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Janine Dove-Rumé
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Michel Naumann
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Tri Tran

V. Civilisation

Paddywhacking and Mick-taking: Of Being on First-name Terms with the Irish Other

James McCabe

Résumé

Paddy and Mick, the two quintessential Irish first names, have given rise to numerous words and expressions in the English language. As such, they are fine examples of antonomasia, but the extent and nature of their reuse set them apart within this stylistic figure. Indeed, Irish names have been targeted much more often than names denoting individuals from comparable minority cultures. Over many generations, in Britain and America notably, these two first names were liberally coined to designate and denigrate the hapless or strategic Other. Negative racial stereotyping, inspired principally by British colonial discourse and American republican idealism, constituted the main driving force, but anti-Irish prejudice was successfully exported to other English-speaking countries as well (Australia, Canada and New Zealand). All of the major Irish heterostereotypes have been inscribed into these lexicalised names. This paper traces the Othering of Paddy and Mick through their numerous linguistic modulations and examines the particular reasons for such consistent onomastic abuse.

Texte intégral

  • 1 Teague (variants Taig or Teg) was the standard nickname of an Irishman in England from the 17th cen (...)
  • 2 Larry, in the past, was considered to be a typical Irish name, perhaps on account of the notoriety (...)
  • 3 Saint Patrick is clearly the original cultural reference but, as Paddy Sammon points out, the Chris (...)

1Paddy, the diminutive form of Patrick, is today the most common nickname for an Irishman at home and abroad. The name-word has fairly ousted the old favourite Teague or Taig (variants of Tadhg) from this place of honour,1 and left in the shade former hopefuls such as Larry and Barney.2 Saint Patrick, the titulary saint of Ireland after whom generations of Irishmen were named, has inspired a rich onomastic legacy.3 Today, the only rival to Paddy is the sobriquet Mick (from Michael), a name which has also received wide representation.

2Ireland’s colonial history and generations of Irish migrants provide the basis for explaining these coinages. Beyond their native shore, and in stereotypical fashion, Irishmen were identified with the very names they bore. Had it not been for these factors, Paddy and Mick would certainly have lived monotonous lives at home, like all other first names, simply identifying individuals. Instead, they have been charged semantically and made to designate cultural types. As names-turned-words, they are fine examples of antonomasia, a form of synecdoche involving the use of a proper noun to express an idea.

3The linguistic adventure experienced by these two names is most interesting, for several reasons.

4Paddy and Mick are clearly in a league of their own. They have been targeted significantly more than first names denoting nationals of comparable cultures, notably the Scots and the Welsh. Moreover, they have undergone sustained and diverse linguistic reuse.

5Paddy and Mick (and variants thereof) have not only come to designate the typical Irishman, but also, through the formation of compounds and the genesis of popular expressions, they have been associated with perceived national traits. As such, they are prime cultural markers. In the colonial context of Anglo-Irish relations and in the context of American Republican idealism, these associations have invariably been negative. The Irishman has been perceived as the reviled Other, as the substandard foreigner or immigrant on whom to apportion blame. Typical reproaches centre around notions of intemperance, aggressiveness, and deviousness. Indeed, it was politic for the English coloniser and American puritans to outsource perceived human defects and social ills.

6Paddy and Mick are also of particular interest from a linguistic and stylistic point of view. The two most typical Irish first names have been reused in a manner that far exceeds the scope of conventional antonomasia. Not only common nouns, but also verbs, adjectives and adverbs have been formed. Prefixes and suffixes have sometimes been adjoined to achieve conceptual variations. Proper nouns have thus found themselves widely lexicalised and, often times, embedded in popular speech patterns.

7Naturally, all of these elements are interlinked. Cultural and linguistic factors have, over the generations, played off each other. It is the nature of these links, and their modulations in time and space, that I would like to examine in this paper.

8The title of this paper, “Of being on first-name terms with the Irish Other” encapsulates the core issue in two basic ways. The expression “being on first-name terms” habitually presumes intimacy and friendship. The use of first names to relate to others conveys a sense of equality and ease. Moreover, familiarity and endearment prevail when the diminutive forms of first names are employed. In the context of the cultural Other, however, here perceived as being Irish, the tone is naturally strained. The use of first names (and particularly the hypocristic forms) to designate the foreigner or immigrant gives rise to condescension and belittlement rather than endearment. Individuals thus addressed are considered as infants or juveniles lacking the maturity of their benefactors and superiors. Evocation of their typical first names thus creates unnatural familiarity which inevitably breeds contempt.

  • 4 As Richard D. Alford points out, naming systems have two quite distinct but complimentary functions (...)
  • 5 In this paper (which deals with clearly contrasting cases of proper nouns and common nouns), I adop (...)

9The title (fortuitously perhaps but all the more interestingly) throws up the ulikely “first-name terms”. A name, be it a first name or a surname, is not a simple term. The purpose of a name, strictly speaking, is to identify individuals and to differentiate them from each other,4 whereas the role of term (typically a common noun) is to give meaning. A name, stricto sensu, has a referential function and not a semantic one.5 Names-turned-words, thus, constitute a particular linguistic and cultural case. Paddy and Mick, as first names that have acquired general meaning, have seen their linguistic role radically changed. As common nouns, they are accompanied by determiners (usually the or a) and lose their initial capital. The general meaning conferred on these terms also involves value change. While melioration is sometimes possible, pejoration is the order of the day. Irish names that have been made to designate the quintessential Other typically denigrate.

10For the purposes of this paper, a broad acceptation of the Other will be adopted. The names-turned-words that will be quoted cover a broad geographical spectrum, and an equally broad time scale. The geographical spectrum encompasses not only Britain and America, but also Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, while the time scale stretches from the mid-18th century to the late 20th century. As the cultural contexts of these countries naturally differ, and as each culture has evolved over time, a strictly homogenous view of the Irish Other as reflected in the English language can not be portrayed. However, it will be seen that major common denominators are apparent. This paper purports to study linguistically-consecrated Irish names transversally, guided by central themes rather than by geographical or historical parameters.

11The names-turned-words vary also in linguistic register. While some of the terms belong to standard English, most belong to popular parlance, notably to slang and sometimes to rhyming slang. Naturally, the mechanics of designating the Other are not the same when rhyming slang is involved and when the Other is more tactically designated. Moreover, some of these names-turned-words are eponyms and, as such, their stigmatisation may basically or partly be justified.

  • 6 Homi Bhabha, in his seminal work The Location of Culture, is among those who advocate less rigid re (...)
  • 7 The term “proximate Other” is elaborated by Andrew Murphy in his penetrating study But The Irish Se (...)

12As a final preliminary remark, it should be observed that the notion of the Other, in itself, is highly complex. Even in its most fundamental theoretical expression, that of the coloniser’s condemning view of the colonised, subtle variation may be seen. Modern approaches have brought to light significant instability in traditional binary models. The notion of the absolute Other, born of a strict, Manichean opposition between coloniser and colonised, has, in recent years, given way to a more fragmented, unstable, ambivalent and sometimes even contradictory view of the extraneous party.6 This is particularly the case in the context of the Anglo-Irish dyad. Indeed, a certain type of ambivalence seems to have characterised England’s outlook on Ireland. Ireland, as Britain’s nearest and most recalcitrant dominion, posed a particular intellectual as well as political challenge. Geographical proximity and racial propinquity meant, paradoxically, that the Irish were perceived as being singularly awkward subjects. The Irish were members of an inferior race, yet white; Roman Catholic papists, yet fellow Christians. This ambivalent characterisation has perhaps best been expressed by the term “proximate Other”: the Irishman, in the eyes of the colonial Englishman, was a curious mixture of sameness and difference.7

  • 8 These points are made by Dale T. Knobel in his arresting study Paddy and the Republic. Ethnicity an (...)

13At the origin of the stigmatisation of Irish names is certainly the colonial view of the (proximate) Other. But parallel and subsidiary elements further skewered or protracted this fundamentally biased view. American republican idealism, notably, compounded the Irishman’s lot. The young American republic accorded great importance to the moral virtues and intellectual capacities of its citizens, native and immigrant. Mid-19th-century Irish immigrants were considered unfit for a lofty political mission on account of their extreme poverty, their Catholicism and their (often) superstitious ways. Consequently, a specific ethnic prejudice was directed against them. Altogether, the encounter with American republican idealism can be said to have been more censorious for the Irish than the encounter with standard anti-Irish prejudice in England.8

14The Australian context also, though perhaps less virulent towards Ireland, provided fertile ground for Irish mockery. The country’s birth as a penal colony no doubt instilled it with a sense of contentious but nonetheless ebullient Englishness.

15Throughout the 19th century in particular, but also during much of the 20th century, wherever the Irish emigrant ventured in the English-speaking world, he was confronted with an ingrained cultural prejudice against himself and his countrymen. This bias found a most suitable frame of reference in his given name.

  • 9 The OED gives the following quote from Arthur Young’s A Tour in Ireland (1780): “Paddies were swimm (...)
  • 10 The negative vocabulary systematically associated with the word-image Paddy in antebellum America i (...)

16The use of the given name Paddy to designate an Irishman has been traced back to 1780 in literature,9 but as a popular cognomen it is essentially a Victorian concern. Its commonness among 18th - and 19th -century Irish immigrants to Britain largely explains its generic use. Pat (early 19C +), the abbreviated form of Patrick, for similar reasons no doubt, was also coined early on to colloquially label an Irishman. For the judgemental Englishman, a Paddy or Pat was basically an uncultivated and dim-witted individual native of Ireland. Throughout the 19th century, he was trivialised, simianised or sentimentalised in line with variations in the social and political climate, but all the while Paddy was pejoratively characterised. The word Paddy rapidly took root in American English also. By the mid-19th century, Paddy had become, for Anglo-Saxon Americans, a key “word image” or “word portrait” which, like the adjective “Irish”, commanded a sub-language and was laden with negative value.10 From its British and American footholds, the negatively connoted name-word Paddy was to migrate to the entire English-speaking world. Paddy or the shorter form Pat, for Anglophones everywhere, was (and indeed still is) the quintessential Irishman. The mere evocation of the name, even today, sets in train an elaborate cultural cliché. The sobriquet Pat has the distinction of having produced a feminine form. A “patess” (early or mid-19C, Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, OED) was once used to designate offensively an Irish woman.

17The generic use of Mick dates from the early 19th century, in Britain and America notably. Since then, Mick’s linguistic career, like Paddy’s, has taken him worldwide. Today, the word is highly prevalent in British, American, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand English to designate an Irishman. Naturally, the tone of its use is offensive. Mick, with its variants Mickey and Mike, like Paddy and Pat, typecast the Irishman as poor and uncultivated. The cognomen is all the more offensive as it has religious undertones. A “Mick” (1920s +, Cassell’s) can also label an Irishman of the Catholic faith, particularly in Britain and Australia. From this use, the term “mickery” has been forged to designate the “behaviour allegedly typical of Roman Catholics”, or “Roman Catholic influence” (Macquarie Dictionary). More recently, in the mid-20th century, a variant of mick, “mickser” (1950s +) was added to the English vocabulary to designate an Irishman who emigrated to the United Kingdom.

18Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Paddy and Mick (or variants thereof) acquired numerous related meanings.

  • 11 In its time, the first name Teague achieved similar representation with the compounds Teagueland (l (...)

19Paddy was such a clear cultural indicator that it was rapidly used as a substitute for the words “Ireland” and “Irish”. This is evidenced by the construction of the pejorative compounds Paddyland (mid-19C, Ireland) and Patlander (1820, Irishman).11 Paddy’s synonymy with Ireland was also visible in the nautical term “paddy’s hurricane” (ca. 1840), a variant of “Irish hurricane”, meaning, paradoxically and mockingly, dead calm on the sea. In a somewhat more deprecatory manner, the term Paddywhack was forged (late 18C-early 19C, Cassell’s) to mean an Irishman, particularly a large, brawny one. The Irishman was necessarily of stout and burly physique, in line with his unrefined personality traits.

  • 12 The first name Barney in the 19th century was also associated with tumult and disorder. Indeed, the (...)

20The most prominent of these putative characteristics were irascibility and bellicosity. Paddy was swiftly associated with that iconic Irish failing, temper, and with the ensuing aggressiveness, as is evidenced by the expression “to throw a paddy” (a rage, late 19C +). This association was further reinforced by the mutation of the term paddywhack to mean a rage or fit of temper (late 19C) and also a severe beating (late 19C +).12 The development of the verb “to paddywhack” (late 19C +), meaning to beat severely, sealed the Irishman’s social fate. Wherever Paddy went whackery was sure to follow. The word “paddywhack”, as both noun and verb, was widely used in the context of the stage Irishman as well as in the satirical press to ridicule and stigmatise the native Hibernian. As a concentrate of unruly Irishness, it was a potent term of cultural mockery and abuse. Like many cultural slurs, its meaning could oscillate in line with satirical needs. Paddywhacking (meaning a severe thrashing) was also the prescribed corrective treatment to be meted out to obstreperous Irishmen.

21The first name Mick threw up a similar related meaning. In the late 19th century, the word “mick(e)y” was coined in Australia to mean a young wild bull. Connotations of the treacherous wild Irishman would appear to have inspired this linguistic use.

22In the context of forced popular emigration and malevolent stereotyping, the Irishman’s profession was necessarily of the lowly kind. The names Paddy and Mick, employed as words, categorically confirmed this. In the mid-19th century the word “paddy” was used to designate a bricklayer’s or builder’s labourer (ca 1856). In a similar vein, “mike” (mid-19C-1900s, Cassell’s) and “mick” (1930s), were bywords for a hod carrier and a road labourer. Paddy and Mick were thus clearly perceived as being the standard brawn behind construction and engineering. In this context, it was indeed appropriate for Australian rhyming slang to substitute the word “mick” or even “mad mick” for “a pick” (191 Os-1930s, Cassell’s). With this snappy rhyming substitute, the association between the simple Irishman and the basic labouring tool was bluntly dealt.

  • 13 The Irish first name Seamus must also have been commonly found in American police institutions as i (...)
  • 14 This point of view is aired, amongst others, by William and Mary Morris in their Dictionary of Word (...)

23In the early 20th century, in American English, the word ‘paddy’, though still humbly employed, fared somewhat better. Paddy came to mean a policeman. The development of the term “paddywagon” (1920s +, Cassell’s), meaning a police van, underscored this association. Indeed, Irish immigrants constituted a major recruitment source for the New York and Boston metropolitan police forces.13 The term paddywagon is generally understood to consecrate the Irishman’s role as a peacekeeper, although some word watchers perceive it as referring to the typical troublemakers who were constrained and conveyed in those police vans.’14 While there were, no doubt, numerous Irish hoodlums among the troublemakers arrested in American industrial cities, it is most likely that the police van was named in reference to the persons who typically patrolled in it. The Irish policeman was certainly a more visible and pertinent cultural reference than his captive fellow countrymen. One way or the other, the term paddywagon was negatively connoted and did little or nothing to revive Paddy’s social fortunes. While the role of policeman was necessarily a step up for Paddy, it was still essentially a subservient and subaltern position. Moreover, for the free-enterprising American, a paddy was a petty and unappreciated incarnation of the strict rule of the law.

24The Irishman’s identity has long been associated with deviousness and deceit, and typical Irish first names have not escaped this calumny. The expression “to come the paddy over” (early 19C, Cassell’s), meaning to bamboozle or confuse, is a fine illustration of this. Paddy the Irishman, with his disconcerting and impenetrable blarney, represented a devious interlocutor for clear-thinking and straight-talking individuls.

  • 15 The noxious substance has not been clearly identified, although it is generally believed to involve (...)
  • 16 Cassell’s Dictionary Of Slang traces the term to the salon-keeper, Mickey Finn, who ran Chicago’s L (...)

25American English, through the coining of the term “mickey finn”, powerfully reinforced the association between Irish character and deviousness. A mickey finn (late 19C +, early 20C +) came to mean an adulterated beverage, a drink containing a drug to make an unsuspecting drinker unconscious. The term mickey finn is in fact metonymie as it designates either the knock-out drink or the drug contained therein.15 The origin of the term, also, is somewhat ambivalent. Some word watchers consider that it is a generic Irish name, adopted in the 19th century when Irish bars in American cities were often rowdy and dangerous places, while others link it to a real-life Mickey Finn.16 One way or the other, be it by direct reference or by stereotypical coining, Irish identity is clearly inscribed in the term. All the more so as Finn is a culturally-coded Irish surname.

  • 17 In modern American English, in keeping with these licentious times, a “mickey” often refers to a da (...)

26The term mickey finn has achieved wide currency, particularly in the United States. Its popularity is such that it is often shortened to mickey (1930s +), as in the phrase “to slip someone a mickey”, meaning to knock someone out by means of a toxic beverage.17 Indeed, the elliptical form, today, has practically dethroned the original mickey finn. In line with such simplification, the verb “to mickey” has appeared in American slang, as has the adjective form “mickied” (1972, ΟED). The adjective forms “mickey-finned” (1957, OED) and “mickey-finished” (1950s, Cassell’s) also exist, the latter playing neatly on the Hibernian patronymic and the verb to finish.

27The consistent lexicalisation of Mickey Finn is indeed colourful and subtle, but it has profound cultural implications. Indeed, such lexicalisation linguistically and intellectually embeds notions of Irish deviousness.

28A mickey finn involves doctoring another person’s drink, but many a Mickey Finn has been associated with downing potent beverages himself. Naturally, Irish names have been linked to alcohol consumption, although perhaps to a lesser extent than one might expect. The word “Michael” has been used in America to designate a hip flask (1910s-1930s). This use has been tentatively explained by the stereotype of Irish drinkers (Cassell’s). More accusingly perhaps of Irish identity, the hypocristic “mickey” (1910s +) has been coined in North American slang (chiefly Canadian) to mean a flask of liquor (OED, Cassell’s). The two uses apparently tap into the idea of the necessary proximity of alcohol for Irish imbibers.

  • 18 Paddy whiskey is fabricated by the Cork Distilleries Company. The whiskey’s name, in fact, is a ref (...)

29In more recent times the word paddy has become a popular term for whiskey. This use, however, was not inspired by negative racial stereotyping, but simply by a famous Irish beverage of the same name.18

30Along with temper, aggressiveness, deceit and a natural penchant for alcohol, one of the oldest and most enduring putative characteristics of the Irishman was his atavistic ignorance or, at best, his inveterate illogicality. The Irishman’s intellectual deficit, characterised by bulls, blunders and malapropisms, made him a lamentable figure of fun. This, of course, was to brush off typical Irish names.

31Most significantly, the word “paddyism” (1801, OED) was coined to mean an Irishism, an Irish peculiarity or a grossly illogical statement. Irish stupidity was also linguistically consecrated in two rhyming slang compounds, “Paddy quick” (mid-19C, Cassell’s) and “Paddy and Mick” (20C, Cassell’s), both used as substitutes for thick. The term “paddy quick” plays ironically on Paddy’s wisdom and wittedness, while “paddy and mick”, through the association of the two emblematic Irish given names, deals a double blow to Irish intelligence.

32The word “patsy” (20C, Cassell’s) in American English may have developed along similar lines. The American term means one who is easily fooled or victimised. Now Patsy is also a common Irish cognomen. Patsy, in fact, is the pet name for either Patrick or Patricia. As such, as a name pregnant with both male and female Irish potential, it probably epitomised for some the ultimate greenhorn. “Cowardice and indolence were also imputed to the Irishman. Though Paddy and Mick were known for their belligerent streak, in the eyes of their adversaries and critics they were necessarily spineless. Irish pusillanimity is exemplified in the phrase “to do a mick(ey)” (1930s-1960s, Cassell’s), meaning to refuse to face up to a challenge, to escape, or to clear off. Since the Battle of the Boyne (1690), in particular (an emblematic battle of the power struggle between Ireland and England, and a battle which the Catholic Irish significantly lost), the native Irish were derided for their lack of fighting spirit.

  • 19 Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary cites the Italian word pazzo fool as a possible origin of the A (...)
  • 20 Hotten’s etymological explanation gives a sorry account of unemployed (though employment-seeking) I (...)

33The expression “to do a mick(ey)” would seem to be a variation of the older “to do a mike” or “to have a mike” (early19), meaning variously to be idle, to escape from or to evade work, or to go away. The origin of these earlier uses, however, is somewhat unclear. The word “mike” has been linked to the verb “to mitch” (OED) and to the verb “to mooch” (Cassell’s), but the Irishman’s cognomen is also a likely candidate. John Camden Hotten (1864) and Eric Partridge (1949) are among those who, significantly, link the word “mike” to Mick and Michael, and consequently to Ireland.20 Indeed, in the early and mid-19th century, the name Mike, like Mick, came in for regular linguistic abuse.

34In a slightly earlier period (mid-18C-mid-19C), the term “Paddy Ward’s pig” (probably of anecdotal origin) was used humorously to designate a lazy person, or one who is relaxing (Cassell’s). The reproach of indolence was of course central to the colonial enterprise, and was thus frequently addressed to the native Irish.

  • 21 Eric Partridge (Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English) gives a more specific meaning and m (...)
  • 22 Wilfred Granville considers that Paddy Doyle may have been a notorious defaulter, now forgotten. Se (...)

35With such poor credentials, and in the light of such rampant prejudice, Paddy and Mick were no doubt well acquainted with penitentiary institutions. Indeed, the dated phrase “to do a paddy doyle” (1919-1948, Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang), meaning to be held in the confinement of a prison cell, firmly equates Irish identity with doing time.21 The surname Doyle (which is typically Irish) leaves no doubt as to Paddy’s extended family. The incriminated individual, however, has not been identified, and it is likely that the locution is of anecdotal origin.22 Whoever he was, and whatever his misdeeds, he certainly exacerbated Paddy’s linguistic reputation.

36The Irishman’s (supposed) paddywhacking over many generations and in numerous countries has led to a lot of “mick-taking”, which takes me to another major point.

  • 23 Interestingly, the first print recording of this phrase uses the word “mike”. It occurs in G. Ingra (...)
  • 24 The difficulty with the rhyming slang explanation is that the Mickey Bliss referred to (supposedly (...)

37The expression “to take the mick (also “mickey” and “mike”) out of someone” (1930s +) is well known to Anglophones, particularly in Britain and Australia.23 The phrase would seem to be a more polite version of the expression “to take the piss out of someone”, meaning to poke fun. “To take the mick” is so well known that mock-genteel versions of it have developed: “to extract/take the Michael” and “to extract the urine” (1950s). As the phrase has achieved wide currency, and as it is apparently culturally coded (the typical Irishman’s cognomen is contained therein), it has received a great deal of critical attention. Its true etymology, however, remains uncertain. Indeed, the locution may not castigate an Irish Mick at all. The most-cited alternative explanation is that the idiom is derived from the rhyming slang phrase “to take the mike/mickey Bliss”, itself modelled on “to take the piss”. The name of a certain Mike or Mickey Bliss, hijacked by the rhyming slangster as a cryptic replacement for the inelegant word piss, was subsequently curtailed to Mike, Mickey, or Mick. Another explanation, considered less likely, is that the term “mick” was derived from the verb “to micturate” (to urinate). However, these two alternative explanations are somewhat flawed, and the debate remains open.24 The Irish etymology cannot be ruled out. An Irish Mick may very well have been cited as the typical subject of jest.

38Whatever the case, an equally fundamental question is raised by this snide expression. Even if the Irish reminiscence was not present at the phrase’s inception, it is certainly apparent in its modern-day, popular acceptation. Etymological theory is one thing, and popular perception is another, and the phrase is widely held by those who use it or hear it used to cast aspersions on Ireland. This, in itself, is highly significant. It reveals a readiness in the English-speaking public, when confronted with a seemingly-Irish term pejoratively employed, to expect or presume Irish mockery.

39Several other terms and expressions involving the first name Paddy and Mick testify to a long and extensive tradition of mockery of things Irish.

  • 25 The definition given in the OED for Paddy’s lucerne is the following: “a local name for the tropica (...)
  • 26 For Webster (Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, hereafter WTNID), mick is the head of a (...)

40In Australia, the use of the term “paddy’s lucerne” (late 19C, OED) to designate Queensland hemp (a plant used as forage in some regions but considered as a troublesome weed in that state),25 clearly illustrates the Irish name’s perceived negative connotations. Driven by those negative vibes, the term “Paddy’s market” (late 19C +) has established itself (in Australia notably) as a standard reference for a cheap second-hand market. “Paddy’s lantern” (1930s +, Cassell’s), used to designate the light of the moon, probably takes a gibe at traditional Irish backwardness (the absence of electricity in rural Ireland). The choice of the term “paddywhack” (late 19C, Cassell’s) to mean an unlicensed almanac, confirms the Irish first name’s perceived spurious qualities. In Australia, the rhyming slang expression “on one’s pat” (20C, Collins, the contracted form of “on one’s Pat Malone” meaning alone), adds solitude to Paddy’s unhappy credentials. The Cockney rhyming slangster’s choice of the term “mike” (19C, Oxford Dictionary of Rhyming Slang) as a substitute for spike (the casual ward of a workhouse where the homeless could find accommodation) equates Irish identity with poverty. In this particular case, stereotypical considerations aside, phonetics may have been well served by semantics. And, interestingly, Australian slang has adopted the term “mick” to designate the side of a coin in a toss-up situation (20C). This use is all the more intriguing as its definition is somewhat unstable. Mick, apparently, designates the reverse side (tails) of a coin, but it has also been linked to the head side.26 Word-watchers have thus far failed to come up with an explanation for this use, but perhaps it might have something to do with considerations of the luck of the Irish, or lack of it. In any case, the toss up does little to enhance the social fortunes of Irish Micks.

41Traditionally, in standard English, the terms Paddy and Mick represent the quintessential Irishman, the looked-down-upon uncultivated immigrant, but the words can also have culturally redefined meanings in line with particular national or community preoccupations.

  • 27 Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang defines the word “paddy”, as used by American Blacks, as “a White man (...)

42In Black American English, the word “paddy” (or “patty”) has come to mean a white person, any white person (1940s +, Cassell’s, OED). This is indeed quite a sea change. The nickname of the traditional social underdog has come, by a complete turn of fortune, to designate the standard cultural white type in the eyes of a historically-abused community. Unless of course the etymology of the American Black English word has nothing to do with the Irish cognomen Paddy.27 While this is indeed possible, Irish mockery is nonetheless palpable as the word used by American Blacks rings of Irishness; Irishness that has simply been equated with whiteness. Used this way, the word paddy represents the major Other who is typically despised.

43A similar mutation of the word paddy has occurred in Australia. Australian English has recently transformed paddy into a Chinese person (20C, Cassell’s). One is tempted to see in this use a reference to Asian paddy fields but, for Jonathon Green, the Irish sobriquet Paddy provides the basic inspiration. The name of the traditional working-class immigrant has been reused to designate a more recently arrived alien. Used in this way, the word paddy designates for Australians the quintessential Asian, nowadays perceived as being the problematic Other. The word “pat” (1930s-40s, Cassell’s, WTNID) has also been used down under with the same meaning (a Chinese person), further strengthening the Asian’s underlying link with Ireland.

  • 28 For an outline of this survey, see Lee Pederson’s article “An Approach to Urban Word Geography” pub (...)

44The cognomen Mick, too, has undergone local mutation. A survey carried out in Chicago in the 1960s reveals that “mick” was used in that specific context as a pejorative term for a Mexican.28

45In these particular cases, whatever the local grievances, the mutations of Paddy and Mick were made possible by the profound negative undercurrents of these Irish first names.

46Paddy and Mick, over the generations and in several countries, have been prominent markers of alterity, usually in the negative mode. Interestingly, Paddy and Mick, when linguistically evoked within Ireland, also have negative connotations. The most striking example of this is provided by the expression “to be/to come paddy last” (Collins), used self-mockingly by Irish people to characterise their poor performance in sporting and other competitions. Another example can perhaps be seen in the Irish use of the word “mickey” to designate the penis (20C, Cassell’s). The name Michael has thus gone down the same road, albeit locally, as William (willy), Richard (dick), and John (johnny). Used to designate the penis, mickey is clearly a euphemism, and though as such it may be charged with puerile or prude affection, this can hardly be seen as a glorification of the popular first name.

47Clearly, Paddy and Mick, at home and abroad, have come in for singular linguistic treatment. Though many of the examples quoted above are limited by constraints of time and space, as a body they constitute a formidable onomastic system of reference. All of the major negative hetero-stereotypes of the Irish have been incorporated into colloquial English on the basis of two prominent Irish first names. Notwithstanding particular local and historical factors, a familiar pattern is apparent. Throughout the English-speaking world, Paddy and Mick have provided facile linguistic targets and served as convenient cultural scapegoats. They have been everyone’s favourite hates. Be they British, American or Australian in origin or (preferred) use, these coinages have a common intellectual power base and an all-too-ready acceptance among Anglophones everywhere. Something is (or has been) clearly afoot.

  • 29 Michael Duffy, The Englishman and the Foreigner, Cambridge, Chadwyck-Healey Ltd., 1986, p. 18. Duff (...)
  • 30 J. O. Bartley, Teague, Shenkin and Sawney. Being an Historical Study of the Earliest Irish, Welsh, (...)
  • 31 The word taffy has also been linked to the river Taff which flows through south Wales. Wales is als (...)
  • 32 The word “jock” has numerous colloquial meanings including “a stupid, unimaginative person”, “an at (...)

48Irish names, as we indicated earlier, are in a league of their own. The Irishman has been the butt of much more scorn than the Scotsman or the Welshman, other denizens of the Celtic fringe. Though all three, throughout English history, were considered as “domestic foreigners”, only the Irish were systematically and brutally denounced. Ireland’s pre-eminent role as England’s bugbear is evident in Michael Duffy’s study of the 17th - and 18th-century English satirical press.29 James O. Bartley has highlighted differential treatment of the stage Irishmen, Welshmen and Scotsmen in popular theatre.30 Strictly on the basis of lexicalised first names, this discrepancy is also clear. Scottish and Welsh first names have very little been tampered with. Jock (20C, from John) is perhaps the best (or worst) English can do to name-brand a Scotsman, while Taffy (late 17C +, from the Welsh form of David, Dafydd)31 is the standard and lonely tag for a Welshman. Moreover, these names-turned-words are essentially limited to a generic use. Unlike their Irish counterparts, they have not been made to designate and denigrate typical cultural traits.32 And, on the other side of the divide, it is interesting to note that there has been no onomastic retaliation. The traditional pejorative word for an Englishman within the British Isles is a “Sassenach” (18C, Collins, used by both the Irish and the Scots), and this term, despite the promise of its gusty phonetics, is simply the Gaelic word for an Englishman (from Late Latin, saxones Saxons).

49What is it about Irish identity (as opposed to Scottish or Welsh identity) that has brought it to such prominent, and prejudiced, world attention? The answer is clearly linked to the perception of the colonial or foreign Other, and the Irish, in this respect, compared to their Celtic neighbours, have stood out significantly more in the Anglo-Saxon controlled world. Since the 16th century, Hibernia and Albion have been locked into a relationship of mutual disdain and mistrust. Each, for the other, has been the embodiment of evil and perfidy. This historical enmity provided a profound source of prejudice and a powerful drive for cultural mockery. But something else was needed to broaden the debate. This dynamic was provided by emigration on a massive scale. Sheer numbers, no doubt, constituted a basic determining factor. Mass emigration in the 19th century to Britain and America notably, but also to Australia, ensured widespread dispersal and re-enactment of the Irish question. The high visibility of the Irish (arriving by the boat-full and congregating in urban areas) magnified their apparent distinctiveness. The Catholic background and the extreme poverty of many Irish emigrants no doubt constituted additional factors. In cultures that were marked by religious regeneration and in which the Protestant work ethic was synonymous with material as well as spiritual well-being, poor Irish Catholics had precious little going for them.

50Whatever the particular differences (and historical grievances) between Britain, America and Australia, a core population was united in defence of basic cultural principles, and equally united in identifying extraneous ways in the Irish populations that visited their shores. Such unanimity was bound to have wide-reaching consequences, consequences that were to be linguistically engraved. Countries that had first-hand knowledge of the typical Irishman, inspired by first-class prejudices, naturally focused on Irish first names. Typical Hibernian first names were there for all to see, hear and jeer. In the Anglo-Saxon determined world, Irish names were a tool of political vindication and a source of popular entertainment. Paddy and Mick, like their comrades Teague, Barney and Larry, were caught in cultural trap and could not escape their fate. On and off stage their names were to be elaborately staged. Wrenched from their individual bearers, as stereotypical markers they were mockingly portrayed. Stripped of their proper noun status, as common nouns, verbs and adjectives they were variously displayed. For all intents and purposes, Irish first names were fair cultural and linguistic game. For John Bull and his eager cousins, at any rate, it was a natural scheme. As far as any true-blooded Anglo-Saxon could see, Paddy was there to be whacked, and Mick was there for the taking.

Bibliographie

DICTIONARIES AND CRITICAL WORKS CITED:

ALFORD Richard D., Naming and Identity: A Cross-Cultural Study of Personal Naming Practices. New Haven, Connecticut, HRAF Press, 1988.

BARTLEY J. O., Teague, Shenkin and Sawney. Being an Historical Study of the Earliest Irish, Welsh, and Scottish Characters in English Plays. Cork, Cork University Press, 1954.

BHABHA Homi, The Location of Culture, London, Routledge, 1994.

CARROLL John ML, What’s in a Name? An Essay in the Psychology of Reference. New York, W. H. Freeman and Co., 1985.

Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, edited by Jonathon Green. London, Cassell and Co., 2000.

Collins English Dictionary. Glasgow, Harper Collins Publishers, third edition, 1991.

DUFFY Michael, The Englishman and the Foreigner. Cambridge, Chadwyck-Healey Ltd., 1986.

GRANVILLE Wilfred, A Dictionary of Sailor’s Slang. London, Andre Deutsche Ltd., 1962.

HOTTEN John Camden, The Slang Dictionary, or the Vulgar Words, Street Phrases, and Fast” Expressions of High and Low society. London, John Camden Hotten, 1864.

KNOBEL Dale T., Paddy and the Republic. Ethnicity and Nationality in Antebellum America. Middletown, Connecticut, Wesleyan University Press, 1986.

Macquarie Dictionary, edited by A. Delbridge, J. R. L. Bernard, D. Blair, et al. Macquarie University, NSW, Macquarie Library. Second Edition, 1992.

MORRIS William and Mary, Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins. New York, Evanston and London, Harper Row Publishers, vol. 2, 1967.

MURPHY Andrew, But The Irish Sea Betwixt Us: Ireland, Colonialism, and Renaissance Literature. Lexington (Kentucky), University Press of Kentucky, 1999.

Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang (ODMS), ed. by John Ayto and John Simpson. Oxford, New York, Oxford University Press, 1992.

Oxford Dictionary of Rhyming Slang (ODRS), ed. by John Ayto. Oxford, New York, Oxford University Press, 2003.

Oxford English Dictionary (OED), second edition prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford, Oxford Clarendon Press, 1989.

PARTRIDGE Eric, Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (DOSAUE). New York, MacMillan Publishing Company Inc., seventh edition, 1970.

PARTRIDGE Eric, Name Into Word. Proper Names That Have Become Common Property. Freeport, New York, Books for Libraries Press, 1949.

PEDERSON Lee, “An Approach to Urban Word Geography” in American Speech, vol. 46, n° 1-2, 1971.

SAMMON Paddy, Greenspeak. Ireland in its Own Words. Dublin, Townhouse, 2002.

SHARE Bernard, Naming Names. Dublin, Gill and Macmillan, 2001.

TRUNINGER Annelise, Paddy and the Paycock. A Study of the Stage Irishman from Shakespeare to Ο’Casey. Bern, Francke Verlag, 1976.

Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield (Massachusetts), G. and C. Merrimam, 1980.

Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (WTNID), editor in chief Philip B. Gove. Chicago, London, Toronto, etc., Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc., 1966.

Notes

1 Teague (variants Taig or Teg) was the standard nickname of an Irishman in England from the 17th century to the mid-19th century approximately. The word was frankly pejorative in tone. Moreover, for many generations, Teague was the prescribed sobriquet of the Stage Irishman. Today, the cognomen has virtually disappeared from use, except in Northern Ireland where it is still used by Protestants as a term of abuse for a Catholic, the equivalent of “Prod” for Catholics. A comprehensive account of the name-word’s generic use in theatre is provided by Annelise Truninger in her study Paddy and the Paycock. A Study of the Stage Irishman from Shakespeare to Ο’Casey, Bern, Francke Verlag, 1976, p. 19-20.

2 Larry, in the past, was considered to be a typical Irish name, perhaps on account of the notoriety of Lawrence O’Toole (1128-1180), a former Archbishop of Dublin, and the first Irishman to be canonised a saint. Barney, the familiar form of Bernard, also passed as a typical Irish first name. Biddy, the pet form of Bridget, was the cognomen commonly bestowed on the typical Irishwoman. This name’s popularity can be linked to Saint Bridget (c 451-525) who, alongside Saint Patrick (c 415-493), is a patron saint of Ireland.

3 Saint Patrick is clearly the original cultural reference but, as Paddy Sammon points out, the Christian name’s popularity within Ireland dates from a relatively late period. Indeed, the vogue within Ireland for Patrick can be linked to the Irish Jacobite general, Patrick Sarsfield (c 1650-1693) who, with his departure for France following the Treaty of Limerick (1691), led the second flight of the famed Wild Geese. See Paddy Sammon, Greenspeak. Ireland in its Own Words, Dublin, Townhouse, 2002, p. 162.

4 As Richard D. Alford points out, naming systems have two quite distinct but complimentary functions: differentiation and categorisation. Individuals need to be distinguished from each other, while at the same time catalogued as belonging to a particular social matrix. See Naming and Identity: A Cross-Cultural Study of Personal Naming Practices, New Haven, Connecticut, HRAF, 1988, p. 69.

5 In this paper (which deals with clearly contrasting cases of proper nouns and common nouns), I adopt a schematic version of what is a keenly-debated philosophical argument. The philosophical debate about the possible “meaning” of proper names is indeed rich and complex. According to John Mills (A System of Logic, 1843), proper names refer by arbitrary connection, and they have no meaning. Gottlob Frege, however, (“On Sense and Nominatum”, 1949) revealed a rich variety of kinds of meaning that could be carried by proper names, thus refuting Mill. More recent discussion has focused on the functional properties of proper names. It is argued that the “meaning” of proper names may be functionally, but not logically grounded, whereas the meaning of common terms is grounded both logically and functionally. Another approach to the question involves considering that proper names may have “connotations”, but that they do not have “real” meaning. For an analysis of the philosophical and psychological aspects of the question, see John M. Carroll, What’s in a Name? An Essay in the Psychology of Reference, New York, W. H. Freeman, 1985, chapter 8.

6 Homi Bhabha, in his seminal work The Location of Culture, is among those who advocate less rigid reasoning. While recognising the base imperialistic designs of colonial discourse, Bhabha argues that profound “ambivalence” is at the heart of all colonial construction. In this context, he cautions against taking a schematic view of the mechanisms of colonial stereotyping. The Location of Culture, London, Routledge, 1994. See Chapter 3 in particular.

7 The term “proximate Other” is elaborated by Andrew Murphy in his penetrating study But The Irish Sea Betwixt Us, Lexington, Kentucky, Kentucky UP, 1999, p. 6-7. The term was chosen for its multiple resonances: “because it serves both to indicate that which is close, ‘proximate’, while at the same time retaining a sense of what is ‘approximate’, a relationship simultaneously of similarity and difference” (p. 16).

8 These points are made by Dale T. Knobel in his arresting study Paddy and the Republic. Ethnicity and Nationality in Antebellum America, Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1986, p. 51. Knobel’s study, which focuses on the popular verbal stereotype of the Irishman in the period 1820-1860, highlights the institutionalisation of highly racial perceptions of the Irish in American language patterns. While the author acknowledges inherited Anglo-Saxon prejudices in the young American republic, he contends that the transmission of traditional English verbal culture cannot be held wholly responsible for Anglo-American ethnic perceptions. Puritanical America had its own highly critical national agenda.

9 The OED gives the following quote from Arthur Young’s A Tour in Ireland (1780): “Paddies were swimming their horses in the sea to cure the mange”.

10 The negative vocabulary systematically associated with the word-image Paddy in antebellum America is expertly analysed by Dale T. Knobel. See Paddy and the Republic, op. cit., pp. 11-17.

11 In its time, the first name Teague achieved similar representation with the compounds Teagueland (late 17C-mid-19C, Ireland) and Teaguelander (late 17C-mid-19C, Irishman).

12 The first name Barney in the 19th century was also associated with tumult and disorder. Indeed, the name’s stereotypical Irish qualities probably account for the coining of the term “barney” (mid-19C +), meaning a rowdy party, a fight, or a turbulent crowd of people (Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang).

13 The Irish first name Seamus must also have been commonly found in American police institutions as it is most probably the inspiration behind the American term “sharnus” (or even “chomos”) (1920s +), meaning a detective or, alternatively, a police informer. The prevalence of Irishmen in American police forces is further reflected in the categorical use of Irish patronymics. In the 19th century, “Muldoon” was also a byword for a policeman. In the 20th century, the term “Johnny Gallagher” was similarly used. Briefly, in the 1910s, aided by the music-hall culture, “gallagher and sheehan” was in vogue as a sobriquet for the peacekeeper. Mulligan, in the 1930s, came to mean a prison guard. The most common Irish surname, Murphy, was used in the 1960s to designate the police officer. And more recently, in the 1990s, the Irish patronymic O’Malley was added to the list. For all these name-words, see Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang.

14 This point of view is aired, amongst others, by William and Mary Morris in their Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins, New York, Evanston and London, Harper and Row Publishers, vol. 2, 1967, p. 202. Their commentary also evokes the prejudicial bias that reigned in 19th-century America towards Irish men and women: “This nickname for the police patrol wagon, used to tote lawbreakers off to jail, is a carry-over from the days when the Irish were low men on the social totem pole and hence fair game when a roundup of miscreants was needed to create favourable publicity for the law enforcers”.

15 The noxious substance has not been clearly identified, although it is generally believed to involve chloral hydrate (Collins, Cassell’s). It has been pointed out that the drug may not have always had, or sought, the same effect. According to Evan Morris, author of the website www. word-detective. com. before it came to designate a “knockout” drink, a mickey finn designated a “run-out powder”, a laxative which, when surreptitiously slipped into an unsuspecting customer’s drink, served to rid the premises swiftly and efficiently of said customer.

16 Cassell’s Dictionary Of Slang traces the term to the salon-keeper, Mickey Finn, who ran Chicago’s Lone Star and Palm Saloons c. 1896-1906. Jonathon Green further notes that this Mickey Finn had supposedly picked up the recipe from voodoo operators in New Orleans. However, there is no consensus on this question.

17 In modern American English, in keeping with these licentious times, a “mickey” often refers to a date rape drug.

18 Paddy whiskey is fabricated by the Cork Distilleries Company. The whiskey’s name, in fact, is a reference to a real Paddy. As Bernard Share points out, the whiskey was named after a resourceful company representative Paddy O’Flaherty who helped to boost sales. See Naming Names, Dublin, Gill and Macmillan, 2001, entry for Paddy.

19 Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary cites the Italian word pazzo fool as a possible origin of the American word “patsy”. Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, in line with most other dictionaries, vouches clearly for the explanation involving the stereotypical representation of Irish dimwittedness.

20 Hotten’s etymological explanation gives a sorry account of unemployed (though employment-seeking) Irish labourers in London: “The term probably originated at St. Gilles’s, which used to be thronged with Irish labourers, (Mike being so common a term with them as to become a generic appellation for Irishmen with the vulgar,) who used to loiter about the Pound, and lean against the public-houses in the” Dials “waiting for hire”. See The Slang Dictionary, London, John Camden Hotten, 1864. Eric Partridge notes the probable connection between “mike” and “mick”, and adds: “Michael is a typically Irish given-name, and the attribution of idleness is typical of the English attitude towards Irishmen”. See Name Into Word. Proper Names That Have Become Common Property. Freeport, New York, Books for Libraries Press 1949, p. 290.

21 Eric Partridge (Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English) gives a more specific meaning and more restricted use for this expression: “to be a defaulter” (late 19C-20C, naval and military use). In either case, it is clear that the Paddy Doyle remembered in this phrase was on the wrong side of the law. The term “paddy doyle”, designated the detention barracks.

22 Wilfred Granville considers that Paddy Doyle may have been a notorious defaulter, now forgotten. See A Dictionary of Sailor’s Slang, London, Andre Deutsche Ltd 1962.

23 Interestingly, the first print recording of this phrase uses the word “mike”. It occurs in G. Ingram’s book Cockney Cavalcade (1935). “Take the mickey” doesn’t appear in print until 1952, in J. Henry’s “Who lie in Jaol”. For more details, see the informative websites:www. worldwidewords.org and www. phrases.org.uk.

24 The difficulty with the rhyming slang explanation is that the Mickey Bliss referred to (supposedly a real-life person), has never been identified. This is unusual in so far as rhyming slang usually substitutes well-known names for targeted words. Mickey Bliss has been variously conjectured to have been a BBC personality, a music-hall figure or a politician. The notorious figure of that name, however, remains strangely elusive. Also, it must be noted that the form first recorded in print is already elliptical. The link established between “take the mick” and “micturate” is indeed most interesting. The common denominator between micturation and mockery has been seen by some in the principle of deflation; deflation (of the bladder) = putting someone down. The problem with this explanation is that the verb to micturate is medical jargon and thus belongs to a more formal register. As such it is not an obvious cue for a popular phrase.

25 The definition given in the OED for Paddy’s lucerne is the following: “a local name for the tropical evergreen shrub, Sida rhombifolia, of the family Malvaceae, a pest in parts of Australia, although cultivated elsewhere for the fibre it yields”.

26 For Webster (Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, hereafter WTNID), mick is the head of a penny’. The OED indicates that the word can mean either side of the coin: “the head, or sometimes the reverse, of a penny”. The Macquarie Dictionary (1981) gives mick as both the obverse and reverse side of a coin, and links this use to two-up situations: “to throw (the coins) in two-up so that both tails are facing up”. Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang (1998) vouches for the tail of a coin and confines this use to two-ups. It also quotes the verb “to mick”: “to spin the coins so that they conte up tails”.

27 Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang defines the word “paddy”, as used by American Blacks, as “a White man, though not always Irish”. This dictionary perceives the word as race-related, inspired by the common Irish derogatory first name, Paddy. An alternative explanation, however, has been put forward by researchers of African American Vernacular English (AAVE), also known as Ebonics. The term identified in AAVE to designate a White male is “paddy boy”. This term is considered to be derived from “paddyroller”, a corruption of “patroller”. Patrollers were vigilantes who caught runaway slaves and kidnapped free Blacks and made a living collecting bounties or selling Blacks into bondage. See the entry for AAVE in the Wikipedia internet pages.

28 For an outline of this survey, see Lee Pederson’s article “An Approach to Urban Word Geography” published in American Speech, vol. 46, n° 1-2, 1971.

29 Michael Duffy, The Englishman and the Foreigner, Cambridge, Chadwyck-Healey Ltd., 1986, p. 18. Duffy points out that the Irish, the Scots and the Welsh were suspect to the Englishman because of the direct threat they posed to English jobs and because of the possibility of their internal subversion of the British Empire (p. 22). However, much more satirical attention is directed towards the Irish than towards the other domestic foreigners.

30 J. O. Bartley, Teague, Shenkin and Sawney. Being an Historical Study of the Earliest Irish, Welsh, and Scottish Characters in English Plays, Cork University Press, 1954. Teague, the Irishman in his stereotypical guises (servant, soldier and fortune hunter), had a much more flamboyant theatrical career than his Celtic cousins, Shenkin (from Jenkins) the Welshman, and Sawney (from Sandy/Alexander) the Scott.

31 The word taffy has also been linked to the river Taff which flows through south Wales. Wales is also home to the similar-sounding river Taf, a tributary of the Taff, but it is to the first waterway that the popular cognomen is habitually linked.

32 The word “jock” has numerous colloquial meanings including “a stupid, unimaginative person”, “an athlete” and “the genitals” (Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang), but these meanings seem to be inspired by the common generic use of the name John/Jock rather by cultural stereotyping. Indeed, John and Jock are often used as generic words for any man of the common people.

Auteur

Université de Paris 10-Nanterre

© Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 2008

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