St. Patrick's Day Vocabulary

St. Patrick's Day is celebrated on March 17th, but you won't find the words shamrock or leprechaun on this list. Learn these lesser-known words associated with Ireland. Some have Gaelic and Irish roots, and some are words related to Irish culture and history. For more lingo related to the Emerald Isle, read the article: Beyond Shamrocks and Leprechauns

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. blight
    any plant disease resulting in withering without rotting
    "I'd care more about a blight in the potatoes than for all the politics in Europe."Lever, Charles James
    A potato blight in Ireland in the 1840s caused the failure of the food crop that was a main food source for nearly 40% of the population.
  2. bog
    wet spongy ground of decomposing vegetation
    The weather has turned against us, and the plains, covered with snow two days ago, have turned to a swampy, shoe-sucking mud bog.National Geographic (Mar 4, 2016)
    From bogach, which comes from the adjective bog meaning "soft and moist"
  3. boycott
    refusal to have commercial dealings with some organization
    A Roman Catholic bishop in the Philippines this week urged the faithful to boycott Madonna's shows over her "suggestive" performance and "vulgar" clothes.Reuters (Feb 26, 2016)
    From an English name, one Captain Charles C. Boycott, who refused to lower rents on Irish tenant farmers and was opposed by the Irish Land League in the late 19th Century.
  4. clan
    group of people related by blood or marriage
    In the Kennedy clan, each older sibling was made guardian of a younger one.New York Times (Nov 15, 2016)
    The word comes from the Gaelic clann, "family" or "offspring," with the Latin root planta, "offshoot."
  5. curmudgeon
    an irascible, cantankerous person full of stubborn ideas
    Do something to improve yourself. Here’s a clue – moping around and being a curmudgeon doesn’t fall into this category.Forbes (Feb 18, 2015)
    Although the etymology of this word is disputed, one theory derives it from the Gaelic muigean, which means "disagreeable person".
  6. emerald
    a green transparent form of beryl
    "I want Ireland," he said, "I want emerald green."Golf Digest (May 22, 2017)
    Ireland is often referred to as the "Emerald Isle" because of its lush, green landscape.
  7. emigration
    moving from one place in order to settle in another
    Serious drought and barren soil led to waves of emigration throughout history.Washington Post (Mar 1, 2018)
    The famine which devastated Ireland the mid-nineteenth century led to the mass emigration of Irish people.
  8. famine
    a severe shortage of food resulting in starvation and death
    And the growing influx of immigrants — even before the late-1840s famine in Ireland — was mortifying the city’s Protestant, Anglophile and nativist majority.New York Times (Mar 7, 2018)
    The Irish Famine, which occurred from 1845 - 1849, was the worst to occur in Europe in the 19th century.
  9. glen
    a narrow secluded valley (in the mountains)
    The four-mile path undulates through farms and foothills, into canopies of pines and magical green glens.Washington Times (May 17, 2016)
    From Gaelic gleann, "mountain valley"
  10. hooligan
    a cruel and brutal fellow
    All World Cup ticket holders are required to obtain a personalized fan-ID, allowing authorities to screen them and keep hooligans away from matches.Reuters (Nov 30, 2017)
    Probably from a form of the Irish surname "Houlihan."
  11. keen
    express grief verbally
    His keening caterwaul sounds as if he had flicked the ejector switch but forgotten to undo his seat belt.The New Yorker (Nov 16, 2015)
    From Irish caoinim " I weep, wail, lament."
  12. lilt
    a jaunty rhythm in music or speech
    Their hits began with the lilting, keeningly romantic Linger, which reached the Top 10 in the US and Ireland, and No 14 in the UK.The Guardian (Jan 15, 2018)
    The lilt a is form of traditional Irish folk music.
  13. limerick
    a humorous rhymed verse form of five lines
    An editor read through submissions for a St. Patrick’s Day limerick contest.New York Times (Mar 27, 2017)
    The name of this five-line humorous verse is generally accepted as taken from County Limerick in Ireland.
  14. literature
    writings in a particular style on a particular subject
    They may be incredible, grotesque, or funny, but they are never common-place: it is this uniqueness that is the great charm of ancient Irish literature.Russell, T. O.
    Ireland is has produced some of the greatest modern writers including James Joyce, Jonathan Swift and Anne Enright.
  15. mutton
    meat from a mature domestic sheep
    The sheep was killed, and produced excellent mutton—not fat indeed, but eatable.Surtees, William
    Mutton stew is a traditional Irish dish made from mature lamb.
  16. parade
    a ceremonial procession including people marching
    Parades are held on March 17th to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.
  17. slew
    a large number or amount or extent
    A slew of food delivery apps and startups have sprung up across the French capital in recent months, and they're impossible to miss.The Verge (Mar 8, 2016)
    From sluagh, " a host, a crowd, a multitude."
  18. smithereens
    a collection of small fragments considered as a whole
    Scientists who tried managing energies of the necessary magnitude often ended up with equipment blown to smithereens and laboratories littered with glass shards.Big Science
    Smiddereens, from smidirin, which is a form of smiodar, "fragment."
  19. spree
    a brief indulgence of your impulses
    But the big driver of America’s five-day shopping spree that starts on Thanksgiving was the mobile phone, not the mall.New York Times (Nov 28, 2017)
    Ultimately from Gaelic sprédh "cattle, wealth" from what would be plundered on a spree.
  20. wraith
    a mental representation of some haunting experience
    “Don’t tell me you believe in myths of jinn and efrits and wraiths that kidnap children in the night?”An Ember in the Ashes
    One theory of this words' origin derives it from Gaelic arrach, "specter, apparition".

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