In search of a word

(This post is nothing to do with science and not much to do with computing, but it’s my blog, my rules…)

From wikicommons – credit stevelevine1

I am from Belfast, in (being technical and not political) Northern Ireland. I left there when aged 12 and sometimes some people express surprise that I still have the accent – but the truth is I am nothing other than Irish, even if I have lived in London (university years excepted) for the last 36 years. Belfast is “home” and always will be.

But if I have the accent I don’t, in general, use the same words and phrases that would be common enough in Belfast. Occasionally I find myself using phrases that I suddenly realise nobody else in the room understands (this week I described someone as thinking themselves as “a cut above butter” only to get blank looks). But I don’t think I have ever seriously described somebody as “scundered” or called a spring onion a “scallion” or a trouble maker a “hallion” in mixed company. (Scots may see that much of these words are similar to their own – some people may laugh at “Ulster Scots” as a sop to those unwilling to come to terms with the reality of Irish identity of people in the North, but that doesn’t stop them speaking it.)

One great thing about the internet is that it allows you to find much more about these words’ and phrases’ etymology. So I now know that “guddies” (what I used to call “training shoes”) comes from the Malay words for the gum of the percah tree – geta percha (the shoes having rubber soles).

But one word has eluded me for a long time. “Gee” (look it up) was easily tracked down – though its origin is elusive. Rarities like “cat” (or kat?) – used to describe a severely disappointing experience, venue or event – were found (but still unexplained). But this one was untraceable and I wondered if it was just a seventies fad that had passed away before the internet had the chance to record it.

The word in question was “munks” (or monks?) meaning underpants. Not one, I hasten to add, I ever used myself. I was well brought up! But it was certainly in wide circulation in Andersonstown in the mid – late 1970s. But I cannot (even now) find it referred to anywhere on line.

But then, this week, I found an online guide to the slang of Northern Ireland which used the term “gunks” for underpants. Found it!

The nature of unwritten terms is, of course, that there is no standard spelling or even pronunciation – for  instance, online searches suggest most kids in the North call their plimsolls “gutties” – but those tees were always dees where I grew up.

So, if the word – or some form of it – is still well enough used or known to appear online, where does it come from?

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