Word Count

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Gaelic Lore Galore

Stan Carey, a professional editor from Ireland, writes entertainingly about the English language on his blog Sentence First. Here Stan enlightens us about an Irish word borrowed into English, galore.

Is leor nod don eolach (A hint is enough for a wise man)

Although Irish words and characteristics pervade Hiberno-English, relatively few have entered the hallowed halls of Standard English. One Gaelic word to have gone mainstream is smithereens, which I wrote about recently; in this article I'll look at galore.

The word galore dates to 1628 and was adapted from the Irish go leor, which is cognate with Scottish Gaelic gu leòr. (Here, go is a particle without an independent meaning.) Galore and go leor mean enough, to sufficiency, plenty, aplenty, a lot, in abundance, and so on. A Visual Thesaurus word map (see above) shows galore's close relation to the sense of multiplicity. Galore can be a noun, but this usage is dialectal and seldom seen. Its typical use is as an adverb or adjective, and like aplenty it appears postpositively, i.e. following the noun it modifies (prizes galore, not *galore prizes). The Century Dictionary lists gelore, gilore, gillore, and golore as historical variants, but the spelling has stabilised as galore. Here it is in the wild:

Bicentenaries galore in the new year (UK Times, 2008)
And there are songs and dances galore (Patrick Sheehan, Glenanaar)
After liquids came solids. Cold joints galore and mince pies (James Joyce, Ulysses)
Fed by leaks galore, the newspapers have lit up... (Economist, 2010)
There are earthquake faults galore, chief among them the Helike Fault (Archaeology, 2004)
Tables [...], chairs galore, plush settees (Truman Capote, New Yorker, 1956)
The best of aiting and dhrinking is provided . . . and indeed there was galore of both there (William Carleton, Shane Fadh's Wedding)

In English As We Speak It In Ireland, P. W. Joyce quotes an unknown Irish songwriter musing on the emptiness of wealth:

There was ould Paddy Murphy had money galore,
And Darner of Shronell had twenty times more —
They are now on their backs under nettles and stones.

Irish leor is from Old Irish lour, which itself derives from Proto-Celtic *ro-wero- (sufficiency). Go leor appears in many contexts and set phrases, e.g.: ceart go leor (right enough, all right, okay); aisteach go leor (strangely enough); Tá sé luath go leor (It's early enough); An bhfuil go leor agat? (Do you have enough?); maith go leor (fine, good enough, or drunk). This last example is a curious euphemism that is also seen in the forms magalore, maithgalors and mau-galore:

And if you are stupid enough to be completely maithgalors at over 151 mgs then you will be off the road for two years (Sunday Tribune, 2 April 1995).

Some language commentators have criticized galore. Fowler (1926) dismissed it as "no part of the Englishman's natural vocabulary . . . chiefly resorted to by those who are reduced to relieving dullness of matter by oddity of expression." Bernstein, in The Careful Writer (1965), considered it suitable only for "jocular or breezy or slangy effect." Compare this with Robert Burchfield's more recent description of galore: "refreshingly informal"; or with MWDEU's: "a common, standard word."

Galore is probably best avoided where gravitas is desired, but elsewhere it's fine. Nowadays we're apt to encounter it in any kind of colloquial or semi-formal context. Businesses love it, using it to attract customers to sales galore, offers galore and bargains galore. It appears in book titles and film titles, company names and more company names. Evidently, it has found uses and niches galore.

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Stan Carey is a scientist turned freelance editor from the west of Ireland. He shares his fascination with language, words and books on his blog, Sentence first, and on Twitter. Stan has a TEFL qualification, a history of polyglottism, and a lifelong love of stories and poetry. He writes articles about the English language for Macmillan Dictionary Blog. Click here to read more articles by Stan Carey.

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