Wednesday 9 August 2017

Lack for nothing

In the Spring, at one of the weekly Heritage Group meetings in Tramore, Pat the Salt and I were told that the Waterford slang for a girlfriend is ‘Lack’. Everyone around the table, men and women, seems to be agreed on that. It was news to me, because I'm younger and not Waterford. One of the Heritageers found an article in an antient newspaper claiming that the term derives from the Russian word for ‘girl’ or girlfriend. It all stems from the days 100+ years ago when Waterford pig-processers were shipped to Czarist Russia as experts and brought that term back with them. Lack seems a long way from Подруга = Podruga, the Google-translate for girlfriend or amie. But my network is wide and I put the problem to Sergej one of my ex-students, an ethnic Russian with a Lithuanian passport who was often the smartest man [including me] in the room in class at The Institute. His reply was not absolutely negative but not wholly convinced / convincing either.
L, A, S (because C in Russian gives sound S), and K, it will be first four letters from the word ласковая = laskovaya - “sweet, soft, etc”.

And that's where I had to leave it in May.  Three months later, following the projects of Michael Fortune folksie film-maker from Co Wexford, I came across a few of his videos of Wexford travellers speaking De Cant or Gammon. This is a cryptolect spoken by the travelling community of Ireland who share neither genetics nor history with the Romani / Gitane / Gypsy people. There are just some commonalities with roamin' life-style and a common experience of distrust / hostility from the settled community. It is a topic fraught with political and linguistic problems starting with what it is currently okay to call them a) as insiders and b) as outsiders.  In my life-time the polite form of description of Americans with a better tan has been [I think! - any of the following terms could be now or have ever been deeply offensive to someone] negroes, coloured people, blacks and Afro-americans. It is now streng verboten to refer to travellers as tinkers; and there are many and worse terms that I cannot write down.

ANNyway here is a very brief lexicon for Shelta / De Cant / Gammon
Feen = man
Byor  = woman; also spelled beeor, beure, beoir
Golya = child
Sooblik = boy
Lackin = girl
Conundrum solved. The plain people of Waterford are unknowingly speaking Shelta: the language of the despised and dispossessed. The word Shelta is probably derived from Irish siúladh = those who walk. And the plain people of Cork use beoir and feen in their argot.

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