Some old English words now regarded as archaic still survive, e.g. Afeard for afraid. This has quite a respectable ancestry. In Shakespeare’s The Tempest you will find: “Be not afeard, the isle is full of strange sounds.” And in Chaucer’s Prologue to The Canterbury Tales: “Of his visage children were afeard”.

I’d as lief. The word lief from the Anglo-Saxon means pleasing, agreeable, dear.

An old song has this refrain: “Nobody axed me, sir, she said”. Axe for ask used to be quite common. In Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale occurs the sentence:-“You lovers axe I now the question”.

As is well known tea was formerly pronounced tay. It occurs in Pope’s famous couplet: “Here, thou great Anna, whom three realms obey Doth sometimes counsel take and sometimes tea”. The old pronunciation of the diphthong ea was ay (as in say). The sea was the say: a seat was a sate, beat was bate, heat was hate, meat was mate.

Here I am reminded of the old lady, aboard ship looking for one of the officers. She encountered the cook who happened to be an Irishman. “Tell me, my good man, are you the mate?” “Ah no ma’m”, answered he, “I’m the fella that cooks the mate!”

Use of singular noun where one would expect the plural, e.g. Year In Shakespeare’s The Tempest occur the lines “Twelve year hence, Miranda, twelve year hence Thy father was the Duke of Milan……”

Likewise I have traced the old Skerries word bunk. I hasten to add that it is not used in the Henry Ford sense “History is bunk”, but in the sense of beating or knocking or striking. For instance, if someone started knocking on the wall outside the true born Skerryite would remark – not “Who is knocking?” but rather “Who is bunkin?” Or if a wife got a New Year’s Calendar from the grocer or butcher she would say to her husband “Bunk a nail in the wall there: I want to hang this calendar”. This word is peculiar to Skerries. In Stratmann’s Middle English Dictionary (12th – 15th Century) the word bunchon is given – meaning to beat or strike. It was originally a Dutch word bonken and was adopted into English sometime between the 12th and 15th centuries.

The words, phrases and expressions with which I have dealt are those which I remember as common verbal currency forty or fifty years ago, but most of these are now falling into disuse. Strangely enough, the illiteracies retain their erstwhile vitality as do the obscenities. Get up them stairs; clean them windows; Where war yous? Yiz wur bet. I done the job meself. I seen that picture. All these and many more are hale and hearty and show no signs of decrepitude.

Paddy Halpin SHS 1950