05 September 2009


In my study of Finnegans Wake [page 79, lines 27 - 36] I encountered this passage:

...Kate Strong, a widow (Tiptip!)--she pulls a lane picture for
us, in a dreariodreama setting, glowing and very vidual, of old
dumplan as she nosed it, a homelike cottage of elvanstone with
droppings of biddies, stinkend pusshies, moggies' duggies, rotten
witchawubbles, festering rubbages and beggars' bullets, if not
worse, sending salmofarious germs in gleefully through the
smithereen panes--Widow Strong, then, as her weaker had
turned him to the wall (Tiptiptip!), did most all the scavenging
from good King Hamlaugh's gulden dayne though her lean
besom cleaned but sparingly ...

I wondered if the word smithereen might have been a Joycean invention. Apparently not. According to this fellow, and others, the word is older than Joyce, first appearing in 1829. It does seem to originate from an old Irish word, smidirin, which means "small bit or fragment." (By the way, if you follow the previous link, you'll be at a site called The Word Detective, [home page link] and the discussion goes on into the phrase "Wild Goose Chase," which is not uninteresting at all.)

And so, a moment during which I wondered if Joyce's language, like Shakespeare's, was slowly becoming part of our common speech. Not so, at least not yet. William has had more time.


1913 Webster:

Smith`er`eens´ Pronunciation: smĭth`ẽr`ēnz´
n. pl.1.Fragments; atoms; smithers.

Moby Thesaurus words for "smithereen":
bit, butt, chip, chunk, clip, clipping, collop, crumb, cut,
cutting, dollop, end, fragment, gob, gobbet, hunk, lump, modicum,
moiety, morceau, morsel, nip, paring, particle, patch, piece,
rasher, scoop, scrap, shard, shaving, shiver, shred, slice, sliver,
snack, snatch, snick, snip, snippet, splinter, stitch, stump, tag,

-- From Moby Thesaurus II by Grady Ward, 1.0

No comments:

Post a Comment