or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Dirt

Here's a word I think it's safe to say you've never heard before, and a folk etymology I was once told, and then the proper etymology (because I hate to leave loose ends untied).

"Streel". Don't you just love the sound of it? Can't you well imagine that it must be Irish? It certainly is; I can't say it's still used in Newfoundland (home of many Irish imports), where I was born and bred, but it was when I lived there, and I bet it still is, because it's just so damned colourful. (You know how you say "really hungry" in Newfoundland? "Gut-foundered". Tell me that's not colourful!)

"Streel" acts as a noun or a verb, and as a verb--its origin--it means "to drag along the ground". Perhaps because things dragged behind one get muddy and tattered, the noun "streel" means "a sloven; a lazy, dirty person".

Now, that folk etymology. I was informed once--by someone who, in retrospect, ought to have known better--that it was created by the blurring of word boundaries known as junctural metanalysis: a phrase such as "You comes trailing in at all hours!"* became "You come streeling in at all hours!" Plausible, sort of, but entirely wrong.

The truth is that "streel" comes from an ordinary Irish word, "straoille", "untidy person", which in turn comes from the verb "straoillim", "I trail, I dangle". Very simple and straightforward.

*"You comes" is correct in some dialects of Newfoundland English. As the Wikipedia entry notes, "The dialect also includes nonstandard or innovative features in verb conjugation. In many varieties, the third-person singular inflection is generalized to a present tense marker; for example, the verb "to like" is conjugated I likes, you likes, he/she/it likes, we likes, you likes, and they likes." I never used this particular conjugation, but I certainly heard it on a regular, if not a daily, basis.


Blogger Frank said...

"Streel" sounds like a science-fiction swear word!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008 10:34:00 PM  
Blogger HennyPenny said...

It's still being used there in some places. I now live near Toronto and used it the other day at work. My coworker looked at me like I have two heads. I told her it must be Gaelic.. not being 100% sure, but thinking it sure sounds like it.

Sunday, November 06, 2011 9:39:00 AM  

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