Wednesday, March 11, 2015


I had come across this at least once before, but a recent newsletter from World Wide Words reminded me of the derivation of 'smithereens' (as in, “I smashed it to smithereens.”
The -een ending at once makes us think of Ireland and of colleen, poteen , shebeen and other words that derive from the Irish diminutive ending -ín. (A colleen is a young woman, poteen for illicit alcohol is literally a little pot and a shebeen, in which such liquor was sold, takes its name from the Irish word for a small mugful; but note that tureen, canteen, velveteen, sateen and some other words aren’t from Irish, but from French.) Most dictionaries assert that smithereens is indeed Irish, from smidirín, a diminutive of smiodar , a fragment.
The newsletter adds a note that although it is derived from a word meaning 'fragments', it cannot be used as a singular; i.e., a fragment is not a smithereen.

The newsletter goes on to cite an interesting early example of a threatening note posted on a door and quoted in the Dublin Evening Post in August 1810.
Mr Pounden, — Sir, we gave you notice some time ago to quit this country, for you are making a rebellion here — we tell you now again, that if you do not be of directly, by the gost of William, our deliverer, and by the Orange we wear, we will break your carriage in smithereens, and hoch your cattle, and burn your house — so mind yourself — you will soon hear again from your friend, TRUE BLUE.
Now I want to know what they mean by "hoch your cattle"; is it an early form of 'hock', meaning that they will steal the cattle and pawn them?

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