27 February 2017

Smidgeon

"Smidgeon" or sometimes "smidgen". I like the sound of that word but  rarely use it. However...

Late on Friday night, I ventured down to the local pub for a couple of pints. Over the years, without making prior arrangements,  there has usually been somebody there to chat with but on Friday I was sitting on my tod like Sad Sack.

Rose, the tattooed Australian barmaid, was clearing tables and she called across to me, "Having a good night?"

"Best night of my life," I retorted.

"Do I detect a note of sarcasm?" she asked.

"Just a smidgeon," I smiled.

In the moments immediately following, I pondered where the hell that strange sounding word came from. - smidgeon - and this afternoon I have just got round to doing the online research.

It seems it hasn't been present in English for very long. Usage can only be traced back as far as the late nineteenth century but before that nothing.

Most etymologists deduce that it came into English from Irish or possibly Scottish Gaelic. The words smidin and smuitín are used in the Irish language to describe small things like bits of paper or flecks of paint, little smudges etc.. It is very likely that the word smithereens also emerged from this Gaelic source. When you blow something to smithereens, you blow it into little pieces.

I would conjecture that the arrival of "smidgeon" owed much to two historical factors. Firstly, the Irish potato famine of the mid-nineteenth century saw many Irish people leaving their homeland to seek work elsewhere. Secondly, with The Industrial Revolution in full swing over here in England, the demand for cheap labour was enormous. Rather than heading for America or Australia, thousands of desperate Irish folk chose to seek their fortunes in England, Wales and Scotland instead. We had roads and railways to build, textile mills, metal foundries and engineering works too.

As well as bringing their muscle power, the Irish would have also brought their language, sharing it with the communities they joined. There are numerous other Irish words that have gained lasting footholds in the English language including hooligan, slogan, slob, gob, phony and brogue. Interestingly, like smidgeon their usage also began in the mid-nineteenth century.

The origin of English words is fascinating isn't it? Have you got any other  interesting words you can share?

24 comments:

  1. Smidgeon is one of my favourite words and I seem to use it a fair bit... a smidgeon of milk in my coffee. I'm a smidgeon p....d off etc.

    I also love the word "discombobulated". My husband used to use it a lot, so much so that my daughter whilst still very small at primary school used it too and the teacher said there was no such word. That would be the same teacher that said Venezuela was South of the Equator!

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    1. You're a smidgeon polished off? Parked off? Praised off?... Now what might it be? Mmmm.. I'll have to ask your daughter's old teacher.

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  2. I love the word "smidgeon"! And like you, I'm fascinated by etymology. No time to think of a favorite word to share, as I'm about to be a smidgeon late for work if I don't shut off the computer and leave! :)

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    1. Have a nice day!... As smiling customer service folk often used to say in The Land of the Free.

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  3. Etymology in general is fascinating, I think. I also love finding out about place names and family names.
    By the way, the Rileys originally came from Ireland, too. Their name used to be O'Riley, but at some stage they decided to drop the O'. I would have liked that, actually: Meike O'Riley.

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    1. Or maybe Oh! Meike Riley!... or Oh No! Meike Riley!

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  4. I like the word smidgeon and don't use it enough. I'm going to have to change that.

    We are fond of the words "bommyknocker" and "butterbugs" but you won't find them in a dictionary. Our son came up with those before he could talk properly. A bommyknocker is anything you can use to hit something else. Butterbugs are pancakes.

    Did you see that "craptacular" made it into the Oxford dictionary this year? A good word for those of us who prefer not to use traditional swear words.

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    1. "Craptacular"? Yes. Ian at "Shooting Parrots" mentioned that in his Sunday Round-Up. Can a baseball bat be a bommyknocker? Should we rename Shrove Tuesday Butterbug Day? Our daughter invented the word "willn't" - short for "will not".

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    2. Willn't is an excellent word. Quite a lot more congenial than "won't"!

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  5. I love discovering the origins of words and very often find myself doing so. It's an interesting pastime, and I can lose track of time once I begin. I love doing the research and the learning.

    I hate tattoos, though!

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    1. I thought all Australian women had tattoos... like Rose. Sure you haven't got a visual representation of "Waltzing Matilda" on your back Lee? Or a koala climbing up your leg?

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    2. Not bloody likely, Yorkie...but you already knew that.

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    3. Just bear-baiting again.

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    4. Yep! I knew that, but I didn't want to disappoint you! :)

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  6. I use smidgeons a lot when I'm cooking, along with a splash of this, a handful of that or a pinch of something else.

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    1. Better than using grams and ounces and cups etc.. They should use terms like handful, pinch and smidgeon in recipe books.

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    2. My mother in law gave me a recipe once that had been passed down to her, and it began, "shortening the size of an egg"

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    3. I guess she enjoyed confusing the gal who had stolen away her beloved son. A sort of psychological revenge.

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    1. Yes please Margaret. My old ones are too tight.

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  8. Origins are interesting. To get kids more familiar with what you can find in a dictionary I would give them a word and they had to get the origin and history of the word. It is all the more interesting if you find words like smidgeon.

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    1. I wonder where the name Canada came from. Was it a question that lost its d? Can a dad? Can a dad cut the grass? Can a dad stop snoring?

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  9. Down here in Kent farmers used to refer to the "emmet casts" in their fields, a few still do.
    Emmet is an old name for the ant, hence ant hills became emmet casts. The word comes from aemette which became ant or emmet depending on where you lived. In Cornwall it was a slang name for tourists that swarmed into the county like ants, in summer.

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    1. Thank you for this excellent contribution Derek. You have taught me something even as I eat my breakfast.

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