Paul Muldoon

10 March. At 6:45 a.m. I set off by car service to Newark airport to catch the 10 a.m. Virgin/Continental flight to Gatwick. At this time of the morning the New Jersey Turnpike is too busy altogether. This use of altogether, I’m reminded by Terence Patrick Dolan in A Dictionary of Hiberno-English, means ‘wholly, completely’ and may be compared to the Irish phrase ar fad, particularly in its positioning at the end of a sentence.[*] There’s a world of difference between the phrase ‘you’re altogether too thin-skinned’ and ‘you’re too thin-skinned altogether.’ The latter, Dolan notes, is spoken by Seumas in Act 1, line 87 of Sean O’Casey’s The Shadow of a Gunman. ‘The main intention of this dictionary,’ I’m only after reading in the introduction (only after is another Gaelic construction), ‘is to make accessible the common word stock of Hiberno-English in both its present and past forms, oral and literary ... Much of the vocabulary of Hiberno-English consists of words in common currency in Standard English, but an appreciable proportion of the word stock of Irish people is not standard and may be misunderstood, or not understood at all, by speakers of standard or near-standard English.’ I’m thinking of how I’m a cute hoor altogether – a phrase that might certainly be misunderstood – for having changed from tonight’s 9:25 Virgin flight with its 9:05 a.m. arrival into Heathrow to this much less damaging daytime jaunt. When I look up cute hoor, I’m directed to hoor and read as follows:

HE version of ‘whore’ <OE hore. The pronunciation/hu[e]r/ was common in England in the 16th and 17th centuries and lasted into the 19th century. Hiberno-English retains this older pronunciation, while the meaning has become extended from ‘prostitute’ to refer to any person, male or female, who is corrupt; and it may be used affectionately as well as pejoratively, especially when qualified by the adjective ‘cute’– ‘That man’s such a cute hoor he’d build a nest in your ear.’

Dolan expands on the use of the word hoor with a range of examples from the writings of Patrick Kavanagh, Brian Friel, Tim Pat Coogan, Oliver St John Gogarty, Neil Jordan and Hugh Leonard. It’s a method that seems to be at once academically sound and, for those committed to a long weekend in England and Wales carrying only one bag and one book, perfect for a bit of one-way crack, or ‘entertaining conversation. Ir craic is the ModE loanword crack < ME crak, loud conversation, bragging talk; recently reintroduced into HE (usually in its Ir spelling) in the belief that it means high-spirited entertainment.’

I’ve taken this matter of the one bag as further proof of my cute hoordom, since I’m determined to hand over luggage to an airline only when absolutely necessary. When I arrive at Newark, I check in and go to the gate. Then I have a thought only a cute hoor would have. I’d originally booked a premium economy ticket for tonight’s flight. When I changed my ticket, they reminded me that Continental has no such class on this flight, though I’ll avail of it on the Virgin flight back. Maybe they’ll reimburse me the difference? I go back to the desk and explain the situation and am delighted to be bumped up from economy to first class. The bad news is that the flight is running two hours late. There’s the usual plamas over the reasons. I’m using plamas less in the generally accepted sense of ‘flattery, empty praise, cajolery’ than that given by Dolan in his definition of a plamasai as ‘a soft soap merchant’. I notice, with a smidgeon of alarm, that Dolan doesn’t attempt an etymology. I myself have always been taken by the idea that plamas is a corruption of ‘blancmange’, an etymology bolstered by Patrick Dinneen’s translation, in his dictionary, of plamas as ‘flummery’, itself defined by the OED as ‘a name given to various sweet dishes made with milk, flour, eggs etc’. By the time I get into Gatwick, it’s 11:30 p.m., and so flaithiuil, or ‘generous’, have the attendants been that I’ve had one too many jorums of Bailey’s Irish Cream, itself a flummery beyond compare, the flummery itself. I take a cab from Gatwick to London driven by a young Indian man who’s about to have an arranged marriage. The Gaelic term for an ‘arranged marriage’ is cleamhnas, and people who’ve had arranged marriages, or are merely related by marriage, are known as clownies, an idea I’m still pondering as I duck-walk into the famous Groucho Club.

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[*] Gill and Macmillan, 311 pp., £25, 12 November 1998, 0 7171 2437 1.