Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

15.07 14 Oct 2020


Share this article


Word expert Susie Dent says a popular Irish insult was actually first used in the US.

The term 'gobshite' is normally associated with Ireland and was brought to a wider international audience on programmes like Father Ted.

However, it turns out we aren't the only ones to have used the term.

Susie Dent, lexicographer and longtime 'Dictionary Corner' resident on Channel 4's Countdown, outlined the history of 'gobshite' on today's Moncrieff.

Susie Dent: 'Gobshite' was popularised by the Irish, but it was used in the US first

00:00:00 / 00:00:00

    

She explained: "The first example is in the US Navy, for an enlisted sailor - that's the 1910s. 30 years later it appears in Irish-English, to mean a foolish, incompetent or gullible person... someone who talks nonsense and speaks incessantly.

"You definitely popularised it, but it was around in the US Navy first."

So why did the word become so popular in Ireland?

Susie theorised: "Maybe it's an Irish characteristic... I'm not saying you're all gobshites, but that you guys wanted [a word to say] 'you cannot be one of those'.

"There are some great English equivalents though... like a bloviator, which is somebody who bangs on and on and on about a subject they don't know anything about."

From mumpsimus to eyeservant

Susie has recently released her new book Word Perfect: Etymological Entertainment For Every Day of the Year, offering readers information about a particular word for every day of the year.

She said: "Mumpsimus is possibly my favourite word in the entire book... a mumpsimus is someone who insists they're right, despite clear evidence that they're wrong."

Other words she highlighted include 'eyeservant' (someone who only works when the boss is looking) and 'snaccident' (the inadvertent eating of an entire packet of biscuits).

Susie said that the English language is something that changes all the time.

She explained: "Now in the dictionary it will tell you that literally can actually be used metaphorically - you didn't literally die laughing, but it's just used as an intensifier.

"Dictionaries... what they're there for is not to tell you how you should use a word, but how people are using words.

"We'll always have our bugbears, and there'll always be things we don't like... but that's the way English evolves."

Susie also told Sean that slang words are very much 'proper words'.

She said: "When I appear on Countdown, if a slang word comes up and I find it in the dictionary, sometimes people say 'what's that doing in there?' Even 'phwoar' is in there.

"Slang was the very first area of language to be documented in a dictionary... the very first dictionaries were in fact collections of criminal slang.

"By its very definition, slang is intended to keep outsiders out - those outsiders often have to look the word up, because they don't understand it."

Word Perfect is out now.

Main image: File photo of Susie Dent. Picture by: Ian West/PA Archive/PA Images

Share this article


Read more about

Gobshite Language Moncrieff Susie Dent

Most Popular

Live: Title

Now playing

00:00:00 / 00:00:00
Added to queue
Removed from queue

On Air

Share

Share


Up next

Episode title
Show
Duration

You currently have no podcasts in your queue.

Go to podcasts

On Air

Newstalk Breakfast

Newstalk Breakfast

07:00-09:00

Share

Up next

THE PAT KENNY SHOW

THE PAT KENNY SHOW

09:00-12:00

Share

LUNCHTIME LIVE

LUNCHTIME LIVE

12:00-14:00

Share

MONCRIEFF

MONCRIEFF

14:00-16:00

Share

THE HARD SHOULDER

THE HARD SHOULDER

16:00-19:00

Share

OFF THE BALL

OFF THE BALL

19:00-22:00

Share

THE TOM DUNNE SHOW

THE TOM DUNNE SHOW

22:00-00:00

Share

BEST OF NEWSTALK

BEST OF NEWSTALK

00:00-06:00

Share

BREAKFAST BRIEFING

BREAKFAST BRIEFING

06:00-06:30

Share

BREAKFAST BUSINESS

BREAKFAST BUSINESS

06:30-07:00

Share

NEWSTALK BREAKFAST

NEWSTALK BREAKFAST

07:00-09:00

Share

00:00:00 / 00:00:00

Share on