drole, described in Cotgrave's great French-English dictionary of 1611 as "a goodfellow, boon companion, merrie grig, one that cares not which end goes forward or how the world goes". Cotgrave was the Father Dinneen of his time. Pepys has this meaning too. "Very merry we were, Sir Thomas Harvy being a merry drole," he confides to his diary for June 7th, 1668.

The common phrase "That's all a cod" is the subject of a query from Pat Grace of Kilkenny. Well, cod, noun, is a hoax, humbug, an imposition, a lie; hence Mr Grace's phrase and the equally common cod-acting, tomfoolery. Cod is the same word as Old English cod, a bag. This is from an Old Teutonictype kuddo-z which had the same meaning. The old advertisers were just as brash as their modern counterparts who advertise items of female hygiene on television: a tract called Brunswyke's Distylled Waters, written in 1527, assured its readers that the product was "good for mannes yards or coddes". I suppose that the Kerry Irish word caid, football, is Teutonic in origin.


Ettle, to propose, intend to do something, is an Antrim word sent to me by Jane McCourt of Bangor, who wants information about its origin. It's from the Old Norse aetla, to intend. This great survivor first appeared in English literature in 1200.