Hooligans and Hoodlums

February 5, 2015

In spite of their long-running feud with the English as a nation, the Irish show a remarkable affinity for the English language.

 

From boycott to blarney, hooligans and hoodlums, shebeen, poteen, shillelagh and many more, the Irish influence has enriched our vocabulary.

 

Perhaps not so obviously Irish is an exceptionally common word of four letters which has a weird and improbable ancestry. The word is "quiz" - at first glance a Latin derivative, but in reality a word that came from nowhere.

 

"Quiz" was the result of a wager laid close to 300 years ago by a Dublin theatre manager called Joseph Daly who staked £20 that overnight he could create a new word that would be on the lips of everyone in the city.

 

As aerosol sprays had not been invented then, Daly recruited a squad of graffiti artists, armed them with paint pots and brushes, and dispatched them throughout Dublin at dead of night. Every available wall, signboard, and vacant space was daubed with "quiz".

 

By morning, as folk began to go about to go about their business, they saw this strange word everywhere. Head-scratching and puzzlement ensued.

 

Daly's bet was in the bag. "Quiz" passed into the language as a synonym for questioning, puzzling, and a test of knowledge and imagination.

 

Centuries later it spawned another neologism across the Atlantic in the form of "whizz-kid". Now applied to up-and-coming prodigies in the world of business, it originally described that uniquely American brand of stomach-churning adolescent who makes you want to throw a brick at the TV screen.

 

Except that in the 1950s the whizz-kid was the main ingredient in televised quiz programmes rather than sit-coms and soaps. He was in fact a "quiz-kid".

 

The Irish equivalent reached the final stages of such a programme and stood to win £1 million if he could answer one question.

 

"How many days are there in a week?"

 

Paddy instantly answered "Ten" and the audience cheered with delight. "Quite right", said the the question-master - "Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, yesterday, today and tomorrow."

 

Joseph Daly would have been proud of him.

 

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